Whether it’s the high added sugar levels of store-bought tea or the limited selection of flavors for our favorite leafy brews, you may benefit from growing your own fresh ingredients for homemade tea.
From warm and cozy tea to a refreshing iced tea, growing herbs that extend beyond the classics of mint, chamomile, lemongrass and others can make for truly wonderful and customizable DIY tea blends to be shared with loved ones or used for a personal collection.
With the ongoing pandemic and Delta Variant, many aren’t prepared to head back to their favorite tea shops for regular visits. However, with at-home options that range from the TikTok famous Tea Bombs to growing an entire tea garden, people aren’t quite ready to put their cups of tea down just yet.
It’s a long journey from the tea field to the teacup, and there’s no telling what each ingredient comes into contact with along the way. It can be a comfort to know your tea is a product of your own home.
The Medicinal History Of Tea
Herbs have been known to not only provide medicinal properties but also be incredibly delicious no matter the season.
Originating about 5,000 years ago, tea was first created in Southwest China during the Shang Dynasty with mythological deity, Emperor Shennong, also known as Emperor Shen Nung, and real life Emperor Jing of Han being two of the first to drink it.
Shennong, known as the “God Farmer,” is credited for being the religious figure named Father of Chinese medicine, specifically after introducing the healing properties of herbs.
While tea drinking has become more of a casual and leisurely task, ancient tea was brewed mainly for medicinal purposes dating back to the 10th century.
Tea even helped Buddhist monks with their meditation rituals and other common tasks.
From helping with digestion to providing longevity, each brew of tea was believed to be a source of healing. Centuries later, many still believe this is true.
As natural alternatives to Western medicine without additives from the store or cafe, homemade tea from garden ingredients has been connected to an improved immune system, anxiety reduction and many more healing benefits.
How To Select Ingredients For Brewing
With so many herbs to choose from, it can feel impossible to narrow down which ones may be the right fit.
This means venturing beyond the usual staples, like rosemary, thyme and chamomile, and branching out with some unique herbs that aren’t usually found on the average grocery store shelf.
Between green teas, white teas, black teas, herbal teas and others, it’s important to choose the ingredients that best compliment the needs and wants of the drinker.
Green tea was first brewed in China and is created by pean-heating or roasting the tea leaves. Other places, like Japan, often steam their leaves. There are many variations on how people from all over the world approach tea-making and drinking.
Types of black teas feature Darjeeling, Earl Grey and Dian Hong Cha, along with many more.
Finally, while many are familiar with dozens of common herbal teas that can be found daily, there are some rare gems that often go unnoticed.
Honeysuckle tea, known as Jin Yin Hua, is made from the flowers of a honeysuckle plant and can be boiled into a tea that improves digestion and reduces inflammation.
Jujube tea may sound like the famous candy, but it’s actually made with Chinese red dates that are called Jujubes along with ginger, honey and water. This immune system and bone health powerhouse is also a great source of vitamin C.
Other unsung heroes in the medicinal herbal tea realm include Chrysanthemum Flower tea (Ju Hua), Senna Tea (Cassia Tea), Goji Berry Tea and more.
In addition to the health benefits from just about every type of tea, a new combination of ingredients grown at home can introduce some new and exciting flavors to the palette.
How to Grow Your Own Tea-Brewing Ingredients In Any Space
Some may think a large garden space is needed to grow their own tea, but it’s actually possible in just about any space, including apartments.
Whether it’s green, black, white, oolong or another type of non-herbal tea, a basic principle will apply—they all require a tea shrub.
Tea shrubs or Camellia sinensis plants are small and only get to around three to seven feet tall, and height can be impacted by pruning.
While they make great ornamental plants with beautiful white blossoms in the fall, they can be so much more when it comes to tea.
They prefer sandy soil with ample drainage, and while they prefer Zone 8 weather conditions, they can grow indoors in most places as long as they aren’t exposed to frost for extended amounts of time, which can lead to dormancy.
Possibly the most intimidating part of DIY tea making may be processing the tea leaves, but it just takes some practice. In the spring and summer months, a flush of new leaves will begin to grow on the shrub signaling the perfect time to harvest.
It’s wise to start with a small pile of leaves to get the hang of the new process. Next, the idea is to successfully steam them without cooking them.
Steaming is one of the most common ways to process tea leaves, as it stops the enzymes in the leaves from oxidizing. In short, it makes the tea taste delicious.
It should only take one to two minutes for the leaves to finish steaming, and they should wilt and turn a darker green.
Then, you’ll need to roll the damp leaves almost like dough. This can be done with a rolling machine but works well by hand, too. The goal is to get the tea leaves to wrap around themselves and allow some of their juices to combine.
After that, it’s time to throw the leaves into a pan to fry or pop them in the oven. As long as they’re sufficiently dried, either process works. However, pan-frying can increase the risk of burning the leaves.
The oven should be set to 100 C/212 F for 10 to 12 minutes for green tea. For white and oolong tea, it’s recommended to dry them in the sun for one to three days.
While that’s the basic recipe, the fun begins when people look to their imagination to customize their brew.
Whether it’s by simply adding honey or even infusing leaves along with a favorite fruit juice, there’s almost no wrong method.
The good news is, the process for growing herbs for herbal tea is even easier.
To get started, it’s helpful to consider flavor and medicinal preferences. From selections like Bee Balm (Monarda), which has a soft mint flavor and helps with colds, fevers and sore throats to more common herbs like Echinacea, which have floral notes that are enhanced by lemongrass while providing immune support, there are endless choices and pairings.
Similar to the tea shrubs, it’s vital to avoid cooking the herbs and choose the infusers, sweeteners and other additions that compliment one another.
There may be many new tea growers brewing after getting a taste of their first DIY tea made from the comfort of the home.