Thursday, March 02, 2023

5 Great Herbs to Start With - Tea Garden Basics

 Our most recent newsletter went something like this.
You can sign up for the FREE "Just the Essentials" on our website.  It is separate from The Essential Herbal Magazine. 

I ran across this writing sample that I submitted for a book and ultimately chose not to write, and thought it might make an intro to a nice little newsletter/blog post!
Tea Garden Basics - 5 Great Herbs for Beginners

After deciding that it’s time to start a tea garden, there are some basics to think about.  It’s important to become familiar with what the individual plants require before starting to dig.  Plants all need varying amounts of sunlight, water/humidity, and nourishment from the soil.  Growth habit is another consideration, as some plants are tall, some short, some aggressive, and some easily overtaken.  This information is easily found by reading a bit about them or asking the herb farmer where you purchase the plants.  Seed packets will usually supply this information as well. 

One of the most reassuring bits of information given to me when starting out was that most herbs are weeds.  That means that if they are given some semblance of their requirements, they will find a way to flourish unless they are completely out of their native environment, although even then we might get a season of growth from them.

Remember that in general, plants aren’t very expensive.  You will lose a plant or two each season.  Sometimes a plant is contrary and doesn’t act the way it’s supposed to. That’s part of the adventure and part of the learning experience.  Each season is a new beginning and it never gets old.

Here are several nice options for a beginning herb tea garden.

Matricaria chamomilla (or recutita) is also known as German, or wild Chamomile.  This is the one often found in disturbed areas, fields, and along the roadsides.  An annual, it spreads rapidly, with an upright, leggy growth habit.
Chamaemelum nobile, Roman, English or garden chamomile, is a much more behaved plant, better suited for the garden.  It grows closer to the ground and is sometimes used as a perennial ground cover, being resilient enough to put up with being walked up (and sending up soft apple-like fragrance) and the occasional mowing. 
Combine with equal parts Lemon Balm, Catnip, and Spearmint for a lovely relaxing tea.

Mint - Mentha
There are too many mints to list.  There are literally hundreds of varieties and cultivars.  If you get a few different ones and plant them too close together, you wind up with something completely different, and none of the original mints that were planted.  Mints are usually one of the first herbal teas that people enjoy, and they are blended in to many recipes for flavorful brews. All of the mints have a wide variety of attributes such as being analgesic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, digestive, and mildly stimulant.

Double Mint Tea
Blend together 1 part Spearmint and 1 part Peppermint.
Use a heaping teaspoon per cup of water.  Steep for 5 minutes.
Note:  One of my favorite ways to enjoy this is by mixing it half and half with black or orange pekoe tea (camellia sinensis).  It has the refreshing lift of mint with a little caffeine from the black tea, so it’s a real pick-me-up in the middle of the afternoon.

Holy Basil aka Tulsi, Ocimum tenuiflorum
I’m not sure I’ll ever not have holy basil growing in the garden, even though it is an annual here.  It is an ally in so many ways that it would take an entire book to talk about all of them.  It is revered in India, and in Ayurvedic medicine as well.
Holy basil is well suited to almost everyone.  That’s fortunate, because it is spectacular for anxiety or dread that causes some people to blow an interview or forget the answers on a test.  It calms that hot, sweaty panic that rises and allows one to almost stand aside and coolly assess a situation.  It may be more precise to say that the cloud of confusion and stress moves off to the side leading to more emotional and intellectual clarity.  Besides the emotional, there are many health properties, too.

Holy basil is very often blended with rose petals for a soothing, uplifting tea.

Lemon Balm
Lemon balm thrives incredibly well in whatever situation it is in. It likes well-drained soil with plenty of room (trust me it’ll grow), but unless you want it taking over every nook and cranny in your garden you may want to keep it contained. Lemon balm is well loved by pollinators. It’s Latin name Melissa officinalis actually means bee in Greek.
Lemon balm is wonderful for those who suffer from SAD but is also incredibly tasty in teas and baked goods. It is used mainly for anxiety, insomnia, and indigestion. It’s Latin name Melissa officinalis actually means bee in Greek. 
Lemon balm is a carminative, diaphoretic, and may reduce a fever. This plant is wonderful to give to little ones and fussy adults when they are sick with a cold or fever. You can also drink a tea after a large meal to fight off the symptoms of indigestion. It may also help you drift off to sleep afterward.

Sage, Salvia officinalis
Garden sage is a perennial in my zone 6b garden.  In lower zones, it depends on the winter, and may not withstand the weather.  It gets woody after a couple of years and needs to be trimmed back or the branches break and rot.
Sage has a strong ability to help with mouth and throat issues, making fast work of sore gums or throat.  It is calming and grounding when used either internally or topically.  It has been used traditionally to bring down fevers and bring sleep. Menopausal hot flashes respond to tea or tincture.
Sage tea with meals promotes digestion and helps with stomach pain, excess gas, diarrhea, bloating, and heartburn.   It is surprisingly delicious as a tea, especially with a little honey and lemon.

 There are so many plants that make great herbal infusions.  I always grow elderberry, but most berries are good and many (NOT elderberry) have leaves that taste great.  Raspberry, strawberry, and blueberry, for instance, are wonderful.  Thyme is a good tea herb, passionflower, catnip… the more you learn, the more you brew!

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Monday, February 20, 2023

Essential Herbal Magazine, Mar/Apr 2023

 This issue came together like an absolute dream, just like the cover suggests.  It has probably been at least 5 years since we've added pages to an issue, sticking fast to our 32 pages.  Until this issue.  We added 8 pages, and neither of us even wrote an article!  That is a rarity indeed!  We're thrilled with how it turned out and think that you probably will be too. 

or Single Issue Only


Cover by Barbara Steele, Dreaming of Spring

Crossword Puzzle, Glossary of Terms from Susanna Reppert Brill (part 1)
 From class notes in Susanna's herbal "Way of Life" course

Field Notes, Tina Sams
Holding our breath through these last cold months, and a farewell to a friend

5 Herbs to Enliven Your Spring, Marcy Lautanen Raleigh
Choose from these bright flavors to brighten and lighten.

Budget Stretching Recipes, Alicia Allen
You won't even notice the difference - except in your wallet.

The Healing Magical Power of Spices, Carolina Gonzalez
So much more than the fragrances and flavors!

Container Gardening, Kathy Musser
Containers can be useful for so many spaces in the outside living space.

Survival Gardens, Jackie Johnson ND
Some terrific ideas for specific types of garden plots

Free Plant N Garden Stands Project, DePhane Marcelle Weaver and Friends
Learn about this cool way of sharing seeds and plants!

Word Find, Glossary of Terms (part 2)

Gardeners' Hand Soap, Marci Tsohonis
Even experts sometimes struggle with the outcome, but in the long run the soap works.  It just might look a little funny.

Herbal Tea Blend for Meditation, Jessicka Nebesni
Brew a cup and open your mind.

Sleep, Barbara Steele
Our cover artist surveyed several friends and herbalists to find out how they overcame difficulty falling and staying asleep.

Spring Into Herbalism With Your Kids, Kristine Brown RH(AHG)
Lots of great ways to help your kids get involved in herbalism without actually teaching.  Learning through experiencing.

Jamaican Ginger, History Through Song, Susanna Reppert Brill
This fascinating and somewhat sad/dubious chapter of herbal history has been illustrated via several songs.

Puzzle Solution

Meet Our Contributors....
A little about the people you’ll find in the pages of this issue.


or Single Issue Only

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Mid February "Just the Essentials"

We're going to address ways to be more comfortable in this "backside" of winter. We'll soothe our skin, our nerves, and our immune systems as the days grow longer in the Northern Hemisphere, or shorter in the Southern. In my part of the country, we are finally getting a little sun, and my mood was in need!!!

For a quick blend, try equal parts (1 T) rose, lavender, and elderflowers. To those, add 1/4 cup oatmeal and 1 T powdered milk. Steep in a muslin bag in a pitcher of very hot water, and then add the contents of the pitcher to the bath. 
Latin name: Avena sativa
Common Name(s): Wild Oats, Common Oats, Milky Oats, Oatstraw
 Parts used: Aerial parts
Medicinal Uses: Oats are wonderful and skin-soothing when
used in bathwater. When the whole plant is harvested and dried while green, including the seeds, it is called oatstraw. 
Oats are  a rejuvenating and restorative mineral tonic. They are grounding, helping fortify people during grief, and promoting  emotional well-being. Oatmeal is the ripe seed. It provides nourishment to the body and the skin while supporting the nervous system.

Latin name: Zingiber officinale
Parts used: root, with root and leaves used for essential oil(s)
Ginger’s best known use is on various forms of nausea, including sea sickness, chemotherapy-related nausea, nausea after surgery, and morning sickness.  It stimulates digestion, and has been found
to cause the stomach to empty faster, and move food through the system more rapidly, while soothing and relaxing the entire digestive system.  Ginger heats up and improves the metabolism.
It may help with menstrual pain, migraine headaches, and improve gum health.  Regular use of ginger may help relieve pain and swelling of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis and
muscular pains.  

If you’re daydreaming about the coming spring, there’s no better “dream book” than Through the Seasons. It contains 5 full years of the magazine, put into chapters and indexed. Literally 100’s of ideas, recipes, remedies, and crafts to keep you engaged with herbs year round. We've permanently lowered the price to $30 for print, or $20 for pdf!  View Index

View here:

 That's it for now.  Sign up to get our free "Just the Essentials" newsletter on our website (  You might also want to subscribe to our magazine - The Essential Herbal - while you're there. 

Monday, January 30, 2023

Time for Some Creativi-tea!

 If you haven't signed up for our free newsletter yet, it will be shared here and I'll let you know how to sign up at the end of the article!. 

I recently discovered that if you spend 3 or so years without having so much as a sniffle, when one catches you, it feels like a doozie, even if it's really not that terrible. I've been drinking quarts of lemon, ginger, and garlic honey (weirdly delicious if you're sick!) tea, along with lots of elderberry and holy basil.
It's been a bit since I sent out a newsletter, so it was wonderful to run across this article that Molly wrote several years ago. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did - again!


Molly Sams Jan/Feb 2015

Having the opportunitea to study with my mother and aunt (Maryanne Schwartz) as well as Susanna Reppert-Brill and Sue Hess has been the driving force behind my love in herbs. When I started learning from these women I never would have guessed how many opportunities would become available to me. Be it travel, educational, or just new experiences, herbs have given me more inspiration than I ever thought possible.
One aspect of my inspiration has been my own curiositea when it comes to herbal tea. While I have always enjoyed a good cup of tea, being able to blend and create new concoctions has helped me find out more about herbs firsthand.
When I know I’m going to have a busy week for instance, I know I’m going to want teas that help keep my immune system going and my nerves calm, so I turn to holy basil. If I feel like I could use a lift or need to wake up, I grab some black tea with hibiscus flowers and orange peel. It’s helped me work on becoming more knowledgeable about herbs and their purpose as well as how I can use them to best fit me.
A few months ago, I started making a couple blends a few times a week, just to get familiar with more of the different tea herbs, and also to learn about the tastes of some of the herbs that we might not always think of right way when it comes to blending a tea.
To do that, I started by choosing a purpose, a main herb, and some others that would bolster that purpose and provide flavor and sometimes color.  Besides learning about the herbs that taste good to me, I learned a lot about how forgiving the craft of tea blending can be. It is an experiment that I highly recommend.
I would suggest only brewing small batches to start. While I’m tempted to drag out the crock pot and create an incredibly potent concoction (especially when I get a new bag of tea) I remind myself it’s best to play with the flavors before deciding on a favorite to focus a lot of energy on.


To start I would suggest filling a small pot (like a sauce pan) with water and letting it come to a boil. Then turn off the burner and put the tea ball, spoon, or bag into the pan. Let it steep (covered) for the recommended time and go from there. The great thing about tea is that you can always heat it up to add more flavors or to make it stronger. Be sure to always clean your tea balls or tea spoons out with warm water before putting another blend in. While it doesn’t have to be washed with soap and water each time, cleaning it out can help maintain separation of flavors. Nothing tastes funkier than a lemon grass blend being mixed with the chai blend you just finished up.

 Here are a few of my favorite blends:

Ginger and Hibiscus
I like this because it settles my stomach and is full of flavor. It’s great for long car rides or just when you need something to wake you up in the middle of the day. For those of you who want to avoid drinking caffeine it is caffeine free and the hibiscus flowers contain plenty of vitamin C.
Once you allow the ginger tea to steep, mix the hibiscus in. You may only want a spoonful of hibiscus so it does not over power the drink. Once that’s done, mix the honey. (1 part ginger, 1/2 part hibiscus to start)
Optional - Let the tea chill in the fridge. While you may drink it hot, I personally prefer cold.

 Black Tea, Rose Petals, and Orange Peel
Black tea is fantastic to have in the morning and adding rose, orange peel, and a bit of lemon juice can help boost your energy.
Steep the black tea with about a spoonful of rose petals mixed with orange peels. Steep for five to ten minutes and then enjoy!
(1 part black tea with 1/4 rose petals and 1/4 orange peel would be a good start)

Yum! This is one of my favorite teas of all time. It took me a couple of tries to come up with this mix. I wanted to make a concentrate that could just be added to milk. 
To do this I use TEH’s chai mix and add ginger and honey. It gives it enough sweetness and zing so when you add the milk there is still plenty of flavor.
I like this for the afternoon when you’re just about to nod off. It helps keep you focused, not to mention the perfect addition to any afternoon snack.

Last but not least,
Holy Basil and Green Tea
During more stressful days I could definitely drink this by the gallons. Just mix holy basil leaves with your favorite green tea. 50/50 works. I only like it to steep for a few minutes since green tea is so light. From there you can drink hot or cold. It’s so tasty either way.

 I’ve also tried a few other ingredients such as white tea, stevia, raspberry and blueberry leaves, and whatever else I can find. White tea is always nice if you want a light and delicate flavor while raspberry and blueberry leaves add a tart fruity taste that is great with green tea or mint tea.
While I often like to leave my tea unsweetened, stevia can be a great addition to any cup. Be sure to use it sparingly however (like a leaf in the tea ball or spoon with the rest of the blend), otherwise you may find it too sweet and it quickly becomes bitter if you use too much.
As you can see, I’m not too much of a stickler when it comes to measurements. Many of my experiments involve a little of this and a little of that. I try to leave plenty of room for myself and others to play with. I like working like this because it helps me find out what is best for me. Find the perfect mix for you. It can be a delightful way to learn about herbs.

And then I went on to share some links to our teas and implements and a few tea related items. 
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Sunday, January 29, 2023