(and the start of the vegetable garden Spring 2022)
Spring has been such an amazing blessing for us this year. After sixteen months away in the South where we had zero access to a garden of any kind, we are finally back home in Western ME. It has been a joy to watch our fruit trees blossoming and showing the promise of a good harvest. I smile when I see the growing patch of purple columbine spreading out from the old well, and the truly deep scarlet of the flowering quince blooming in the front yard. The ancient lilac on the north side of the house now reaches two stories to the roof and floods both floors with its heavy scent. I have sorely missed this magical place!
The best part of coming home? Getting my hands in the soil, digging out the weeds, smelling the dank richness of good compost, placing the young plants in their new homes and watching them start to thrive. We had to start ripping and tearing our way through the raspberry bramble that took over the herb beds while we were gone though. It’s crazy how quickly they can take over a garden! Thankfully my herbs are well established and all but one yarrow plant survived the neglect.
I found a few new fun herbs to try this year: pineapple sage, chocolate mint (container only), valerian, and lemon verbena, plus some lemon thyme, an old favorite of mine. These will be a lovely addition to the garden along with the purple sage and chamomile I picked up. The existing thyme needs a little love but survived the winters, and the echinacea is coming up in full healthy mounds. It is such a gift and I am grateful everything survived as well as it did!
The world has changed so much since my last post. I am grateful to be able to return home and start a new adventure, yet I am conscious that so many are not able to do the same. So I give thanks and vow to always give back in as many ways as possible. Stay tuned for updates on the gardens, the fruit trees, and maybe even some hints on new tea blends! If you have any herbs you love to use in your tea blends feel free to share in the comments.
If you are like me, right about now you are collecting pumpkins, breaking out the Halloween decorations – all while complaining you don’t have enough of said decorations – and enjoying every pumpkin spiced drink and treat you can get your hands on. Fall is my time of year! It’s my birth month, and I can’t get enough of the warm spiciness cinnamon brings to just about everything. I love the falling temps, the changing of the colors and the season, and the gradual move into Winter. The air holds a crispness that has been missing all spring and summer and I relish being able to finally breathe deep again.
Right about now the trees will be a riot of colors in my backyard, and as you head down the path towards the valley before the next peak, there are places to pause and look out over a sea of orange, red, yellow and brown spreading out before you. The deer are out in the clearings and it’s bear season too. Hot apple cider becomes a staple in the crockpot and there is always a kettle on for tea. All the witchy-ness of my Halloween and Samhain decorations blend in with the many bundles of drying herbs hanging from the pine beams and the scattered baskets of vegetables harvested from the garden. Next year we will finish the front porch so I’ll have a cool space to create all manner of macabre displays for the holidays and I can’t wait.
This year has been different though. We relocated to SC temporarily so my husband could attend school. Spending the past year in SC rather than my home in ME has been a learning experience. I found that I do not handle the hot humidity very well, and have tended to hibernate inside this past summer as much as possible. The Fall does not have the same feel here as it does in ME, but the humidity is finally leaving and dragging in cooler temperatures in its wake. Heading out to walk in the sun or go horseback riding – my one indulgence here – is becoming more enjoyable the deeper into October we get. And that makes me smile!
There are so many good Fall Season tea blends out there, and Chai is always a fitting choice. Yet Cinnamon & Orange is one of my favorite tea blends during this time of year, and I like to make the blend myself. I usually buy organic oranges, dry the peels and store them until the fall time. Here’s a tip: I use a vegetable peeler to carefully remove the top part of the orange peel so I don’t have to go back and cut off any of the white pith. Slice these into small pieces and dry on a rack or screen before storing in a glass jar. It’s easy to make this in small batches which you can store in a glass container and then measure out per cup.
Cinnamon Orange Tea blend:
1 cup looseleaf black tea – I use either Assam or Ceylon black tea blends
1/2 cup cinnamon sticks – crushed with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder (not too fine or you’ll have particles floating in your tea)
1/2 cup dried orange peel
Measure 1 1/2 tsp into a tea ball or other diffuser and steep in boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Steep for longer if you like your tea strong.
Add honey and a drop of oat milk to taste
If you are looking for something sweet to accompany your cuppa, try cinnamon graham crackers or apple cider donuts. Those are my go-to favorites for a mid-day tea time!
I hope you try this recipe and enjoy it as much as I do. Happy Fall, Merry Samhain, and a Happy Halloween to all!
Having a perennial herb garden is a wonderful thing, and I am grateful for the space that I call mine. It is currently sitting quietly waiting for my return to ME, desperately needing a good weeding session and a lot of tender care. And while I mourn the inability to dig my hands in the dirt this growing season, I am trying to use the time away to plan the next stage of its life.
There is an entire section of untouched space just waiting for new vegetable beds, and I believe I can add at least four new beds to the existing garden for more herbs. My end goal is not only growing our vegetable and fruit needs, but growing a sustainable tea garden. While actual tea (Camellia sinensis) plants do not thrive in my planting zone, there are many herbs that do which can be mixed into wonderful herbal tisanes and blends.
Sage, chamomile, echinacea, yarrow, thyme, lavender and hyssop are already thriving in my current garden and I can usually find plenty of elderberries in the woods along the edges of the yard to dry for teas and syrups. St. John’s Wort can be foraged in the clearings and there are raspberry and blackberry bushes to content anyone’s heart. But there are so many more herbs that can be used in teas and tisanes. I’ve avoided growing mint unless potted as it takes over any space you give it, but I think an entire bed dedicated to all the different types of mint would be amazing. Apple mint, chocolate mint, lavender mint, spearmint and peppermint all growing in one spot would be a culinary delight if done right!
As I plan the beds, I’ve been using a few books to aid me in my research on herbs and their uses. I wanted to share some titles, as I have found them all very valuable and educational. Definitely check these out if you are planning your own herbal adventure!
I began with The Modern Herbal Dispensatory – A Medicine-Making Guide by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne (978-1-62317-079-0 North Atlantic Books). There is a ton of information contained in the pages of this book and I am still working my way through it. While not specifically for herbal tea blends, the knowledge I am gaining from reading this book has been significant. It is like a textbook of herbal preparations, uses, formulations and recipes. I recommend this book to anyone looking to grow their knowledge of herbs and herbal remedies.
The second book I have found to be extremely helpful is Growing Your Own Tea Garden– The Guide to Growing and Harvesting Flavorful Teas in Your Backyard by Jodi Helmer (978-1-62008-322-2 Fox Chapel Publishing). This entire book is dedicated to creating a garden of herbs that make delicious and healthy tea/tisane blends. The list of herbs, roots, flowers and fruits is quite long and there are wonderful tips throughout the book offering advice for the best brews, and how to make them. The beginning of the book offers a quick history of tea and the growing of tea, and then jumps right into the herbs, separating them by the part of the plant used. This is one of my go-to books as I plan the new beds.
The third book I’ve been reading is a little different and focuses on more magical uses for herbs and plants and their mythology. It is The Illustrated Herbiary – Guidance and Rituals from 36Bewitching Botanicals by Maia Toll (978-1-61212-968-6 Storey Publishing). The artwork and illustrated plant oracle cards that came with it are simply beautiful, and if this is your path I would recommend acquiring this book. I love the little secrets and historical uses the author adds into the plant descriptions and illustrations. I have enjoyed reading this book and using the oracle cards, gaining more knowledge as I go along.
I am sure there are so many more books I will find along the way, and I will be sure to share them all with you. Once I am able to start the physical work in the gardens, making the beds, planting the herbs and vegetables, plus setting up a drying & processing space I will share pictures. At some point I will be packaging and selling my own herbal tea blends, so check back with me in a year!
I also hope you will check out the books I mentioned above, and share your comments and thoughts!
Most of us find ourselves stressed and exhausted from the pandemic and the last year, so finding something that is soothing and relaxing to enjoy can be a blessing. For me, sitting back with a good book and a great cup of tea is definitely one of those blessings. Being an avid reader and tea drinker has been a lifelong pursuit, and I love deciding what flavor or feeling I want for each moment.
Oolong is one of my favorite types of tea, and I enjoy varying the flavor by adding herbs and flowers. I found an organic Jade Oolong tea from The Little Red Cup Tea Company in Brunswick, ME that I fell in love with and have been experimenting with every other cup I brew. The Jade Oolong is smooth, with a sweet smokiness worth being enjoyed all on its own. Yet with the right herbs, this oolong helps create wonderful new depths of flavor.
My current favorite is a Jade Mint Oolong variation with Hyssop. I harvested and dried the peppermint and hyssop from my own herb garden, but you can find these ingredients at stores that sell dried herbs and spices. Both hyssop and peppermint are wonderful for helping to promote a healthy digestive system and give a fresh, bright flavor to the oolong.
I brewed an iced tea for the first batch, so the measurements are for a 2 quart glass container.
6 tsp dried Jade Oolong
2 tsp dried Peppermint leaves, crushed
2 tsp dried Hyssop flowers and leaves, crushed
1/4 cup organic sugar if desired
Steep in 2 quarts boiling water for at least 10 minutes then allow to cool before transferring to a glass container to be stored in the refrigerator
(To make one cup, brew 1 tsp jade oolong, 1/2 tsp peppermint, 1/2 tsp hyssop in 6 oz boiling water)
I hope you enjoy your cuppa and your book the next time you sit down to relax! Let me know if you try this recipe and how you liked it.
Each time I begin heating the water for a cup of tea, a dialog starts in my head of what exactly do I want to make. Am I in the mood for an Earl Grey (meaning is it wet and rainy out)? Is there a nice fruity blend calling my name (apricot or blueberry, maybe)? Or do I need something more for my day? Feeling down, stressed, sick, or lacking all motivation? There is almost always something in the cabinet for just that!
Honestly, though, some days I’ll just make my favorite black tea (British blend Tetley tea) just to avoid having to make a choice. Or I’ll pull out my current go to black or green tea blend, like the Harney and Sons tea apricot blend I found that really is quite good. There is nothing that says you always have to make your own tea blend to enjoy a cuppa.
Yet I have found more satisfaction when I make or amend my own blends. I posted earlier on the Feverfew, Mugwort, & Yarrow blend that I’ll brew up if I need it. Adding herbs to my cup of green or chamomile tea can make all the difference in the taste and how it affects my day. Lavender has been the most difficult herb to add for me. I tend to overdo it and the tea comes out almost soapy tasting, so I have been avoiding that particular flower. Instead I’ll add hyssop or elderberries if I’m feeling a little under the weather, or peppermint if I feel a little nauseous or have a stuffy nose. Peppermint tea always brings up my mood and during Yule I always sweeten my tea with candy canes while I can get them.
Fresh ginger can also be a tough herb to add to a tea, and I do so sparingly so as to not overpower the other tea flavors. I don’t mind the heat of fresh ginger but not so much in my tea. Adding dried blueberries and lemon balm when you have them on hand makes for a delicious blend, and lemon balm can be a great sleep aid. Cinnamon and orange peel with a clove is definitely a favorite of mine. I never tire of cinnamon, and usually sprinkle it in my coffee each morning. Each of these herbs are helpful in one way or another, yet they also simply make your herbal tea taste divine. Cinnamon can aid with blood sugar levels, cloves are anti-inflammatory and can aid in improving liver function, and both are ingredients in delicious chai teas. Add in some ginger, cardamom, and black peppercorns, and you’re well on your way to a spicy tea heaven.
What are your favorite herbs to add to your regular tea blends? What herbs are the worst in your opinion? Let’s have some fun exploring new blends!
There are so many herbs one can find in tea blends, some for calming and others for invigoration. Today I needed something completely different. As we get closer to menopause, our cycles tend to go haywire. At least mine is, and today has been brutal. I have found this particular blend to help me on these painful, heavy days. The herbs I use are ones I have grown myself in my organic garden, so I know they are not tainted with pesticides. I did not have a large chamomile harvest last year, so I’ve purchased a box of organic chamomile tea bags supplement my stock and use as a base for this tea. You can use loose green tea if you prefer.
1 tea bag – Organic Chamomile – promotes relaxation and is an anti-inflammatory herb
1/2 tsp. – Organic dried Feverfew – this is an anti-inflammatory herb that can aid in menstruation
1/4 tsp – Organic ginger -chopped – this has anti-inflammatory properties and can aid in pain relief, even dismenorrhea. I add this for flavor and overall good health.
1/2 tsp – Organic dried Mugwort – used to help regulate menstrual cycles and ease painful menstruation. *Please note Mugwort can cause uterine contractions and should never be used if pregnant or nursing. Not recommended for use for longer than 1 week at a time.
1/2 tsp – Organic dried Yarrow – used to stop wound bleeding and heavy menstrual flow
You can put the loose dried herbs and ginger into a separate tea ball and add to your mug with boiling water and steep for up to 5 minutes. Any longer and you risk the tea becoming bitter.
Sweeten with honey rather than sugar to avoid negating the anti-inflammatory benefits of this tea. It has an earthy flavor overall, and is quite pleasant. I found that one mug does the trick for me on my worst days.
Do you have a favorite tea blend that works for you on your worst days? If so, please feel free to share it here. I’m sure we all could use some healing and relaxation during our monthly cycles, and finding new blends and flavors are always fun to try.
(I am not a doctor or pharmacist, and although I do my due diligence when researching herbs and blends for internal use you should always check with your physician before imbibing herbal blends.)