What do you drink when you write? Tea? Coffee? Water? Something different? How about while you read? Do you drink anything at all or do you fear dropping it all over your book and ruining the nice white pages?
Personally, my favorite drink to enjoy while writing or reading is a good cup of chai tea (though I often don't find in me the motivation to make it and just drink water). In fact, I particularly enjoy tea of all kinds and the cups that I can put it in (teacups and mugs to be specific. I have a collection).
So recently, when my mother questioned what else we could put in the garden out back, I suggested a few plants that could be used in tea. which led to her allowing me to start my own tea garden.
I would like to now insert a disclaimer and announcement all rolled into one: Disclaimer! I have not yet made any teas from my tea garden as we have not yet reached the production stage. I will post again when we do reach the production stage and I have discovered what exciting combinations of tea I can make with my plants. Announcement! I am not someone who believes in the mystical or magical qualities of plants or their oils. While some of these plants might have some medicinal properties, I am unsure of how well tested they are and would take the information with a grain of salt. I would note, chamomile does have the ability to help tire you out. Lemon verbena and mint can be good for a cold. But mostly, they just taste nice especially if you aren't taking in high quantities of the herbs.
That being said, tea gardens are great! Not only are there so many amazing plants that you can grow in them but they can be used for a lot more than tea. I have strawberry plants in my garden for example. I will use the leaves of the strawberry plant for tea but while the fruit can also be used for tea, I have been requested to donate the delicious berries to the family for consumption. Chamomile is a great deterrent of bugs that might eat away at some of your herbs or other greens. Yarrow is supposed to attract butterflies and other good pollinators (though I wouldn't know for sure because mine hasn't grown yet). And of course, many of the plants just look and smell great!
So if you're on the edge, trying to decide whether or not to start a tea garden, I say "Go for it!" Even if you only plant herbs and flowers that can be used in other recipes planting a tea garden is a great idea and makes a great addition to your overall garden. Not to mention, you can tell your friends you have a tea garden and sound pretty cool!
But once you have decided to plant your tea garden, you will, of course, have to decide what to plant in it. There are hundreds of edible plants that you could choose for your tea garden but I will go over a few including the ones that I planted in my own tea garden.
First, it is important to understand that unless you plant the camellia sinensis (or "tea" plant), your "tea" garden will technically be a "tisane" garden. The only "teas" which are technically "teas" are those which are caffeinated and come from this plant (black, white, and green teas fall under this category and earl grey is a blend of black tea and bergamont). Other herbal "teas" have the technical name "tisanes" though I still generally call them tea and like to call my garden (in which I do not have a "tea" plant) a "tea" garden. You can plant tea plants and use the leaves to make caffeinated tea. I chose not to do so as I wasn't convinced I could do so correctly. I stuck to simpler plants to start off with.
So what did I put in my "tea" garden?
I started with a few roses.
Most of the rose (or maybe all of the rose) is edible. You can eat rosehip, rosebuds, rose petals, and rose leaves but I mostly wanted the rose for their petals or buds which can be dried and put into tea. Rose has a very floral taste and I am excited to try it as I never have before.
I then chose a lemon verbena plant.
Lemon verbena is very similar to lemon balm. I personally decided that I did not want both in my garden but you may decide to have both. Both have a lemony taste though lemon verbena is sweeter and stronger. Lemon balm is more often used in cooking while lemon verbena is used in baking. Lemon verbena almost smells like a lemon cough drop but I like the smell. Lemon verbena is a bush that can grow up to 6 feet while lemon balm is a relative of the mint family and is quickly spreading. See lemon verbena above and lemon balm below.
I read also about strawberry leaves and raspberry leaves being used in teas. We planted strawberries in one of our planters last year and they sent out runners, totally overtaking the planter and somehow managing to reach the garden below the planter. I was given permission by my mother to take some of the strawberry plants from the garden below the planter and transplant them into my tea garden. Strawberry leaves are supposed to be good for the stomach and are said to be mild and fruity in flavor but more bitter than strawberries. I have dried some but have yet to taste the tea. Be sure you eat the leaves either fully dry or fully healthy as they are not good for you in between.
Another plant I stole from around the property were the violas that were popping up around the cracks in one of our planters. Violas are a smaller version of violets and just like violets they are edible and can be made into tea. The violas are annual but self-seed and are hardy. I stole only one plant but we found some seeds and planted those as well. They are beginning to come up now. Violas have a sweet smell, a mild taste like a mild lettuce, and often a hint of a minty taste suggesting they would pair well with mint.
Speaking of mint, I also chose a mint for my garden. There are a lot of different kinds of mint. Nowadays, there are even a lot of hybrids that have been created such as apple-mint, chocolate-mint, and orange-mint. The most classic kinds of mint, however, are spearmint and peppermint. Spearmint is a little bit sweeter and milder than peppermint so if you want something super strong, go with peppermint but if you are hoping for something a little bit milder, go with spearmint. I chose spearmint for my tea garden. NOTE on mint: Mint spreads incredibly easily through the roots. Plant it in a pot of some sort or a separate planter to prevent it from spreading around the rest of the garden. We planted it in a plastic pot which we dug into the ground to make it look as though the mint is planted in the ground just like the other plants.
One of the plants I wanted more than any other in my "tea" garden was chamomile. You have probably heard of chamomile as it is a popular tea and plant. The flowers of chamomile are edible and tastes mildly sweet and a little bit like apple. It is one of the few flavors in my garden (aside from mint) that I have tasted before. Some of my favorite chamomile teas are Twinning's "Winter Spice" tea which pairs the apple flavor with spices like cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom and includes chamomile. I also love a lavender-chamomile loose-leaf tea my mother got me for a birthday a while back. Lavender is another plant excellent for tea gardens. There are hundreds of varieties of lavender and many can be used for tea. The buds of the flower are what is used for the tea and they are most often dried and taken out of the satchel before the tea is made. The taste is often described as "herbaceous" and "woody" with an undertone of mint and apple.
I also truly wanted to add yarrow to my tea garden though we did struggle to find it for quite some time and ended up buying the seeds on Amazon. Yarrow is a wildflower that can be found in California but I did want to grow it in my garden. Yarrow used to be used to stop wounds from bleeding. It is supposed to help with fever, hay fever, and common cold among other things. I also really wanted it in my garden due to the fact that it is stunning and many sights say it attracts butterflies. The leaves have a strong licorice-like smell and a sweeter taste followed by a bitter aftertaste.
If there is one thing I would suggest putting in your "tea" garden that I did not put in my own, it would be calendula. Though I did not put calendula in my tea garden, I planned to for a while until deciding that the flower would not far well in the spot my garden is laid out in. While my garden is in full sun, the calendula prefers some shade. Most of the other plants in the garden don't mind a lot of heat and sun. The calendula is a type of marigold (though make sure you get this particular one as the others do not have the same properties). It is a beautiful orange with a dark center and is supposed to have anti-inflammatory properties that people give credit for helping with period cramps and other muscle fatigue. The taste of calendula resembles saffron as it can be spicy, bitter, tangy, and peppery.
Instead of putting calendula in my garden, I decided to go with cornflower which can withstand the heat and sun much better. Cornflower is a lovely edible flower that can be put on salads and used in tea but the flower is also incredibly stunning and because of its mildly sweet and neutral flavor, many use it as a decoration over anything else. The flower is most commonly known for being blue though it does come in other colors. It is used in some medications for diarrhea and fever. It has a subtle clove flavor as well as the mild sweetness already described.
There are so many other plants you could look at to put in your garden. Have a look at this blog post with over 40 plant suggestions which I looked at when choosing plants for my tea garden. You could also get a book like this one that I am considering picking up which details the plants, the necessary garden environment, how to pick your tea leaves and flowers, and what combinations might be good. Think about how you plan to dry your herbs (or whether you plan to use them all up as they are) before you start to get to the production stage. You might want to try hanging flowers and leaves, pressing them between paper towels in a book, or using a dehydrator. Consider also having on hand some citrus, whole cloves, and other elements that you might want to add to your tea combinations. Finally, consider what you will be using to make the tea. Do you prefer loose-leaf or teabags? Consider finding a tea-infuser like these ones which I use or learning how to make your own teabags. You could also pick up a glass teacup to show off your new stunning flowers infusing your tea with their goodness and beauty.