Chamomile has been used since ancient times by Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans for its medicinal properties. It’s been used to treat the symptoms of flus, colds, digestive issues, and hormonal imbalances. When concentrated into a balm or tincture, many use it to treat irritated skin. Chamomile is most well known as a tea for a flowery taste and a calming, relaxing effect that soothes stress and anxiety. This is why it’s often one of the main ingredients in “sleepytime” teas.
Lavender is lovely plant to grow that adds great color to any garden. This flower, full of anti-oxidants, is also said to reduce blood pressure, lower heart rate, and improve your sleep. It brews a very flowery cup of tea with the same powerful flavors of its smell.
Dried lavender buds can also be used to make lavender syrup, lemonade, and herbal seasonings as well!
Calendula, part of the marigold family, is a beautiful flower and the perfect addition to a tea garden. Calendula extract is actually still used in many creams sold in stores today! High in anti-oxidants, calendula boosts the immune system and supports the healing of damaged skin. It’s the perfect herb to mix with chamomile for a healing, pre-bed tea.
As a tea, it can ease the symptoms of ulcers, IBD, and GERD. The same skin-healing properties treat irritation of the stomach. It has a sweet aroma with a spicy, earthy taste. Many recommend throwing fresh calendula petals into a salad for extra flavor.
Mint leaves can relieve indigestion, improve brain function, and boost your immune system. As a tea, the menthol and hot steam can relieve tension and clear out your sinuses. This is especially soothing when you’re having a cold or allergies.
Mint leaves also make a great addition to salads and beverages. You can also make Peppermint oil extract to use to relax muscles and as a bug repellent like stink bugs, spiders, and ants.
Bee balm is a plant with bright and beautiful flowers that attract pollinators like birds, bees, and butterflies into your garden. It’s actually part of the mint family, so it has a minty spice but smells more of citrus. Bee balm is often made into a salve to treat skin infections of wounds. As the name suggests, it can be very useful for bee stings in particular.
Bee balm tea can relieve digestive issues and nausea, and many claims it even helps with gingivitus, fever, and PMS.
Roses have many great uses! Not only a medicinal and tasty tea, they are also great for attracting pollinators and making dried bouquets. They also can make a great garnish for many dishes.
Rose tea has a tangy flavor and a pretty pink hue. It is said to help specifically with menstrual pain and general hormone balance. Both the petals and rosehips are used in preparation for the tea, with rosehips having the highest vitamin C content of all fruits and vegetables.
Rose tea can be made with just about any rose, but least bitter and most flavorful for tea and cooking is the pink “Damask Rose.”
Holy basil contains the compounds eugenol, camphene, cineole, and camphor. You might recognize cineole and camphor from Vick’s Vapor Rub for soothing a bad cough. Holy basil tea can also reduce inflammation and stress.
Holy basil is also a nice addition when cooking or simply eaten raw for its medicinal properties.
Echinacea, like other herbs, is also effective at reducing inflammation and symptoms from respiratory infections. The Blackfoot Native Americans chewed on echinacea as a painkiller to treat toothaches.
They have a beautiful cone-shaped flower and produce a very strong, floral flavor of tea.
Elderberry has tons of researched benefits coming from its polyphenols- a kind of antioxidant. It’s been found to lower blood sugar, reduce blood pressure, improve the immune system, and even reduce risk of cancer.
Remember, elderberry is not safe to eat raw! If you’re making tea, boil the dried elderberries in water and allow them to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Elderberry tea is sweet and tart, with slightly bitter undertones. Many suggest throwing a few cinnamon sticks into the tea while brewing as well.
There are also lots of fun recipes with elderberries like jams, jellies, and syrups.
How to Harvest & Preserve Your Tea Herbs
While fresh herbs are fantastic for tea, drying herbs is a way to utilize the bounty of the summer garden! All herbs, once dried, should be stored in non-plastic containers that are well-sealed and out of the direct sunlight. There’s nothing more beautiful to liven up a pantry or counter than storing your dried tea herbs in mason jars.
Chamomile: Chamomile is ready to harvest whenever the flowers are at full bloom. Their medicinal properties are really only in the flower- so no need to keep the the stems or leaves. Just pluck them right off at the base of the flower. You can shake any debris or dirt off, or gently rinse your chamomile blossoms under some water and dry carefully. To dry, just spread them out on a dry rack and leave them some where very warm, dry, and dark for a week or two until dried.
With a dehydrator, set it to the lowest settings and let the chamomile blossoms sit for 12-18 hours until dry.
Lavender: The best time to harvest lavender is in its early bloom. Although the more mature buds are brighter and more full-bodied, its medicinal and aromatic properties are less strong. (Fully-open lavender flowers are better for preserving bouquets, however, just not for brewing strong tea!) Find the lavender flowers you want to cut and follow the stem all the way down to the “junction,” where it branches off from other stems and leaves. Cutting the stem at the junction helps the plant grow more blossoms to replace the one you’ve cut.
To air-dry, make small bouquets of the lavender by tying the stems together. Make sure you tie enough to keep them held snug, but not so tight you’re damaging the stems. Hang them upside down in a warm, dark, and dry place until they are fully dry. This could be anywhere from one week to a month, but it’s worth the wait. You can also use a dry rack!
For the dehydrator, use the same lowest settings for the chamomile. Lay flat in a single layer and let dry for 24-48 hours. To make sure they’re dry, try crumbling a large bud and make sure the interior doesn’t have any moisture.
Calendula: Calendula can be harvested like chamomile, picking the heads off of the stem. Pick calendula blossoms before they enter in to full maturity, while the petals are still “half-open.” Make sure to pick them early in the morning when they’re dry of dew but not too warm from the sun.
Lay the blossoms flat on a single layer on a drying rack and let them dry for a week somewhere dark, warm, and dry. Make sure the green flower heads at the bottom of the blossoms are dry as well (the will lose color).
In a dehydrator, lay the blossoms flat in a single layer and dehydrate for 14-18 hours on the lowest settings. Check the moisture around 14 hours and leave longer if parts of the plant are still soft.
Mint: Mint leaves should be harvested just before the plant begins to flower while they have their strong smell. If you only want a few leaves, just pick off as much as you’d like. If you want to prune the whole plant and get a big harvest, cut the entire plant off just above the first or second set of leaves at the bottom.
Wrap the stems of mint together the same way as described for lavender and let them hang 1-2 weeks in a warm, dry place.
To dehydrate, spread mint leaves in single layer and dehydrate for 2-5 hours on the lowest settings. Since the time can vary, check your mint at 2 hours. If it’s not crumbly to the touch, then keep checking every 15 minutes to make sure the mint doesn’t over-dehydrate and then brown.
Bee Balm: Harvest bee balm by clipping at the base of the stalk. You can either dry it the same way you would with stalks of lavender, or by plucking the leaves and petals off and drying them out like you would with chamomile or calendula.
If using a dehydrator, lay the leaves and petals out in a flat layer and dehydrate at the lowest settings. Check every 30 minutes to see if they’re done.
Rose Petals: When harvesting rose petals, make sure to put the petals on a single layer and not put them in a bag. Rose petals can heat up and bruise very easily. Dry the rose petals in shade, since the sun can fade the pretty colors. Rose petals are very delicate. If you choose to dry them like chamomile on a dry rack, make sure you lay something directly on top so they don’t blow away in any breeze.
If using a dehydrator, set to the lowest settings and check every 30 minutes until done. You can also bake the rose petals in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit until they are dried but not burnt. This should only take 10-20 minutes.
Rose Hips: Pick rose hips off the bush then wash clean and dry. There’s two types of rose hips: Rosa Rugosa, which are very large, long, and associated with “wild”roses, and Rosa Canina (Dog Rose) which are smaller. For the rugosa variety, cut your rose hip in half and scoop out the seeds. For the rosa canina, just snip the bottom and top of the hip off.
Put in dehydrator at lowest settings and check regularly until they are hard and a dark color.
Holy Basil: Cut holy basil above the bottom two or three sets of leaves. Pick off any leaves that look yellow or discolored. Wash the stalks, dry them, then bunch them together and hang to dry like you would with lavender. Dried holy basil will lose its smell and flavor after one year, so use it up!
With a dehydrator, put it on the lowest setting and check at 6 hours. It could take up to 24 hours if you live somewhere more humid, so check periodically after 6!
Echinacea: Cut above the lowest set of leaves of the plant. Check all the leaves and petals for discoloration. Lightly rinse the petals off in water and pat dry. When drying, either bunch the stalks together like lavender, or dry the petals and leaves on a drying rack until brittle and dry.
If using a dehydrator, follow the same method for calendula, checking periodically.
Elderberry: Just to reiterate- elderberry should not be eaten raw! Make sure you cook down your elderberries before enjoying them!
Harvest elderberry by cutting off the entire clusters. Wash the elderberries, dry, then pick them off of the stems. Lay them in a flat layer on the drying rack and let them dry in a warm and dry place for 4-5 days. This can be done in direct sunlight if you live somewhere dry, but if your climate is more humid, make sure to do this indoors somewhere dry.
To use a dehydrator, lay the clean and dried berries in a flat layer in the dehydrator at the lowest settings. Check around 10 hours to see the progress.
Best Herbal Tea Combinations:
A dash of honey or a stick of cinnamon will elevate any of these tea herbs when brewed. Here are some of the tastiest combinations of the different tea garden herbs as well to inspire you to get creative:
- Lavender + Chamomile
- Mint + Lavender + Lemon
- Echinacea + Elderberry + Rose Hips + Ginger
- Calendula + Rose Petals + Mint
- Rose Petals + Holy Basil + Lemon
- Bee Balm + Rose Hips + Lemon + Honey