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Herb Teas Make A Social Splash!

Herb teas have been medicinally prominent since ancient times but the development and dominance of western medicine relegated them to a position of folklore for many years. The natural foods movement changed all that! There was a resurgence of interest in herb teas for good health and the industry was not found napping. Around 1970 Celestial Seasonings seized the opportunity to meet the call for variety by customers. They took it one step further by promoting the notion that an infusion of herb flowers, leaves, seeds, bark, roots or stems could be made not only to bolster your health but for pure pleasure! They packaged old and new combinations and this exposure to delightfully delicious herb tea blends gave rise to their broader use in a variety of beverages.
Happily this industrial manufacture of tea spilled onto the horticultural scene. Ardent herb gardeners were awakened to the flavor possibilities and wanted to cultivate their own tea herbs. Their demands were gladly met by growers and distributers anxious to bolster their businesses. Tea herb seeds and plants became more available along with myriad garden design ideas including teapots and cups. Garden catalogs are now full of such plans with the seeds and plants to complete the projects.
Let us look at some herb beverages that have resulted from the creativity and curiosity of naturalist herb gardeners. You may be among these adventuresome folk who are willing and eager to try new taste sensations. We will cover non-alcoholic teas and drinks that we imbibe for their delightful scent and flavor. 
Herb teas or the old fashioned term infusions are a very good place to start because they are the cup from which other herb beverages have over-flowed. An infusion is generally made with dried herbs while a brew with fresh herbs is called a tisane. Always start with fresh water that has not been previously boiled. The drink will only be as good as the water you use and boiled water loses oxygen and its potential to add verve to the drink. Metal pots may taint the delicate taste of some herbs and are not generally recommended.
The flavor categories to consider when making hot or cold herb teas are minty, fruity, and herby. If you are a mint lover there are many to fill that flavor bill. Aside from the many mint varieties there are herbs with a similar flavor such as basil, bee balm, costmary and anise hyssop. Fruit flavors range from the citrus tang of lemon grass, lemon verbena, lemon balm, rose hips, and coriander seeds to the tropical tastes of pineapple sage, rose petals, chamomile, and apple scented pelargonium. The herby flavors of thyme, sage, rosemary and savory are more pungent and taste best when blended with herbs from the other two categories.
“Sun herb tea” is the easiest way to make a substantial quantity from fresh herbs. Place a large bundle of washed, bruised tea herbs into a large glass or plastic jar and fill with water. Put the lid on and allow it to sit in the bright sun for several hours. Strain and store the liquid in the refrigerator because it contains organic material that may deteriorate at room temperature. If your container has a spout you can serve directly from the refrigerator heating for hot tea and adding ice for cold.
Non alcoholic herb beverages are fun to create and always elicit an exuberant response from the drinkers. I have included my favorite recipe along with a variety of teas. Let your sense of adventure along with your taste buds be your guide! Try some of your favorite herbs in these recipes and see where that takes you.
Not a tea fan? If you are a coffee lover, put some fresh mint in your next cup. Chocolate mint is a particular favorite but any variety will transform your drink from common to delightful. I add a tablespoon of chopped fresh mint for each cup of hot water. I put the leaves in an infuser so they can be easily removed for company. As for me, I savor the leaves as well. You can also serve this coffee treat with ice.
Drink accessories are the tidbits that add to the presentation and taste of herb beverages. There are ice cubes and rings filled with colorful herb flowers from borage, pineapple sage, roses, bachelor buttons, nasturtiums and many other edible flowers. There is herb sugar which can be used to sweeten drinks as well as pretty up the rim of fancy glasses. The dried herbs I have used are lavender, mint and rose petals. I simply blend them in a food processor with four times their weight in white sugar. Delicate, colorful, floating herb flowers are the crowning glory of any punch bowl. Allow your curiosity to lead you down the herb path to delicious and bountiful beverages. Concoct blends that you enjoy and let them make a social splash at your gatherings.
Next month we will look at alcoholic beverage recipes that are enhanced by herbs. It is never too early to prepare for holiday celebrations with some very special drink ideas. Contact me at www.herbbasket.net if you have recipes to share.

Lemon Cooler
4 Tbs. mint leaves, chopped                               2 Tbs. sugar
4 Tbs. lemon balm leaves, chopped
 1/4 cup boiling water
Juice of two lemons
 2 qts. ginger ale

Mix the sugar and boiling water in a small pan until sugar is
dissolved. Let cool. Pour into a refrigerator jar and add remaining
ingredients, except ginger ale. Just before serving, add ginger ale.
Pour over crushed ice in tall glasses.

Anise Tea
Use l star cluster anise seed per cup
Bring water to a rolling boil and pour into teapot over desired
number of star cluster anise seeds. (Do not use a metal teapot.)
Steep 4-8 min.

Mint Tea
12 sprigs fresh mint                           6 cloves
1 regular tea bag                                  1 qt. boiling water
Juice of I lemon
Combine ingredients in a ceramic teapot and pour boiling water over them. Let steep half an hour. Strain. Reheat to serve or
pour into a jar for later use.

Herb & Spice Tea

3 star anise seeds                1 tsp. cloves
I Tbs. fennel seed              Juice of 1 orange
l slick cinnamon                1 qt. boiling water
Combine ingredients in a teapot and pour the boiling water
over them. Allow to steep 45-60 minutes. Strain and  refrigerate for
later use.

Rosemary Tea

l Tbs. dried rosemary leaves
l/2 Tbs. dried rosemary blossoms
1 qt. boiling water
Place ingredients in a teapot and pour boiling water over them.
Allow to steep 30 min. Delicious with a few drops of honey.