Tea gardens are hot. Given all the health and beauty benefits associated with teas, growing herbs for teas or tissanes makes sense and saves dollars.
An expert in tea gardens, Cheryl Schumacher is part-owner of Denver's University Hills Ace and Tamarac Square Ace stores, and manager of the Tamarac Ace store. A hands-on expert in the home improvement business for more than 30 years, she started working in an Ace Hardware store in high school. Schumacher, an avid Colorado gardener, offered the following answers about tea gardens.
• What is a tea garden? And why are they appropriate for Denver and elsewhere?
What better way to guarantee that you’ll always have a plentiful supply of tea herbs than to grow them yourself? Growing a tea garden is a fun idea for any gardening enthusiast, do-it-yourselfer, or for anyone looking for a fun, summer activity to do with the kids – and you can enjoy the fruits of your labor at the end of the season with a tea party!
Tea herbs are easy to grow, and you don’t need a lot of space. Just a little extra room in your garden or a few flower pots in the windowsill can yield jars full of dried herbs to last all through the winter.
• Are we talking about tisanes? Not really tea plants, so we're not really making tea, strictly speaking, right? Please talk about the difference.
You’re right. Technically speaking, all true teas, black, green, oolong and others, are made from some variation of the Camellia sinensis plant, or tea plant. Many of the drinks we refer to as “herbal teas” – those made from anything other than a tea plant – are actually tisanes or infusions. Although they’re still commonly referred to as herbal tea, there has been a bit of a trend lately toward calling them tisanes or infusions, especially in coffee shops or specialty stores.
• Why make one's own teas when so many are available on the grocery shelf and in specialty stores?
Because making it yourself is more fun! Sure, you can go to any grocery store and choose from shelves full of teas, but you get far more enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment from something you grow, nurture and make with your own two hands. This is also a great gardening project to show kids how to select and plant herbs, grow them, dry them and then turn them into something fun to drink.
• What are your favorite eight to ten plants that do well in Denver, and can be used for tisanes or teas?
Some of my favorites that are easy to grow in a backyard garden and taste great are lemon balm, chamomile, mint, lavender and rose. Fruits like apples, peaches and berries also make great tisanes and grow easily in Colorado.
• What is one of your favorite basic recipes for herbal tea?
Chamomile, one of the most popular tea herbs, is simple to grow and looks beautiful in a garden or window box. Its pretty daisy-looking flowers have a sweet apple-like aroma. Like many other herbs, chamomile loves full sunlight and prefers well-drained soil. Chamomile will grow just about anywhere, but does not like very hot temperatures (above 98 degrees) for very long. To make tea, steep about 1 tablespoon of fresh flower heads – or 2 teaspoons, if dried – in one cup of boiling water. Steep the blossoms for five to ten minutes. Sip and relax!
• Do you have any warnings against making "teas" out of just any plants? People need to be careful, right?
Yes, this is a good point. You certainly don’t want to make teas out of any plants you can’t identify. Many plants are poisonous when ingested and making tea out of the wrong kind of plant can be very dangerous. It’s best to stick with herbs and fruits, and if you’re certain their edible you can experiment with flowers, roots and seeds. But never, ever make a tea – or anything to eat or drink – out of a plant you can’t identify.
• What about the health benefits of drinking these teas?
There are lots of health benefits to drinking teas. Chamomile is soothing and nice to drink in the evening before going to bed, and lemon is good for lifting the spirits and has been shown to increase concentration. Different herbs have different benefits, but I think the biggest benefit is the pleasure and satisfaction you get from growing your own tea herbs and then relaxing over a nice cup of tea while you enjoy the fruits of your labor.
• Other applications for the teas? For example, my mother, who was from Austria, had us rinse our blonde hair with chamomile tea to keep our hair shiny.
There are a lot of wives tales about how to use tea as part of your health and beauty routine. I’ve heard everything from using a tea bag to reduce razor burn to reducing foot odor and tenderizing meat. I have to admit, I really just a tea drinker.
For more information about growing tea herbs, please visit www.myhelpfulace.com.
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