Sunday, January 5, 2014

Fresh Winter Herbs for Tea

At a recent dinner party I delighted my guests with fragrant, soothing cups of fresh herb tea (a.k.a. herbal tisane, or infusion) served with their dessert and picked from my garden only moments before. We had eaten a filling meal, it was late and no one wanted caffeine- perfect! my herbs are always at the ready to pop into a tea pot.  It was gratifying that they enjoyed it so much- a simple pleasure from the garden that I’m especially grateful for.

Use Both Fresh and Dried Herbs 

In my view, herbs are essential workhorses of any garden and many are easy to grow and undemanding. It’s winter but in our zone 9 climate I’ve still got mints, bronze fennel, and Yerba Buena, plus sage, rosemary, oregano and sweet marjoram for cooking. 

In the fall I watched diligently for the first predicted frost so that I could harvest branches of fresh lemon verbena for drying. It's frost sensitive and goes dormant for the winter but the fresh leaves (before frost damage!) dry quickly and store well in an air-tight container. It's my favorite lemon scented herb, and potent too! 

Lemon Verbena dries in a few days in a warm room
An Winter Herb Tea Recipe
I often steep a tea bag or two of chamomile with herbs from my garden. I like to use it as a base to add more body to the infusion. Don't be afraid to add typically "culinary" herbs such as sage, rosemary or thyme. Sage adds a surprisingly pleasant and mild spice to the tea when you add just one or two leaves per pot. 

Clockwise from top: sage, bronze fennel, dried lemon verbena, and basil mint
For a medium sized teapot (holds 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water) use:

2-3 sprigs of fresh mint, any kind (2 to 3 inches long)
1 sprig fennel, any kind (2 to 3 inches long)
1 - 2 leaves fresh sage (the culinary kind)
3 or more leaves lemon verbena, fresh or dry

Optional: 1- 2 tea bags of chamomile

Rinse all fresh herbs with water and shake them dry. Add to the teapot with stems and leaves intact, add chamomile tea bag. Pour boiling water (or just about to boil) over the leaves and steep for 5 minutes before serving in pre-warmed cups. Offer honey as a sweetener. 

Have fun experimenting with herbal combinations and enjoy using what's available seasonally.

Tip: when making herbal infusions steep the herbs while covered to capture any volatile compounds. The herbs in this recipe are known to aid digestion.

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke