I never really thought of making my own tea blends until one day I walked into my dad’s garden, picked a few leaves and blended them with a bag of chamomile tea. The freshness of the tea was divine.
Wild strawberry leaves, black and red currant leaves, lemon verbena, basil, elderflowers, lavender, rosehip and all other rose petals – gardens are treasure troves for tea makers. In summer and autumn you can use fresh leaves and flowers, but make sure to dry some to use in winter and early spring. You can also dehydrate fruits and berries and use them for certain tea blends.
Of course, white, green, black and red tea might not be growing in your garden, but you can buy those from tea specialists, together with other herbs and flowers you aren’t growing yourself. Having an herbal garden indoors in your kitchen, by growing herbs in pots is also a possibility.
Now, let’s have a look at how to make tea!
Whatever the season, you might fancy a sweetener in your tea. Many add some honey to their tea for that reason, but did you know that licorice root naturally sweetens teas? Of course, it adds a certain taste to it (though maybe not the taste you’d expect!), but it’s used by most herbal tea companies in a variety of blends and tends to enhance the flavor of a lot of them.
The Chinese sometimes add dried fruits to their blends to sweeten them. I fell in love with a tea called Five Treasures Tea in Beijing and found it once more in San Francisco. It’s deliciously sweet and the secret seems to be dried fruits, including melon.
If you just want a sweetener, try blending your own by mixing raw honey (unheated to keep the health benefits), maple syrup, stevia, xylitol, raw agave syrup, coconut sugar, date syrup and raw cane sugar, or alternating between the different ones.
That way you get a little bit of everything! (Note that stevia has a peculiar taste – it works great as an enhancer of something sweet, but not on its own. You need very little to make something very sweet! Also, xylitol can cause diarrhea and bloating if you ingest too much, so use your own judgment.)
Fall and winter tea blends
When we think of winter we think of pumpkin spice, don’t we? Cinnamon too and maybe some mint? So how do we use that in tea? That’s where your imagination comes in!
Try dried oranges/orange peel with some cinnamon (you can crush some bark if you don’t want powder in your tea) and rooibos OR black tea. Add a little bit of licorice for sweetness. Add a tiny bit of cloves if you want more spice. Alternatively, exchange the orange for apple!
Chai tea is an excellent winter warmer. There are as many recipes for chai as there are people making it in India, but personally, I tend to use cinnamon, nutmeg (tiny amount – it’s poisonous if you use too much), cardamom, cloves, and ginger.
Preferably also black peppercorns (traditionally used), or a bit of chili. In addition to this, I often add some allspice and licorice root. You can also add star anise, or fennel seeds, which will give it a much more licorice-like flavor and that’s how some people in India do it.
Chai spices are often blended with black tea, but can also be used on their own as an herbal blend, with rooibos (red tea, which is caffeine-free), honey bush (also caffeine-free), green tea, or white tea. In other words, due to its’ popularity, chai has been blended with all sorts of teas!
You can make chai tea lattes by boiling a really strong tea (you need to boil it for so long there’s almost no water left) which you mix with milk, or boil the herbs directly with the milk, instead of water.
Lattes are usually served with a sweetener, like honey, done up nice and frothy (the milk is steamed like a proper latte) and sprinkled with finely ground cinnamon, or cardamom, or both.
Other winter blends
If you use just the spice blend (not adding any tea), you can boil it with red wine, or apple juice too, for a spicy, warm drink.
If you prefer a candy cane winter tea, try blending dried mint leaves (mix spearmint with regular garden mint), with licorice root. You can add a tea to this blend if that’s what you fancy. And why not serve it with a candy cane?
If you need a “perk me up” to get through winter, St. John’s Worth is supposed to help you stay happy, affecting serotonin levels, whilst ginseng is supposed to keep you energized. Be careful not to mix these two with certain medications, including the female “pill” unless you check with your doctor first as St. John’s Worth can interfere with some medications. As can large doses of ginger and grapefruit!
Speaking of ginger, grating fresh ginger, squeezing out the juice of half a lemon and mixing it with honey and a drop or two of stevia is an excellent herbal tea for winter. Very spicy and refreshing. You can add some basil for extra flavor, or why not green tea if you want some caffeine and antioxidants?
Spring tea blends
Spring speaks of cleansing and detoxing, which fresh nettle and dandelion leaves can help you with, best collected in spring before they grow bitter. Burdock, milk thistle and hibiscus are other herbs often used for detoxing. Truth be told, most herbs and teas help your body in one way or another, and they provide antioxidants, which helps support your health in a plethora of different ways.
In addition to nettle and dandelion-based teas, I like blending fresh garden herbs – oregano, thyme, rosemary, basil, parsley and sage – and drinking it, when I feel I need a bit of a spring cleanse, or to prevent a cold.
For that “spring feel,” try teas with lemon verbena, lemon balm; fresh this is delicious (but if you plant it next to something else in the garden, watch out – it spreads like wild fire), or lemon grass.
Summer tea blends
Summer is such a lush season, filled with herbs, flowers, fruits and berries. This is the season to forage the supplies you’ll need for the rest of the year, whilst also indulging in typical summer flavors.
For light summer nights, sipping tea by candle light, you’ll want a calming blend of lavender, rose petals and lemon balm, combined with fresh mint leaves.
Elderberry is also part of the summer blossoms and both the flower and the berries are supposed to be good for your immune system, as are rosehip (read up on how to use the berries if that’s your goal as they will make you itch if you come in contact with the seeds) and hibiscus. Try blending the three, but beware it can get sour. Balance it out with other flavors.
If you want a refreshing tea, try a simple Moroccan mint tea – fresh or dried mint, green tea, and honey. Have it iced if it’s hot, even blend it with some cold fruit juice for a fruity iced tea! You can freeze it as popsicles too if you add juice.
Closer towards the end of summer and the harvest season, try dried apple, or berries, with cinnamon, black tea, and vanilla. Warm and fruity. Check out the leaves from some berry bushes too for interesting blends in summer.
Tea blends can be as fanciful as you want them to be, but remember that it’s like regular recipes – you need to balance the flavors. You can drink a concoction that doesn’t taste too great, simply because it’s medicinal, but you can also use those same herbs in various different teas, balancing out the flavors.
You won’t get the medicinal effect as quickly, but you will get it eventually. And drinking several cups of different herbal teas every day will give you a plethora of health benefits, so get experimenting!