Here's the beautiful thing about growing and blending your own herbal teas: You don't need a lot of space or a huge garden to get started. Simply a few pots, and sunny window (or a small fire escape) and some fresh soil is all you need to grow an organic tea garden in your own apartment—and reap all the health benefits. Here's how to get started with a few of our favorites.
1. Antioxidant Tea: Camellia sinensis
This plant is a favorite for health-savvy gardeners because it has the added bonus of producing stunning white flowers during the cooler fall and winter months. This plant's leaves are commonly used for white, green, oolong and black teas.
Health benefits: You love green tea, we love green tea—anyone with a basic interest in health and wellness is officially on the green tea train right now. That's because this healthy brew is loaded with powerful antioxidants that can reduce the formation of free radicals in the body and slow down the aging process.
How to grow: Your camellia plant will need a little bit of shade, and if you're growing outdoors in a pot, leave it in a sheltered location so that the roots don't freeze in winter. This can grow to several feet high, so you may need to prune it—or, if you have the space, let that baby grow into a large shrub or small tree. You can prune it to a height of three feet or so as commercial growers do for ease of harvesting, or you can let it grow naturally into a large shrub or small tree.
How to harvest: When you're ready to harvest your plan, you want to nab the top two leaves and the leaf bud on a new growth, which happens during spring. These fresh stems will be green, so you can easily tell them apart from last year's growth which will be brown.
How to make tea: As soon as you pick the leaves steam them for a minute and then quickly run under gold water to halt the heating process. Next, roll the leaves with your hands and spread them into an oven tray. Bake for about 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 230 degrees F. You will know when they are ready because the leaves will be completely dry and beginning to crisp. Brewing is simple: Just add a few leaves into a strainer, pour in some boiling water, and allow the tea to steep for several minutes. Be sure to store the excess leaves in an airtight container to preserve.
2. Digestive Tea: Mint
Aside from tasting delicious (this is probably one of our favorite herbal tea ingredients), mint is also great for supporting a healthy digestive system and has been used for generations to naturally relieve headaches.
How to grow: Your new mint plant will thrive in light soil that has good drainage, and likes to be kept moist—so water 'em regularly. It will tolerate some shade but mostly requires sunlight. For best growth in a pot, topdress the plant with a very thin layer of compost or organic fertilizer every couple of months, and if you're keeping these outdoors they will require some protection during winter.
How to harvest: Young leaves are more flavorful than the older ones, and you simply need to pick the leaves as needed.
How to make tea: We like to pick the leaves as needed and add straight to hot water rather than drying them out to enjoy a fresh tea.
3. PMS HEALTH TEA: RED RASPBERRY LEAF
Red raspberry tea has is used holistically to relieve PMS symptoms as well as to promote fertility and healthy pregnancy. It's also packed with iron, calcium, potassium, and vitamins B, C, and E. Oh, and you also get to eat the raspberries!
How to grow: Raspberries (and their leaves!) are pretty easy to grow and best suited to cooler climates. They also need a lot of moisture, so soak the roots for a few hours before you plant and water regularly. It's possible to successfully grow raspberries in a pot, but you will need a container that's pretty sizable—around 60 cm (24 inches) in diameter. Fill the container with a soil-based compost and plant!
How to harvest: You should try to collect the raspberry leaves before the plant blooms—be careful of the thorns, those things hurt! Look for the younger, healthy leaves and clip them from the cane.
How to make tea: Drying raspberry leaves is a process that can take a week. You will need to first rinse off the leaves with cool water and then pat dry. Gather the leaves together by their stems, tie the ends together, and then hang them to dry for several days to a week, depending on how humid your home is. Of course, using a dehydrator will make this process much easier—and faster!