Friday, 30 September 2016

Herbal Leafie Tea

Mint Tea from Scratch

If you have fresh herbs and a dehydrator, this tea is a cinch, provided you have a dehydrator.  If you are growing herbs, or intend to, a dehydrator is a must, and they're not terribly expensive.  Even a certain huge box store that begins with W sells them for around $40. 

Herbal tea could be said to take five months to make, if you aren't growing herbs yet, or about nine hours, if you have them on hand..  It makes enough to stuff a large mason jar that will last you through many, many more cups of tea than a box of herbal tea will do, and it will taste so much better.

If you’re interested, check out the instructions on growing mint  below.  (That’s a task to begin in the spring.)  Anise hyssop and tulsi (Holy Basil) are also easily grown, but I'll post those instructions in the spring.)

For now, I'm focussing on mint and dianthus flowers, although these directions apply to any herbal leaf and edible flower that has a pleasant taste and a healthy effect.

Meanwhile, harvest a grocery bag’s worth of mint.  Wash it in a colander, then strip the leaves by pinching off the top two leaves, then running your thumb and forefinger down the stem.  You can strip the flower stalks this way, or leave the flower stalks whole, which looks pretty in the tea.

Put the most delicate items on the top rack.

Layer the leaves on dehydrator racks.  Bottom racks will dehydrate more quickly, so place leaves more thickly on lower racks to even out drying time.  Put most delicate items on the top rack.  I had a few dianthus flowers, but hope to find more for a second batch.  Dianthus are aromatic and edible, so I included them with this tea.  Make sure that any flowers you do use are edible!

My dehydrator is so old it doesn’t even have a brand name on it.  It just plugs in, but I do make sure the air holes in the lid are open as far as they can go.  After an hour you’ll see moisture condensing inside, and the aroma is a bit grassy, but as the leaves dry, they will smell more like mint.  Check on the leaves from time to time and rotate racks around to make sure the leaves dry evenly.  Put the lid back each time.

You can use the mint at any point along the way for a cup of tea, but make sure you dehydrate it for at least eight hours, till it’s crackly dry before you store it.  I turn the dehydrator off and leave overnight, so every last bit of moisture is gone.  Then I fill a mason jar the next morning, and use a tight fitting lid. 

To make a cup of tea, place about a teaspoon of loose leaves into a cup.  Pour hot water over to steep.  Five minutes later you may want to strain the tea, or drink it with the leaves, it’s up to you.

Many herbal leafy plants cannot root from cuttings, but mint will cheerfully oblige you.  As for growing the mint, about a month before the last frost in your area, buy a bunch of healthy mint at the grocery store for about two dollars.  Depending on the size of the bunch, set the stems in one or two glasses filled with water.  Set each glass into a clear plastic bag, pulling the top of the bag up and over the mint.  Tie the bag loosely to make a mini-greenhouse.  If you skip this step, the mint will wilt and die.  
Pack into a big mason jar when it's brittle dry.

Place the mini greenhouses in a bright window (not a full sun window) and watch for a couple of weeks.  Add water when it runs low, and remove any rotting leaves or stems.  Add a few grains of fertilizer if you have it.  When fine white hairy roots are about two inches long, remove from the glasses and pot up, one per two inch pot.  Use a good quality potting soil and make sure that the soil is low enough in the pot that water will sink into the soil and not run out over the top.  Water well.

Put each pot into a clear plastic bag and tie loosely again to make more little greenhouses.  The bags will provide enough humidity.  Our climate is so dry the plants can’t survive without this step.  Keep in a bright window till you have frost free days.  Sun is fine at this point.

The two dollars you spend on a bunch of fresh mint will yield about ten to fifteen plants.  Or you could go to the garden centre and spend around three dollars on one plant.  Just be sure that the bunch of mint you buy is vibrant and firm.  Avoid buying weak or wilting bunches, as they will not produce good results.

You can plant up to five of these plants in a large pot, say 16 inches in diameter.  Or you can put it directly into the ground, spaced about a foot apart,  if you’re not worried about it taking over the garden.  Mint doesn’t need a lot of sun.  I keep it growing in a large ceramic pot by my shady pond, then I also have it growing in a shady garden, and then another huge pot in a sunny spot by the vegetable garden.  The shadier spots have nicer plants, with bigger leaves. This is a long term project, but well worth the results.

Of course you can't see it growing, because I harvested it already.  There's the large, upright ceramic pot full of stems putting out new leaves already.  Harvesting several times a season makes good sense too!

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