Tea has delicious flavors, delightful aromas, and various health benefits. For these reasons, it’s no surprise it’s one of the most popular beverages in the world, which is why most grocery stores stock several brands and flavor options. Despite how easy it is to locate, many people are learning how to start a herbal tea garden, giving them an unending supply of their favorite flavors. If you’re interested in starting your own tea garden, check out our guidelines below.
Why Start A Herbal Tea Garden
One of the main reasons to plant a tea garden is to ensure you’re drinking the healthiest beverage possible. Many commercially grown plants are treated with pesticides, which are unhealthy to consume, especially if the plants aren’t rinsed well before drying. Other unwanted ingredients, like artificial flavoring, may also be added to store-bought tea. By growing your own plants for tea, you always know exactly what’s going into them
Creating an herbal tea garden allows you to use safer, healthier methods for growing your plants. You can avoid unwanted or unknown additives by using natural, untreated plants. Herbs have varying flavors and health benefits, so you can choose your favorites for your garden. With home-grown plants, you can also blend the teas as you see fit for beneficial combinations. You can even create blends that might not be available in stores.
Lastly, and this is more of a personal opinion, it’s just plain fun. I find being able to grow and harvest my own plants and then use them in tea to be a very empowering feeling. I also get a lot of enjoyment out of trying new combinations and different flavors. If you’re a tea drinker, then starting a herbal tea garden is going to give you years of enjoyment and delicious tea.
The first step to creating your herbal tea garden is gathering the necessary supplies. These include:
- Seeds or seedlings
- Potting soil
- Compost (for those plants that require a natural fertilizer)
- Plant labels, either purchased or homemade
- Containers with bottom drainage holes (or outdoor space to grow)
You can also plant your herbs and flowers directly into the ground if you have the space. The containers are best for spreading plants or smaller areas requiring more organization. They also allow you to move the plants as needed if sunlight is limited in your garden. Containers are also a must for those planting their herbal garden indoors. Doing so is best for colder climates since it allows year-round access to your favorite herbs.
Clay is our top pick for container material as they are cheap and easy to find. Feel free to use whatever you have available though.
Steps To Starting Your Herbal Tea Garden
With that introduction out of the way, let’s look at how to actually start setting up your garden. Don’t worry, the process is simple and we’ll talk through each step.
Decide On Plants
Choosing plants for a tea garden is simple, but there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, and most importantly, consider which plants have flavors you enjoy. You’re growing to use them after all, so choose plants that you are excited to use. There’s no use in growing plants you dislike the flavor of.
Plants can be picky about the zone they’re grown in, so if planting outdoors, pick those that can handle your area’s weather patterns. Even choosing plants for an indoor herb garden can be tricky since some prefer heat and moisture while others favor cool, dry conditions. As long as the plant has the proper conditions, it will make a fine addition to your tea garden. Always consider where you plan to grow or where you have the room to do so. Then, pick plants that thrive in those locations.
You may also want to consider whether the plants are annuals or perennials. Annuals usually die after a year, though some self-seed, with new plants sprouting the next year. You can also take cuttings from outdoor plants and grow them indoors for next year’s outdoor garden. Perennials have a longer lifespan, returning every spring. For indoor gardens, you don’t need to be so picky, planting whatever you like for the teas you enjoy.
Choose The Best Location
All plants need light, though their requirements are not identical. When planting an indoor or outdoor tea garden, you’ll need to check the light recommendations for each plant. Too much sun is always better than too little, so an area that receives at least six hours of light is best for most herbs.
Space is also a concern. Luckily, most herbs grow well in both small containers as well as larger, outdoor areas. Still, keep your space in mind as it may limit how many herbs you’re able to grow.
Keep in mind that some herbs, like mint, are invasive. This means they will tend to grow to fill their space and this can take nutrients away from nearby plants. Plan to keep herbs like this in separate areas or containers to prevent unwanted growth.
Planting Your Herbs
When planting your herbs, check the soil conditions needed for each plant before putting it in the ground. Some factors to consider include nutrient content, alkaline or acidic, and moisture retention since herbs may have varying preferences in these areas.
Herbs, as a whole, are generally not super picky when it comes to soil. Most commercial potting soils will work fine. Always make sure you’re using potting soils, though, if you’re growing in containers. Garden soil is not meant for containers, and will be too compact which affects drainage.
For outdoor tea gardens, plant the herbs in the spring after the last frost to be sure they’ll survive. If using pots, be sure they have drainage holes in the base to release excess moisture. Indoors you have a bit more freedom, but it’s often easiest to follow similar guidelines.
If you’re looking for some plant recommendations then read on, we have a whole section dedicated to some top plants.
Caring For Your Plants
Caring for the plants in your tea garden is similar to those in flower beds or vegetable gardens. Keep the soil moist but not damp, watering in the morning or evening to prevent quick evaporation. During the hot summer months, you may need to increase watering frequency to ensure the soil won’t dry out completely.
Some herbs require more nutrients, so check their fertilizer needs and add more if they start to look unhealthy. You’ll also have to keep an eye out for damaging pests, using safe methods to remove them if they’re congregating on your herbs.
Ultimately, the best care is always specific to the plant in question. It’s a good idea to spend some time learning about your plants and their needs so you can provide the best care possible.
After all that work growing, harvesting is one of the most exciting times. The time frame depends on your herb, but the good news is herbs are generally quick to grow. In some cases, it may be only a few weeks from planting until you have your first harvest.
The one big tip I wanted to share when it comes to harvesting is to do so often. Most herbs respond to harvesting by growing back fuller. For that reason, you’re encouraged to harvest frequently to create fuller plants. When harvesting, never take more than about ⅔ of the plant at a single time. This helps ensure there’s enough plant left for it to regrow..
While not necessary, many gardeners will choose to dry out their harvested herbs. This greatly extends their shelf life, most herbs will last 1-4 years once dried.
Drying herbs is very easy, although it does take some time. Start by leaving your herbs in a warm area that gets good air circulation. You want to avoid direct sunlight as this can ruin the flavor. Once the water has evaporated, usually within 7-10 days, the herbs are ready to store. At this point, they should feel brittle and begin to “flake” a little.
Store the dried herbs in an airtight container and continue to keep them out of the sunlight. This is a great way to have herbs year-round, or preserve excess harvested herbs.
Depending on the herb you can use them fresh or dried. In fact, most will work fine fresh. Drying is largely used to help preserve them for longer.
Best Herbs To Grow
If you’re interested in starting a herbal tea garden, the following are fantastic plants to consider. They offer varying flavors and benefits, so you can pick your favorites or try them all.
Also known as the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis is a small shrub or tree in the evergreen family. All teas, including white, black, green, and oolong come from this plant, so if you want a true tea, add this one to your herbal tea garden. You can process and use the leaves on their own or mix them with other herbs for some tasty flavor combinations.
Tea plants prefer rich soil, damp conditions, and moderate temperatures. Those in cooler regions may want to grow their tea plants in pots to be moved in and out of the house when the weather changes.
Mint comes in various types, including spearmint, peppermint, apple mint, and chocolate mint, all of which have delicious flavors and tantalizing aromas. It is easy to maintain but aggressively invasive, so it is best grown in containers.
Mint plants are hardy, preferring well-draining soil kept moist but not soaked. It can also handle both sun and shade so you can place it almost anywhere in your garden. Frequently plucking leaves for tea encourages bushy growth, so don’t be afraid to harvest often.
Lavender is known for its relaxation properties, reducing anxiety and stress for better sleep. The stalks grow tall, with pretty purple flowers along the stem that can be dried and used for some tasty, calming brews.
Well-draining sand-like soil is best for lavender since it doesn’t like too much moisture. You can place it in a pot, though open gardens offer better air circulation for taller plants. Trim the stalks as soon as the blooms appear for fresh tea or dried herbs. Lavender serves double duty; it’s both a great addition to tea and also a beautiful plant in general.
Unlike other herbs, the entire Echinacea plant is usable for tea, so you don’t need to be picky about the areas you’re harvesting. Its antibacterial and antiviral properties help fight off cold and flu symptoms, and the floral flavor is amazing.
As a perennial, Echinacea only needs to be planted once, though it may not bloom until its second year. The hardy plant prefers cool weather with lots of sun and shade during the hot summer. Echinacea also likes rich, well-draining soil and light to moderate moisture.
Ginger tea has a spicy flavor that smells as delicious as it tastes. It also offers several benefits, improving blood circulation while reducing stress, nausea, and inflammation. About an inch of a clean, chopped rhizome is perfect for a cup of fresh tea.
Despite its tropical origins, ginger is versatile enough to handle varying conditions. It grows best in rich, moist soil with filtered sunlight and lots of heat and humidity. Those living in cool, dry areas may need to grow their ginger indoors.
Lemon balm is part of the mint family, so it has both minty and citrus flavors and scents. It calms the mind, reducing stress and anxiety while helping you sleep. The only downside is the plant’s ability to spread, so container planting keeps it from taking over your garden.
You can start lemon balm from seeds, though cuttings and plant divisions ensure you’ll have quicker access to the leaves for tea. Though not overly picky about its growing conditions, it prefers rich, well-draining soil and full sun.
Chamomile is another herb with calming properties, but it also aids digestion, gas, and upset stomach. The flowers have a subtle flavor you can enjoy on their own or mixed with other herbs. The plants come in perennial or self-seeding annual varieties and are easy to grow, even for beginners.
Another reason chamomile is a favorite for herbal tea gardens is the minimal care it requires. It prefers cool conditions, with full or partial sun and dry soil. Temperatures above 98F are too much for chamomile, so those with hot, humid summers may want to keep these plants indoors.
Marjoram is a Mediterranean herb and part of the mint family, featuring a delicate, sweet flavor and subtle aroma. The leaves contain Vitamins A and C and feature anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. You can use the tea to treat various ailments or just enjoy the delicious flavor.
As a low-maintenance plant, marjoram is easy to grow in most conditions. It prefers neutral soil, minimal fertilizer, and lots of sun. The low-growing plants are drought-tolerant, so they don’t require heavy watering. Though technically perennials, cold weather kills marjoram, so you’ll need to replant every year in outdoor gardens.
Numerous benefits are associated with thyme. It relaxes the nervous system, aids digestion, and features antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties, which work together to boost the immune system. A few varieties are available, so you can pick the plants that match your palette.
Thyme requires between 12 to 24 inches between plants to thrive. This perennial prefers well-draining soil, full sun, and minimal moisture, so let the soil dry out completely before watering deeply.
Your Herbal Tea Garden
Starting a herbal tea garden gives you consistent access to several beneficial plants. You can harvest leaves, flowers, or other plant parts for fresh beverages or to dry for later use. As long as you give your plants the proper care, you can create your favorite herbal tea blends any time you like.
Do you have a herbal tea garden? Let us know how you started and which herbs are your favorites to make the perfect cup of tea!
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to harvest herbs for tea?
For most herbs, you can harvest the edible portions throughout the growing season. Some herbs, including lemon balm, mint, and thyme, should be harvested before they flower to avoid bitter flavors. In general, you want to harvest herbs often as it helps encourage more growth.
Can fresh herbs be used for tea?
Yes, you can use fresh herbs for tea. Clipping the leaves as needed encourages bushy growth for consistent tea use. Floral herbs, such as chamomile and lavender, are also usable for fresh teas, though these offer the best flavors when the flowers are dried.
How do you store dried herbs?
After drying the various edible parts of the herbs, it’s best to strip the flowers and leaves from the stems. Then place them into an airtight container until you’re ready to use them.