So often when we think of farming and homesteading, we’re thinking about growing food for the table. Corn and squash and potatoes and tomatoes and cucumbers and lettuces…We’re thinking about how to grow a variety of foods that are good-to-eat fresh and that also store well, that taste good and provide well-rounded nutrition for our family. Farm crops grow in large plots, they grow into large plants, and they bear large fruits, enough to make a meal out of. But the land brings forth lots and lots of other, smaller, humbler fruits, as well – and they are good, too!
Herbal teas aren’t something that I give a lot of dedicated attention to. They’re kind of a sidebar, kind of the-thing-I-do-if-I-have-time-leftover-after-the-other-things-I-have-to-do. Honestly, I don’t think I appreciated herbal teas until I started to realize just how many different teas I was quickly harvesting and putting away just so that they didn’t go to waste! And then I began to realize that each of these little teas contains a variety of micro-nutrients that we really never think about. And each of them are quite good for us, especially during the winter months when fresh fruits and veggies are no longer available from the garden. And so I realized that something as simple as adding different herbal teas into daily life is probably giving our bodies more benefits than we even realize.
All of these herbal teas are inexpensive and abundant. Many are foraged. Some grow like weeds after a single planting. And some are simply a bonus from an existing crop. I’ve come to appreciate them more by season-by-season as we’ve discovered them and learned about them and harvested them. Here’s hoping herbal teas become a pleasant addition to your farm, too!
these teas are made from plants that grow wild on our land or in our area
After the blossoms are pollinated, collect the petals. Use them fresh or dry them for later. These are beach-rose petals from a visit to the shore, but I also harvested meadow-rose petals from our homestead with equally-delightful results. Rose tea absolutely tastes like a cup-full of a summer day! And a half-and-half blend of Rose and Mint is especially refreshing in any season.
After the blossoms are pollinated, collect the petals. Use them fresh or dry them for later. Apple blossom tea tastes like roses, but lighter.
Recognizable by its heart-shaped, clover-like leaves, wild sorrel has a surprisingly tangy lemon flavor. (We have varieties with white blossoms and yellow blossoms, and both are equally delicious.) It’s such a potent source of vitamin C that sailors used it in place of oranges to prevent vitamin C deficiency. It’s a delicious snack right-off-the-plant and can be used in tea fresh or dried, though I do think the lemony flavor is brightest when fresh.
(a coffee substitute)
The lawn-ruining dandelion inspires choruses of complaints from suburbanites nation-wide. While I once joined that chorus, I have since learned that the dandelion is actually an amazing little foraged plant! The leaves are a good source of greens, both in salads and cooked. Pluck fresh yellow flowers for a light, sweet tea…But pull them up by the roots, and you’re in for a real treat! Scrub roots and sun-dry, then roast over low heat until it’s as dark and rich as you like. As with coffee, darker roasts are stronger and more bitter, while lighter roasts are milder and sweeter. Once roasted, grind like coffee, and brew like coffee! Dandelion-root has an amazing, earthy, rich flavor that has come to be a real treat in a house-full of coffee drinkers. And the best part is, the more the dandelions multiply despite all your efforts to control them, the more you know you’ll be enjoying a variety of delicious harvests from this endearing little nuisance!
these are teas that we planted once, that now spread like wildflowers
Okay, so it’s not exactly a tea, but violet syrup has quickly become one of my all-time favorite drink-related surprises from the garden! Violets, as it turns out, are a pH indicator, changing color from green to purple to magenta based on the pH of your liquid. Add violet syrup to your lemonade – and it will turn pink! Violets are entirely edible, both leaves and blossoms, and can be added to salads fresh, or dried for teas and syrups later. Violet syrup has a surprisingly grape-like sweetness which pairs well with all kinds of desserts, and makes an especially delicious pink lemonade. We sprinkled Johnny Jump Up violets along our garden paths when we first moved in, not realizing that Common Violets were already growing native – and now we have a rapidly-spreading mixture of both wild and cultivated violets to enjoy!
Also known as bee balm, this herb was discovered by settlers who found it to be a good substitute for Earl Grey. It’s actually quite similar to thyme – it’s great for bees and great for tea! I’ve found it to be quite strong though, and I’m more likely to blend it with other teas than to use it alone.
Of course. Plant a little, and it will soon overtake any space you’ve made available to it! So be careful where you let it grow – but few things are so delicious as a mint-sun-tea in the summer or a hot-mint-tea by the fire! And a half-and-half blend of Rose and Mint is especially refreshing in any season.
Full disclosure – I don’t like black licorice. I don’t like anise seeds, I don’t like anise extract, and I definitely don’t like any kind of licorice-flavored anything. So I was hesitant about planting anise hyssop in my kitchen garden. Joe talked me into it, and I’m so glad he did! This is one of those interesting circumstances where the natural, herbal anise leaves right-off-the-plant are delicious in a way that I never could have expected from the concentrated products that I had tried before! It’s a family favorite right off the plant, fresh leaves picked and chewed in passing. It spreads happily like a weed and has beautiful purple-spike blossoms. It’s makes such a naturally-sweet tea that it doesn’t even need honey. Truly a wonderful addition to the tea garden.
these are teas that are by-products of crops that we grow on the farm
(a coffee substitute)
Chicory is a cold-hardy lettuce-crop for us. But, like dandelions, the root can be harvested and roasted for a coffee additive or coffee substitute. In fact, if you look up New Orleans-style coffee, you’ll find that it’s just coffee with roasted chicory. Because in old times, when coffee was a bit short, people would add ground, roasted chicory to their supply to stretch it out. And now it’s a tradition!
Raspberries are a berry-crop for us, obviously! But the leaves are good for tea, as well, so don’t let those go to waste!
by Sydney Michalski