In just about any supermarket, you can find a shelf stocked with beautifully-designed packages of “herbal” teas. These teas bear exotic or whimsical names that often include some kind of fruit – mango, coconut, watermelon, or any kind of berry you can imagine. The beautiful designs and imaginative names lure you into a fantasy world of flavorful pleasure. But what kind of product do these packages actually contain?
Is it tea? Is it fruit punch?
A closer inspection of the ingredients list suggests that the answer lies somewhere in between. Usually the contents include something that is actually herbal, often spearmint or peppermint or blackberry leaf, sometimes hibiscus or rooibos. They may also include added sweetness in the form of stevia leaf. And they always include a suite of “natural” flavors – vanilla, cinnamon, lemon, raspberry, and blackberry are popular ones.
I find these products very sad. It seems as if they think naturally aromatic herbs need to be covered up with extracted flavorings in order to become palatable. And don’t even get me started on the over-packaging – teabags enveloped in paper packed in a cardboard box. . . .
These over-processed, over-packaged products have unnecessarily complicated something that is really beautiful in its simple, natural state. And why buy them when you can grow your own herbal teas right outside your door or even on your windowsill?
Common tea herbs include:
- lemon balm
- bee balm
- lemon verbena
- rose petals (if you use garden roses, make sure they have not been sprayed)
Most of these herbs are easy to grow and use. You can brew the leaves fresh from the plant. No tea bags are required. Just use a tea ball, tea strainer, or teapot. You can also easily dry the herbs for out-of-season use. Spread the leaves out on a screen or tie small bunches of stems and hang them in a well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight until dry. Any of the above herbs used alone makes a deliciously fragrant drink. You can also try different combinations. I like to make a tea of peppermint, lemon balm, and bee balm. Lavender-chamomile tea is another common combination and makes a relaxing drink.
The above teas are (1) peppermint from my garden (2) wildcrafted multiflora rose petals (3) wildcrafted elderflower.