EVEN ALICE LIKED THE TEA
A Primer on How to Dry Herbs and Make Homemade Tea Blends

Essay and photos by Elizabeth Fiend

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Recently BiG TeA PaRtY threw a Sustainable Living “Tea Party” at Playa Del Fuego (an East Coast Burning Man) – hundreds of people stopped by to read our posters and share their own ideas on sustainability. Our homegrown and home-blended wormwood iced tea was a hit. Many asked for the recipe and how-to for homemade herbal iced teas. Here’s the low down:

I grow my own herbs, if you have some earth I recommend this sustainable pastime. Gardening and growing some of your own food (and beverages!) is a rewarding endeavor. Otherwise, dried herbs are available for sale on the internet.

GROWING HERBS:

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•    Herbs are easy to grow. Know your climate and soil — choose plants accordingly. Herbs will be perennial (long lasting), annual (just one season) and sometimes in-between like biannual and short lived perennials.

•    Make sure you really know what you’re growing because you’ll be ingesting these plants. Purchase plants and seeds from reliable dealers. Often, plants will be mislabeled at lesser garden centers.
•    In my experience it’s best to purchase perennials as plants; annuals are usually cheaper to grow from seed.

HARVESTING AND DRYING HERBS:
•    When possible, harvest herbs on a dry day in the morning to get the most impact from the plants natural flavoring – their oils.
•    Always leave at least one third of the plant intact when harvesting (except annuals, eat it all as frost approaches as it’s going to die soon anyway).
•    Since my herbs are home grown and I don’t use any chemicals in my yard, I don’t wash my herbs (as drying them is the goal) instead I dust off any dirt with my fingers and inspect for dead bugs, feathers etc. which I remove.
•    Tie the herbs in small bundles and hang them upside down in a dry and aerated location away from direct light until they’re dry.

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AFTER HERBS ARE DRY:
•    For eating and seasoning: remove the leaves and flowers from the stems and store away from direct light in sealed baggies or containers with tight fitting lids.
•    For tea: you don’t have to be as careful about removing the stems, but most teas will taste best with a minimum of woody material (wormwood is an exception, see “Wormwood Tea” at the end).

CREATING TEA BLENDS:
•    Basically, any herb/plant you eat can be made into tea. Edible flowers are great for tea as well. Click here for my article on edible flowers.

•    The herbs you use for your tea are entirely up to you and are only limited by your imagination and taste buds. I have a flair for blending flavors and put a great effort into creating, in the summer a refreshing beverage and in the colder months a comforting drink. For iced tea, I avoid white cane sugar whenever possible as it’s nutritionally void. When making a pitcher of tea I prefer to sweeten iced tea (when necessary) with 100% white grape juice. This doesn’t impart much flavor to the tea, but does add a sweetness that most iced tea drinkers prefer. The addition of some lemon or lime is a welcome touch.

MAKING TEA:
Making tea from home grown herbs is the same as making ‘regular’ tea. Boil water; warm tea pot by swishing around some of that hot water in the pot; add 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of dried herbs for each cup of tea; brew for 1-5 minutes; strain; enjoy hot or, allow to come to room temperature and then chill (this prevents the tea from becoming cloudy).

WORMWOOD TEA:

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Wormwood is a desirable plant to many today because of the slight psychoactive properties from the chemical thujone. Thujone isn’t going to knock your socks off and you’ll be disappointed if you think this will be like taking a drug. Instead, thujone is a mild stimulant and creates a sense of well being.  Current science says thujone increases and randomizes the firing of neurons in your brain. This tends to make you a bit more imaginative, old things look new, everything looks crisp. It’s very smooth and there’s no crash that I’ve noticed. Combine with alcohol and the effect is magnified. For more on this check my article on Absinthe.

WARNING: Do not consume wormwood if pregnant. Wormwood has a long history as a midwifery herb used to promote contractions.

GROWING WORMWOOD:
It’s 100% important, vital, I mean it, to make sure you have the correct wormwood as there are several types of wormwood. Artemisia absinthium is the Latin name of the plant you want. Only purchase from a reliable dealer. I purchased my seeds online from The Thyme Garden. http://www.thymegarden.com/
Wormwood is kinky and likes to do it in with the lights on. I.e. the seeds need light to germinate. Here’s how I do it: Start with a planter that’s at least 8” in diameter (too small of a planter and it will dry out); water thoroughly; broadcast (that’s fancy farmers talk for spreading the seeds) the seeds on TOP of the soil; cover the top of the planter with clear plastic wrap; wait; when you see seedlings emerge, remove plastic wrap and grow as any other plant.
I use this method because the seeds won’t blow away and it ensures you know which plants are the wormwood.

WORMWOOD TEA INGREDIENTS:

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From what I have researched and experienced the most concentrated thoujone is in the woody stems of the plant. Wormwood is a VERY bitter herb, the stems even more so, and it takes some work to make a pleasant tasting beverage from this plant. A good start is to think of the flavors of Absinthe – mint and anise.
•    To make wormwood tea use about 1 teaspoon of dried wormwood per cup of tea and throw in a 3” woody stem while brewing (like a cinnamon stick).

•    Add 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon per (cup of tea) of additional herbs to improve the flavor. If you’re making a pitcher of tea add several different kinds of herbs to create an exciting beverage. The Wormwood Tea I served at Playa del Fuego was flavored with sage flowers, lemon balm, lemon thyme, anise hyssop flowers, mountain mint, ground fennel seeds and lime juice. Since wormwood is a very bitter herb I sweetened the tea with organic white grape juice and agave nectar. I served tea to 150 people and used up my entire stash of herbs from last year’s harvest. But you were all worth it!

PHOTOS by Elizabeth Fiend. From top of page to bottom: Alice in Wonderland; Fresh cut herbs on my backyard table; Herbs drying in my dining room; Yes, this is what wormwood looks like; Sage flowers.

For further reading check out this interesting and fun site from a fellow Playa del Fuego  plant lover and grower EatMoreToadStools.com

Check my essay on wormwood click here.

Check my essay on edible flowers click here.

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