Yakima gardeners are halfway between our last and first frost dates, and that’s something to celebrate. I’m proclaiming a Hump Day holiday. We deserve a day off, and besides, it’s too hot for any major projects.
If you really need something to do, I have one idea that requires nothing more than a stroll through the garden in the cool of the day. Along the way, pick a variety of herbs. Come inside, bring a kettle of water to boil, and throw the herbs in to steep. Congratulations! You’ve made a tisane, the technical name for an herbal tea. Sweeten it, or spike it if you like. And then just relax, take a sip and try to keep cool. We’re halfway there.
You may be surprised to learn you have a garden full of tea herbs, ready to be harvested. It’s easy and it’s fun. Here are some:
• Anise hyssop: The leaves have a delicate licorice/anise flavor.
• Basil: Try scented basils, such as lemon, clove, Thai and cinnamon.
• Bee balm: The flowers and leaves are sometimes used in Earl Grey blend teas.
• Chamomile: White flowers yield a distinctive apple-like taste.
• Coriander: Berries and then seeds are produced when your cilantro bolts, adding a warm, citrusy flavor to tea.
• Fennel: Dried, crushed seeds and fresh leaves impart a sweet licorice flavor.
• Lavender: This lends a distinct floral taste to tea.
• Lemon balm and lemon verbena: Foliage adds a strong lemon flavor.
• Lemon grass: Use the bulb, stalk and leaves.
• Mint: The variety of flavors includes spearmint, peppermint, apple and chocolate.
• Pineapple sage: This small shrub imparts the fresh taste of pineapple.
• Roses: These can be used to make two kinds of tea, those from the hips (fruit) and those from the petals.
• Scented geranium: Lemon, mint, strawberry, rose, apricot and apple are just some of the scented geraniums used to make tea.
Tisanes have a delicate flavor. Naturally pale and caffeine-free, the taste may seem bland, especially when you add ice. Sweetening with honey adds body and more color. If you prefer higher-octane brews, add one regular tea bag for every cup of boiling water.
Harvesting and brewing tea herbs
Cut leaves, flowers and seeds for tea in the coolest part of the day. Use healthy, new foliage and flowers for the best flavor. Always cut just above a set of new leaves and use scissors, rather than your fingers. Rinse the herbs with a light spray of water and allow them to dry, or use a salad spinner. Never use herbs that have been exposed to herbicides, insecticides or car exhaust.
One cup of hot herbal tea requires 2 to 3 tablespoons of fresh herbs, but iced tea requires 4 to 8 tablespoons so the flavor will stand up to melting ice.
Place the herbs in a large container, and for each serving add 8 ounces of boiling water. Let the mixture steep for at least five minutes until the water has darkened and the tea tastes herby. Strain, and add honey, sugar or a sugar substitute to taste, if desired. Garnish with citrus slices, berries or fresh sprigs of herbs.
You can make a tea from one herb or blend several. Delicious tea blends include lemon grass, lemon verbena and lemon balm; pineapple sage with strawberry-scented geranium; anise hyssop and bee balm; lavender and lemon balm; lavender and rose petals; chocolate mint and dried orange peel; rosemary and slices of fresh lemon; mint, rose petals and lemon verbena leaves; basil, lemon balm and lemon verbena; or chamomile flowers, bee balm, rosemary and mint. Try a variety of combinations until you find your own favorite blends.
If you’ve never used herbs this way, here’s an easy way to get started. Brew your tisane -- basil or lavender are my favorites -- using 3 to 4 cups of boiling water. Strain out the solids and use the liquid as part of the water requirement for making lemonade or limeade from frozen concentrate. It’s simple, and amazingly good.
Warning: Do NOT brew a tea from any plant that you cannot positively identify as being nontoxic.
In addition, brewed tea is capable of supporting bacterial growth. Making “sun tea” by steeping tea bags or loose herbs in containers of water warmed by the sun has a higher risk of bacterial growth, because the tea is brewed at relatively low temperatures. WSU Cooperative Extension recommends brewing tea with water at 175° F or hotter, and then refrigerating it.
• Carol Barany and her husband, John, found paradise on 1 1/3 acres just west of Franklin Park, where they raised three children and became Master Gardeners. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.