Chamomile has always been my favorite bedtime beverage. Growing up, we just bought the supermarket boxes of bagged tea. And although I enjoyed the pretty white flowers on the packaging, I never really considered the connection between the decorative exterior and the drink inside.
Flash forward a decade or so and I was working my way through college slinging coffee at a small art house. Thatís where I discovered the joy of loose leaf teas. I remember the first time I opened the chamomile canister, and poured out a pile of … dried flowers! It seems silly now, but it was such a surprise to me. ďOf course! Chamomile is a flower!Ē
Flash forward yet another decade, and these days Iím planting my own pretty white chamomile patch in my own little garden, harvesting and drying the buds, and brewing my own homegrown tea. And it is, unquestionably, the best tea Iíve ever tasted.
The great news is that chamomile is just the tip of the tea-stained iceberg. There are so many ways to collect your own herbal teas, whether youíre carefully cultivating a tea garden, or simply taking advantage while weeding your lawn. Maybe you know of a berry bush in a nearby park. Maybe thereís a patch of clover around the corner. Maybe you had a local carpenter build you a deck and you’re looking forward to relaxing there with a good cup of tea. Or you want to take a fresh cup of earthy herbal tea with you on your commute through New York City’s tile and concrete subway jungle. Once youíre onto it, itís hard not to have fresh herbal tea almost everywhere. Here are my top six picks.
But of course! Use the whole flowers, fresh or dried. Chamomile is an age-old remedy for anxiety, upset stomach, and headaches. Itís also a sleep aide and a breastmilk booster.
2. Other Garden Flowers
There are tons of other flowers that can be dried and brewed just the same as chamomile. A few easy-to-grow options: Honeysuckle to reduce a fever; Lavender as a stress reliever and relaxant; Calendula for a super immune boost; and Borage as a natural antidepressant.
You can use the dried root or the dried leaves. Dandelion acts as a mild diuretic and a powerful detoxifier. Itís also a strengthening, nutritive brew.
The berries are a treat, but if youíve ever had a blackberry bush spring up in your yard, you know what a scourge they can be. Iíve spent three summers trying to eradicate the thorny little devils from my garden, and they just keep coming back! Anyway, at least Iím getting something out of the deal. Blackberry leaves, fresh or dried, can help to purify the blood and to calm an inflamed kidney. They can also help to relieve diarrhea.
5. Red Clover
Use the dried flowers for overall wellness and purification. Red clover ďcleansĒ the blood and balances the body, helps to regulate hormones, and is great for PMS!
My favorite! I make nettle infusions daily, from the fresh leaves during spring and summer, and from the dried leaves during the fall and winter. This is a nutritive brew, so itís good for strengthening and building. Nettles are very high in calcium, iron, and other important minerals.
Remember, these are just a sampling of the many, many plants that can be wildcrafted, foraged, or harvested, and turned into herbal teas. And donít forget all the culinary herbs as well! Thyme, rosemary, basil, lemon balm, mint, and more Ė theyíll each add an interesting flavor, as well as a nourishing property, to your homemade brews.
By Sayward Rebhal, Networx