Planning for a tea garden

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 36 Bewitching 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!

Jade Mint Oolong

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.

© 2021 Mistwalker Herbal

Does it really work?

Every day there are new ideas, recipes and how to’s online for skin care and beauty. How many have you tried? Honestly, I usually stick to candle and food ideas and work on my own skin care regimen. Researching herbs, creams, and salves is fun for me and since I have very sensitive skin most ideas get tossed unless they are scent free and coconut oil free (when it comes to my face). Yet a part of me always wonders… will this really work? So I tried a few that I found online.

There is a lot of talk about turmeric and aging and problematic skin so I decided to try a simple recipe with only three ingredients. How could I go wrong? Waiting until my husband left for the afternoon, (because there is simply no need to put myself in an hysterical situation with witnesses) I whipped up a tiny batch of the following: 1/4 tsp organic turmeric powder, 1 tbsp raw honey, and 1 tbsp organic plain greek yogurt. I then proceeded to smear this on my face and sat around letting it dry for no more than 10 minutes, just in case the turmeric started to dye my skin yellow. I used my fingers to put the mixture on my face because I dind’t have any fancy brushes or makeup tools. Note: turmeric does stain clothing and towels so be very careful to wash your hands fully after applying the mixture to your skin.

Did I mention the smell is kind of funky? It is. The sweet smell of the honey is overpowered by the yogurt as it warms and dries. It has a soured milk smell that wasn’t very pleasant to me. But I stuck with it for the 10 minutes and then rinsed my face with warm water and then washed it with my normal cleanser to get any lingering residue off my face. First impressions were great. My skin had a nice glow, and the lines by the corners of my eyes seemed a little less severe to me. There was no redness or rash appearing so I thought – hey, great!

Until the next morning. All over my chin and cheeks, my temples and in between my eyebrows, there appeared many, many small whiteheads. Guessing it’s the honey or the yogurt that caused the breakouts, and not the turmeric spice, I am going to say that for my facial skin this recipe is a definte no go. It took a few days for the breakouts to stop appearing, and begin to go away. Yet I am not a patient girl.

Deciding to clear up the blemishes from the yogurt/honey debacle faster, I tried one last mixture on my face. There is a lot of information out there about star anise being used for wrinkles and aging skin. So I did a little research on my own and decided that the benefits of star anise and cinnamon were worth trying. Star anise has antioxidants and other compounds that help it promote healthy skin, minimize the appearance of fine wrinkles, and helps aid with old acne scars and blemishes. It also has antibacterial properties. Cinnamon has antiseptic properties and can help with acne, blemishes, and unclogging pores. (I also put a dash of cinnamon in my morning cup of joe every day because of it’s ability to help lower blood sugar levels and is anti-inflammatory.)

Taking the following steps I made a rather large batch of facial serum, so feel free to reduce the volume. I have the excess stored in my refridgerator to keep it fresh.

I boiled 5 star anise pods (with seeds) and three sticks of cinnamon in 1 liter of water for 5 minutes. I then allowed the liquid to cool and poured it into a storage container, sealed it and refridgerated it. The next day I took a small portion and filled a 4 oz dark amber vial with dropper to keep in my bathroom. You can also put the serum in a small spray bottle and mist your face if you prefer. After showering and before putting on any face lotion, I dab the serum on my face using a cotton pad, being careful around my eyes. The smell is wonderful and spicy, and dissipates quickly from your skin.

The next morning almost all of my blemishes were on their way to being gone. The redness had disappeared completely, making them less noticeable. The fine wrinkles by my eyes were still there. But my skin had no adverse reaction to this serum, most likely due to it being water based. I have used it for 4 days, once a day at night, and I am not seeing any rash or redness. My blemishes are healing, and I can see the lines by my eyes slowly becoming a little less noticable. Maybe it’s my imagination so I’ll keep you posted on that. Time will tell if the serum also helps with acne scars, but this is one I’ll make again and maybe give it a permanent spot in my bathroom.

What homemade skincare products have you tried at home? Did they work or did they cause you problems? Feel free to share your story in the comment section, or link to your own blog page. I’m sure so many of us would love not having to try them all!

Healing with Calendula

Calendula is an incredibly versatile herb, with gorgeous flowers that always cheer me up when I see them growing in the garden or in the wild. Deer love to eat the flowers so protect your plants if you’ve got deer in your area. I’ve lost a lot of calendula flowers from deer sneaking into my back yard and munching in my flower pots, so now I plant them in a fenced garden plot.

Calendula is an annual flower, but it self-seeds quite nicely if you allow some of the flowers to dry on the plant and drop naturally. I still have a small amount of the dried flowers/petals from last year’s harvest that I am using to make some salves and tinctures while still leaving some of my stash for herbal teas.

Using what I had on hand for an oil, I used safflower oil for the salve I will make. Safflower oil is noncomedogenic, anti-inflammatory, and can help the overall appearance of your skin. The dried herb will need to soak in the oil for another 5-6 weeks before it will be ready to strain and mix with beeswax to make my salves. I added some vitamin e oil to the jar as well. The salve will be good for use with acne, rashes, burns, wounds, varicose veins, and to prevent muscle spasms. It helps to improve skin overall, and has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial properties and is also used to reduce pain and swelling, so adding it to an oil like safflower just made sense to me.

The tincture I am making is based with a 40% alcohol content gluten-free vodka and also has 5-6 weeks left to steep. Since calendula also aids in helping clear acne, reduces heartburn, sore throats, constipation and abdominal cramping, I decided to make an alcohol based tincture in addition to the oil. It can be mixed with witch hazel for a face astringent, plus be taken internally if you don’t want to brew a tea. You can add the tincture by dropper into a glass of water or simply on your tongue if you prefer.

I used 1 part dried flowers to 4 parts liquid in both the oil and the tincture base. I may add some essential oils (therapeutic grade only) like lavender or rosemary to the oil once it is ready to be heated with the beeswax and poured into small containers. The tincture will be left alone and put into a dark glass dropper once it is ready and has been strained with cheesecloth.

When I make a tea from calendula, I normally add it to chamomile if I don’t have a loose green tea on hand. You can add any number of herbs to the calendula for your tea as the taste is not too overpowering. In a little over a month, I’ll let you know how the tincture and the salve came out.

What are your favorite uses for calendula? Feel free to comment and share your favorite use or recipe below.

*Calendula is also known to start menstrual periods, so do not use this if you are pregnant (or nursing) or if you have an allergy to ragweed.

©Copyright 2021 Mistwalker Herbal