Well, it's another rainy, gray day in central Maine! This has been the rainiest summer I ever remember. And to be honest work in the garden this week has been...well, nonexistent. It's so darn wet out there; I haven't even harvested most of my raspberries. I've picked enough to make some muffins and freeze a few. But not only did I get soaked picking because the foliage is soaking wet but the mosquitoes are unreal! There is a great Maine product that works amazingly well, Buzz-Off. It is DEET free and as the label says, it is "The natural cure for a natural nuisance". It works like a charm but I still hate putting repellent on because you smell like it. Granted this smells way better than something dreadful like "OFF". As a matter of fact the first ingredient of Buzz-Off is Lemongrass Oil. So that brings me back to herbal iced teas.
My favorite garden teas (aka herbal iced teas) are made from lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, (which is a spreading perennial in the mint family and has a beautiful deep green color and the most wonderful lemon fragrance. It is considered the "soothing" herb), spearmint (my favorite mint), and chamomile (any plant that is light hearted to look at and soothing to the soul has got to be good! No wonder Peter Rabbit's mother gave it to him:) Be sure you grow the annual, German chamomile variety. It is the tea vareity and it self sows and is very easy to grow. When you crush the flower it releases the most wonderful apple like scent. It is another of my favorite, must have garden plants. (Note: I have read that some folks are allergic to chamomile. That is something to consider if making herbal tea for friends. So ask first before including this herb. I have never experienced a negative side effect from Chamomile but I put that info here just in case.) I also enjoy a little anise hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, also known as licorice mint. It has a wonderful anise fragrance and the prettiest violet,blue flowers. It's also in the mint family although it doesn't spread like a true mint does.
To make herbal iced tea is so easy. Pick or cut your herbs. Rinse them just to get off any garden soil, bugs, or whatever. Find a big glass jar (Not plastic please! Eating and drinking out of heated plastic is a major health threat. Sure hope you don't heat your food in plastic containers or with plastic wrap in the microwave! Try using bowls, plates, or glass instead. And cover with wax paper not plastic wrap! There have been many well documented studies linking the heating of food in plastic to cancer. ) OK...back to that nicer activity....making wonderful garden variety herbal iced teas. Get your big glass jar. Stuff it full of the herb(s) of choice. Fill it with water. Put on the lid and put it in the sun for a few hours. I usually do this first thing in the morning and then forget about it until early to mid afternoon. You could certainly boil some water in a pan and then put your herbs in the hot water and let steep for a while. I just like the idea of making sun tea and using the powers of the unfiltered sun. Take the herbs out and here's the important part. When you bring your tea back inside, or take it off the stove that is when you add your sweetener, if you want sweetener. If it's for me I don't add sweetener but if it's for my family or guests I usually add a very small dash of honey. Then put it in the refrig to chill. I often put a fresh piece of each herb into that now cooling iced tea just so I know what's in it and because it looks pretty. Serve over ice,or not. Serve with a sprig of mint or lemon balm or a floating johnny-jump-up, or not. And enjoy. I've heard of putting a johnny-jump-up in each ice cube section of an ice cube tray before you fill with water so you have little floral ice cubes. To be honest that's way to Martha Steward for me but I bet it does look nice.
Of course you can serve your herbal tea hot if it's a rainy or cool day.
It is also fun to experiment with using herbal teas with other drinks. I love to make lemonade with 1/2 plain tap water and 1/2 mint tea. Serve with a sprig of mint as well as a slice of lemon.
Want organic herbal teas in winter? Easy to do! Just harvest your herbs on a dry day (yeah right! easier said than done this year) when the morning dew has dried and before the heat of the sun kicks in, usually by 10 or 11:00. Cut the top third to half of your plant and dry. To dry I just hang in small bunches from kitchen shelves. You can also dry on clean screens that you use only for food drying. Or if you have a dehydrator you could use that too. I don't because it requires electricity so I save my dehydrator for things that wouldn't dry by this old tried and true hanging method. Once the leaves are crispy dry, store in a dry, clean glass jar out of sunlight, label the herb it is, and you have herbs for winter teas. It is worth the time to strip the leaves from the stems but you don't have to.
I can't end this posting of making herbal ice tea without discussing the subtle influences of herbs. The joy of drinking your own herb teas starts way before you take your first sip. Certainly planting is fun so I don't want to skip that over. But when you go outside, clippers and jar in hand and begin picking your herbs you have stepped into heaven. The aromas are just wonderful as is watching the bees moving from flower to flower. Just the act of connecting with your garden and all that entails on a leisurely visit such as this is well...the best and downright therapeutic.
Next week...who knows! Let's hope for some sun this week and maybe I'll feel like posting about the science of composting like I promised last week.