Nat Mady is the founder of Hackney Herbal – a social enterprise that promotes wellbeing using herbs. They specialise in creative workshops which teach people about the extensive uses of herbs. They also grow herbs in Hackney to create unique herbal tea blends using all the profits to fund nature-based interventions supporting people to improve their mental health and wellbeing in Hackney.
Here, Nat takes us through growing our own herbal tea! So if you love a herbal brew in the morning, afternoon or whenever, pay attention…
Nothing beats a nice cup of garden-fresh tea. Picking a little bit of this and a little bit of that, you can create different blends to match what you feel like in a given moment. If you are already growing herbs at home, you can experiment with what you have or try something new this season. I’ve been growing my own herbal tea for over seven years and continue to experiment with new plants. Brewing and tasting as you go is the best way to see what you like.
Here are five of my favourite herbs for making herbal tea. All of these can be grown outdoors in pots, a raised bed or directly in the ground.
Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis
Rosemary is a wonderful herb for the circulatory system. A hot infusion of rosemary is great for your digestion and can also help alleviate headaches and tiredness. I like to have a rosemary tea after lunch to help re-focus my mind and power me through the afternoon. It’s also great for stimulating memory, handy for those ‘lost tool’ moments in the garden. A strong infusion of rosemary can also be used as a hair rinse to remove build-up and add shine.
Growing tip: Hardy perennial. As a Mediterranean herb rosemary does well in a sunny spot but will tolerate semi-shade. It prefers free draining soil, so if you are growing it in a pot add in some horticultural grit.
How to drink it: Rosemary can go bitter if you over brew it so use a small spring and infuse it for 5 minutes. Use two sprigs for a deeper taste.
Lemon verbena, Aloysia citrodora
If there was a queen of herbs, lemon verbena would be a strong contender. Simply smelling the sherbet scented fragrance of the leaves instantly instills a feeling of calm. Packed with sweet lemony essential oils, this herb is a great restorative plant for our nervous system. It’s calming and soothing and can be enjoyed in the evening to help you unwind before bed. You can also use it to create a syrup for sorbets and ice cream.
Growing tip: Tender perennial. It does best in a sunny spot with good drainage. It needs protecting from frost over the winter. A hard prune in early spring encourages fresh new growth and an abundance of new leaves.
How to drink it: Use about four leaves per cup and steep for 5-10 minutes.
German Chamomile, Matricaria recutita
Once you’ve grown your own chamomile tea there is no going back. Home grown chamomile tea is sweet, light and doesn’t have that musty, overpowering taste that so many shop bought teabags contains. If you pick the flowers daily your plants will keep giving you more all summer long. Chamomile is a lovely herb for digestion as well as being a natural sleep aid. It’s also great for soothing an upset tummy. A bath of chamomile is also a wonderful way to relax in the evening and will send you into a blissful slumber.
Growing tip: Hardy annual. It can be a bit of a fussy one to grow from seed so try sowing it in the autumn and be generous with the amount you plant. Alternatively to get started you can buy small plug plants and they will generously self seed around your garden at the end of summer.
How to drink it: A small handful of flowers will make a delicious honey apple tea. Infuse for 10 minutes. A longer infusion will be slightly bitter but ideal if you like a richer flavour in your tea.
Cinnamon basil, Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’
If you want a fragrant twist in your herbal tea, I’d strongly recommend giving basil a try. I love the gentle spiciness that comes through from some of the fragrant varieties like cinnamon basil. If you are growing different varieties of basil you can combine them to make a mix. Sweet basil, violet basil and Thai basil also work really well.
Growing tip: Grown as a tender annual in the UK. Basil needs a bit of heat to germinate so sow indoors from April onwards if you don’t have a propagator. Sow successionally for summer long harvests and pick the tips of the plant above a set of leaves to encourage bushy plants.
How to drink it: Use about five leaves per cup and infuse for 5-10 minutes. You can also make a lovely cold infusion by steeping a handful of leaves in cold water over night.
Orange Mint, Mentha x piperata f. citrata ‘Orange’
All mints will work well in a herbal tea but one of my all time favourites is Orange Mint. Its strong citrus flavour intensifies in hot water and it makes for a very refreshing brew. You can also add the leaves to salad, coolers and cocktails for an aromatic kick! It’s really easy to grow and can be repeatedly harvested through out the spring, summer and early winter.
Growing tip: Hardy perennial. It can be grown from a cutting or root division if you know someone else who will let you take a bit. You can contain its thuggish growth habit by planting it in a pot. Take care not to plant different varieties of mint next to each other, as if their roots intertwine, their individual flavours will be compromised. Enjoys full sun and moist soil but will be happy in partial shade.
You can find out more about Hackney Herbal at www.hackneyherbal.com