I will never forget the first time I drank herbal tea. I was in college and was over at a friend’s house when my stomach started hurting. She kindly asked, “Would you like some tea?” I told her I didn’t like tea, thinking she meant iced sweet tea, which was the only tea I knew existed. She said, “It’s chamomile tea, like what Peter Rabbit’s mother gives him after his stressful day in Mr. McGregor’s garden.” I said, okay, I’d try it. So, she brought me a mug with a Celestial Seasonings Sleepy Time tea bag in it, and I immediately found relief. From that moment on, I was hooked! I bought the Celestial Seasonings variety box and thus began my journey with herbal tea. I would have never imagined at the time that one day I would be writing articles on plants and how to grow an herbal tea garden, but the herbs started talking to me and they haven’t stopped!
Grow Your Own Herbal Tea Garden
Do you already love drinking herbal tea? Are you getting most or all of your herbs from the store or online? Then maybe it’s time to call in your own herbal tea garden! You don’t need a big yard or even a yard at all. Windows and patios can work if that’s what you have. One of my first herbal tea gardens was a window sill in a second-story apartment building. What you do need is a desire to grow some tea herbs and a willingness to care for them. Once established, they take very little maintenance, and in exchange will yield fresh herbs for drinking!
Packaged vs. Homegrown Herbal Tea
The difference between boxed tea bag herbs and the ones you harvest fresh from your garden is astounding! Even if you only grow one herb that you like to drink, you’ll find its vibrancy echoing through the cells of your body in a way that dried, packaged tea bags cannot. Boxed tea bags have their place, and some are definitely higher quality than others. I love Traditional Medicinals and Yogi Tea especially, and always have a few boxes like Throat Coat, Detox, and Stress Relief on hand. But growing your own herbal tea garden elevates your ability to understand and appreciate the wide world of tea possibilities.
Just like food these days, your herbs could come from anywhere, and may very likely be produced on a mass scale. Knowing where our tea comes from—exactly where and how the plants are grown, and how and when they are harvested—adds nutrition and value that we cannot get from a manufacturer. Visit our Sustainable Herbalism Hub to learn more.
Easy-to-Grow Herbal Tea Favorites
In a previous Chestnut blog article, Herbal Tea Ceremonies, I shared some herbs that are popular favorites for making tea. Below are some cultivation elaborations on these tea herbs so that you can have easy access to info that (hopefully) gives you the confidence to grow them yourself! All of the herbs mentioned in this article, unless otherwise indicated, do well in average soil. And if you are wanting to go deeper with the medicinal properties of these herbs, consider enrolling in Chestnut’s Online Herbal Immersion Program.
Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum, Lamiaceae)
This is a great one to start with because holy basil, aka tulsi, is so easy to grow, you won’t be let down! You will need a steady warm, sunny spot though. Holy basil is easy to direct sow, and Strictly Medicinals has several varieties to choose from. Ocimum africanum, or temperate tulsi, is the variety that reseeds itself in temperate climates and has that popular and familiar bubble gum flavor. The other tulsis can be strongly smelling of clove, as they have a higher eugenol content. Temperate tulsi is also going to germinate well, whereas the Amrita, Krishna, and Vana varieties call for a more experienced gardener’s hand.
Direct sow seed after the last frost date in your zone. Full sun and average to moist soil will produce hearty plants. The more shade tulsi has, the leggier it gets. Space plants 1 to 1.5 feet (30–45 cm) apart. They will grow 1 to 2 feet tall (30–60 cm). If you are located in zone 10 or warmer, your tulsi will grow into a bush! Otherwise, your tulsi plants will be annuals who will more than likely self-sow. Average watering will do. Harvest all summer long up to the first frost.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita, Lamiaceae)
You may notice several of these beloved tea herbs are in the mint family (Lamiaceae). Mints vary widely in tastes and habits, and are the most popular herbs used for culinary and flavoring purposes. In general, they’re easy to grow. I think of mints as the comfort herbs. Peppermint lends a potent olfactory experience, and is such a familiar flavor, it might take you back to a childhood memory. A wonderful after-dinner herbal tea to drink, fresh or dried, peppermint’s smell warms up the room like it does our digestive system.
This herb is easy to propagate from a division of a parent patch. I am amazed at how rough and unpampered I can be with the Menthas and they will still grow back heartily, which brings up a very important note: Plant peppermint in a pot or in a spot where you truly don’t mind it spreading, because it will!
Peppermint prefers a lot of water and sun, and will die back in the winter in temperate zones but rise again come spring. It gets about 1-foot tall (30 cm) at most, and can be harvested all season long. The leaves change flavor as it flowers. Taste it throughout the season to see which flavor you prefer!
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum, Lamiaceae)
If you want to get your kids interested in growing plants to drink, then plant anise hyssop! It’s super easy to germinate from seed, grows quickly once the last frost date has passed, is easy to harvest, and has a sweet combo flavor of minty-anise-licorice. Not only that, it brings beauty to your herbal tea garden! Anise hyssop produces purple flower stalks that are like magnets to honeybees, painted lady and monarch butterflies, and hummingbirds. It makes a superb iced tea—add a little honey and you’ve got a healthy treat to offer children (and yourself, of course) on a hot summer’s day!
Germination will improve if you stratify your anise hyssop seed. For many of the seeds we sow, we put them in flats of individual cells to germinate. But this one does best just sowing in an open flat by sprinkling the seeds on the surface of the soil then lightly tamping them in. Plant out the babies after the last frost date, in a sunny locale.
They will reach a height of about 1 to 2 feet (30–60 cm) and can be planted fairly close together—I plant ours about 8 inches (20 cm) apart. Anise hyssop is an annual that self-sows and will also come back as a short-lived herbaceous perennial. Harvest all season long, and pinch off the tips in early summer to keep the plant producing tender leaves for tea.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis, Lamiaceae)
Another mint family perennial that makes hearty patches—lemon balm—as its name suggests, has a lemony flavor that’s balanced out by earthy tones of grounding sweetness. All year long, in the Appalachian Mountains where I reside, lemon balm produces leaves. In winter, the leaves are very tiny, but extra strong in lemon flavor, which means we can brew fresh, yummy tea even when it’s freezing outside! Lemon balm is a cheerful ally that brings both honeybees and fairies to your garden. Plant it close to your house so you can rub the leaves frequently and smell the fresh fragrance on your fingertips.