Make your garden a medicine cabinet: growing your own herbal teas
Combat flu and stress over the festive season with home-grown herbal teas.
We’ll cover care requirements for four powerful herbs: echinacea, lavender, valerian, lemon balm and Ashwagandha. These plants have been used medicinally in traditional cultures, and their health effects have now been recognised by the modern scientific community.
If you grow in bulk, these herbs make great presents. Dry the leaves or roots and bag them up in a cotton or gauze drawstring sachet for friends.Echinacea (purple cornflower)
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These showy flowers are used to boost overall immune health, prevent colds, and soothe sore throats. The varieties used for health are E. PE. Purpurea, E. Angustiofolia, and E. Pallida.
Sow Echinacea seeds directly outside at the beginning of spring when the weather is still frosty. Otherwise, you can sow seeds two months before the first frost in fall. If you do this, they will not bloom the next summer, but the summer after. The advantage of this is that fall-sown plants will produce much better blooms when they do eventually emerge.
Sow about ¼-½ inch deep, and 2 inches apart. Once the seedling are an inch tall, space them apart 18 inches.
Although they do best in rich, composted soil, the great thing about Echinacea is that they can also thrive in poor rocky soil. They do not need fertiliser but you must weed regularly.
Harvest petals and plants in June when they first appear. Leave them out to dry and store in airtight containers. Flowers will continue into fall.
Roots are harvested in late fall after the first freezing temperatures. Dig up, wash thoroughly, and cut into small pieces. Dry the pieces indoors and store in airtight jars.Lavender
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Lavender promotes sleep and calm.
Out of around 450 Lavender varieties, Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ and Lavandula stoechas ‘Fathead’ are best for drying. Lavandula stoechas do well in pot plantings.
Lavender are easy to care for. All they need is full sun and very well-drained, poor soil. They are drought tolerant and need little watering. Lavender flowers from late July through August.
To harvest lavender for tea, cut the stems just before its flowers open. Tie up bunches of stems and dry. After a few weeks, the flower heads can be shaken off. Store the flower heads in an air right jar.
To make lavender tea, just place the flower heads into a tea strainer or sachet and steep for ten minutes.
You can also dry the flowerheads and leaves to fill sachets for a pot pourri to hang next to your bed.
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The root of this prolific herb are used as a traditional remedy for insomnia and anxiety.
If you’re growing from seed, sow them around 3 inches deep in pre-moistened seed compost. Keep the seed compost moist but never saturated. For the plant to germinate, the temperature must be around 65 – 68 Fahrenheit (18-20 degrees Celsius). Alternatively, you can sow seeds directly outside in the spring.
Transfer seedlings outside in late spring into well-drained loamy soil or compost. If you grow valerian in pots, they will need to be very large to allow its root system to grow.
Once they grow, the plants will need about 12 inches space between them. Mature valerian will need heavy to moderate watering. Never let the soil dry out completely.
The medicinal properties of Valerian root will be enhanced if you wait until the plant is at least two years old before harvesting. Once they are ready, dig up the valerian root. You may want to use gloves here as the plant has a pungent smell. Clean the roots in water. Next, place in a preheated oven at around 200 degree Fahrenheit until dry. Once dry, chop the roots up. Store in an airtight jar.
To make Valerian tea, use a heaped teaspoon of dried chopped Valarian root per 266 ml (around one cup). Place inside a strainer or teabag. Heat water until around 194 degrees Fahrenheit or 90 degrees Celsius – never use boiling water in Valarian root tea. Steep the Valarian in the water for ten minutes.
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Many studies have shown that lemon balm and improve mood and anxiety.
You can buy them as young plants in the spring. To grow from seed, sow seeds indoors two months before the last frost. Scatter in seed compost, covering with a thin layer of sieved compost. Once they have become seedlings, transfer into individual pots. Place them outside after the last frost. Grow in full sun.
Getting the watering right is important. While young, water evenly twice a week, or enough to ensure the soil is moist throughout without being waterlogged. Never let the soil dry completely. Once bigger, water around once a fortnight. It’s best to water in the mornings.
Fertilise with high quality compost once a month during the growing season over spring and summer.
Make sure you plant lots – you will need a large crop to have enough leaves for tea.
To make lemon balm tea, steep a tablespoon of dried leaves per cup for 10 minutes using a strainer. Add honey or other sweetener.
Ashwangdha is a commonly overlooked herb in the West but has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia – and for good reason. Peer-reviewed studies show it reduces stress, improves mood, and improves cognition.
Ashwagandha is drought-loving and needs sandy dry, acidic soil (about 7.4 ph). Because it likes very well-draining soil, it can thrive in terracotta pots as well as in garden beds. It needs full sun and temperatures between 75 – 85 Faherenheit.
Ashwagandha tea is made from the roots of the plant. Roots should be harvested when the plant’s berries ripen in fall. Wash the roots well and dry them ready for the winter blues.