Warm Up With Homegrown Herbal Tea

While winter is still flirting with us here in zone 7, many of our friends are already hunkered down throughout the country to weather out winter storms. Though I love the simple beauty of winter, I hate that freezing feeling. You know the one, where you can’t seem to ever get warm. The one that no matter how many layers of socks you put on, you still have toecicles. It’s that down-in-your-bones-cold feeling that no heap of blankets can seem to remedy. If you’re having trouble staying warm from the inside out, then it’s time to brew some delicious hot tea. There’s no quicker cure for this kind of coldness, than a steaming cup of herbal tea to lift your spirits, warm your bones and relax your mind. For an added benefit, try mixing medicinal herbs into your brew to ward off those worrisome winter sniffles.

Here’s a great recipe from our Marketing Director, Caroline, who usually uses her cats as a “mew”-lectric blanket, but when they’re not enough, she turns to a hot cup of herbal tea from her garden.

We’ve had a relatively mild winter here in the Richmond, VA area this year, so when we experienced our first cold day, it was a shock. I got home after a long commute in the cold, and I just couldn’t  leave the January chill at the door. I turned the heat up and donned a sweater but still wasn’t satisfied with the temperature. After a quick survey of the kitchen, I realized that it must be time to grocery shop, because I was out of herbal tea. Instead of chattering any longer, I realized that because of the unseasonably warm winter we’d had until this point, I still had a few hardy herbs left in my gardens outside and some indoor potted herb gardens thriving in my kitchen.

Younger Horehound leaves are covered in a protective fuzz that they shed as they grow bigger.

I gathered a handful of Horehound, an old fashioned medicinal herb, related to mint that acts as a soothing expectorant. Though not approved by the FDA you can find Horehound in many candies, cold remedies and lozenges, and makes a wonderful tea. (As with all medicinal herbs though, you should consult your doctor or herbalist if taking other medications and it shouldn’t be taken in large doses, especially by people with heart conditions or who may be pregnant because it may affect your blood pressure or existing heart conditions.) I think it’s a beautiful plant in the garden, with its fuzzy, textured leaves and was excited to try it in tea. I found it to be slightly on the bitter side, so next time I’m adding more Mint and maybe even some Stevia to sweeten it up!

Chocolate Mint is a beautiful addition to your kitchen garden.

I also picked a few dark sprigs of Chocolate Mint and some large, bright green leaves of Kentucky Colonel Mint for flavor. Mint has always been one of my favorite plants- it’s easy to grow, easy to use, and each variety has its own charm. The smooth, dramatic leaves of the Chocolate Mint and the brilliantly green texture of the Kentucky Colonel Mint look as great in an herb bouquet as they taste in a tea!  These two varieties are a unique twist on the standard Peppermint flavor. Kentucky Colonel has a bold, spicy spearmint taste that works well in summer drinks and salads. Chocolate Mint has a smoother, more subdued flavor, warmer than some of the other varieties, and tastes great in desserts. Both of these culinary herbs are perfect for making tea, as Mint is a great digestive aid and its strong  mentholated aroma allows you to breathe more easily.

Kentucky Colonel Mint is great for more than just Mint Juleps!

Being too impatient to dry my herbs, I washed and chopped them and then packed them into a small tea infused. Just add hot water and let the leaves steep for a bit! You can also dry your herbs in advance for more of a traditional tea.

You can also use cheesecloth to make a small pouch for infusing.

Consider tisanes (herbs for making tea or herbal infusions) when you’re planning your next garden. We all love teas with more floral flavors, like Chamomile and Lavender, but don’t forget that many culinary herbs make a great tea, too. Some other unlikely candidates for a healthy, flavorful tea to warm your bones are Lemon Grass, Rosemary, Basil and Lemon Thyme. Try mixing different variations of your favorite culinary herbs and discover a delicious new way to use your garden! Want to get a start on your herb garden during these cold winter months? Try one of our Potted Herb Garden Kits, like our Time For Tea Gift Set and we’ll give you everything you need, from soil to saucer, to grow your own tea garden.

Shorter Days Mean A Need For More Light

As the sun began setting here in Zone 7 yesterday, I looked at my watch and couldn’t believe that it was only four o’clock! While the darkness descended around our farm, I thought to myself how depressing the winter months can be for gardeners, especially if they don’t have any garden lights set up. A severe decrease in sunlight plus plummeting temperatures are a bit of a shock after such a long, warm summer. So, what is an avid gardener to do? Bring your herb garden indoors and make your own light! You could even decide to get some street lights (or as people in France would say “Lampadaire exterieur“) that can be placed in your garden so you can keep your herbs out there for just a little bit longer. Until the time comes when it really is that cold and dark that you have no choice to bring them inside.

An ideal indoor lighting setup for growing herbs throughout the winter would be to have a ton of south facing windows with lots of space to line your herbs along the window sills. It might be useful to consider smart home lighting to have better control over your home lighting in these darker periods of the year and works well with this situation. If this scenario isn’t a reality, you can also line your ceiling with fluorescent grow lights to accommodate your indoor oasis while sunlight is scarce. Something like these barn gooseneck lights are also useful, whether wall mounted or ceiling mounted. These provide enough light to grow herbs and are also convenient for home use. Though many herbs may go dormant, like Mints, as per their natural seasonal cycle, artificial lighting can extend their growing season and keep them useful. Most culinary herbs are well suited as indoor potted herbs, like Rosemary, Thyme, Chives, Winter Savory or Garden Sage, and tend to do well with supplemental light. Growing an indoor herb garden is a wonderful way to beat the winter doldrums and will provide you with fresh flavors until spring thaws the ground outside. Until the days grow longer, you can supplement your home’s natural lighting with fluorescent grow lights to keep your herbs growing strong all winter long.

Many herbs tend to get a big leggy under fluorescent lighting, so make sure to keep them pruned well for better growth. Growing herbs indoors can also affect the water levels your plants need, so also pay close attention to the amount of moisture your herbs require to keep them from drying out. The type of pot or container your herb is growing in can also affect the amount of moisture it retains. Terra Cotta pots work well, as most herbs do not need a lot of water and the porousness of the clay allows excess moisture to escape. Mature herbs should be placed a few feet away from the light source, while sprouts may need to stay within a few inches until they get established.

Florescents are more efficient than many other lighting options because they are much brighter and more narrow, and due to lack of surface space, they waste less. If you can afford the space for this endeavor, try lighting that falls between 4000 and 6000 Kelvin, a range that is warm enough to mimic the lighting environment of a greenhouse, without being too hot that it fries your herbs. Color temperature is measured in Kelvins, and is an important characteristic of visible light- especially when we’re talking plants. The lower degree of Kelvin or color temperature, the more warm the lighting feels, and the higher the Kelvin, the cooler the light feels. Think of the difference between cozy warm lighting in your home versus the harsh, cold lighting of your doctor’s office. By choosing fluorescence that falls between 4000 and 6000, you allow for a healthy spectrum of warmth and color for most culinary herbs. (Some of the more tropical or sun loving plants like Stevia or Ashwagandha may take a bulb with a fuller spectrum of light). Many herbs need at least fourteen hours of light a day to stay happy indoors, and getting a timer for your lighting may be a good idea to help with this, as well as prevent them from running too long and wasting energy.

For a better idea of how the Kelvin system works, see the chart from 3drender.com below :

Moving In – Bringing Your Herbs Indoors For Winter

The time has finally come where the nights are getting crisper and the threat of frost is upon most of us in zone 7. While the fall foliage is beautiful, it marks the end of many outdoor gardening tasks until spring thaws the ground again. Before you begin to panic and go harvesting your herbs for drying and freezing, consider transplanting them for indoor use to enjoy fresh flavors all winter long. Alternatively, you could hire a shipping container farm to grow local produce in a controlled environment, which can be a lot easier. While we definitely recommend preserving your herbs so as not to waste their taste, many of your plants can easily be transitioned indoors and kept happily throughout the cold winter months. Keeping your herbs indoors will ensure a wealth of fresh flavor and natural aroma for all of your hearty winter dishes, holiday meals and hot teas. Keeping your plants indoors will also promise to cheer you up through the winter doldrums and keep your home smelling green and clean without the toxic effects of synthetic air fresheners.

Choose Wisely

Plants like Rosemary, Bay, Lavender and Lemon Verbena will pot very easily and do well over the winter, as do most culinary herbs. For plants that go dormant during this time of year like Mints (they tend to get leggy), you may need to enhance the lighting in your home with grow lights to encourage the plants out of their natural cycle. Herbs need approximately 14 hours of light a day, and about 6-8 hours of direct sunlight to maintain healthy growth. As you’re considering which herbs to bring in, make sure you also consider proper indoor locations for your plants. Southern facing windows will get the most amount of light daily, and as the days grow shorter moving into winter, make sure to accommodate for the waning sunlight by rotating your plants and substituting with alternative light sources.

Transplanting

A few weeks before your area gets its first hard freeze of the year, it’s best to transplant your desired herbs into pots for the winter. Choose only the healthiest plants, leaving any wilted, broken or feeble plants for the compost pile. Dig your plants carefully, and try to extract the entire root system. Once your plants are removed from the ground, pot them into new containers with new potting soil to prevent spreading any disease. Make sure to pot them in deep pots and leave them outside for a few days to acclimate to their new environments before bringing them inside.

Find The Right Spot

Once your plants have recovered and have been moved inside, make sure to not only choose a sunny location, but also consider the temperature and humidity in the area they are placed. For example, you wouldn’t want to place your plants on the mantle of your fireplace that you enjoy using, as they will dry out quickly, just as you don’t want to place them near a drafty door as they may get too cold. Monitor their needs for a while to see if they need more or less water and pay attention to their color and growth. Typically herbs don’t need a lot of water, and you can maintain this by sticking your finger about a half inch into the soil to test for moisture. As long as the temperature in the room does not go below 50 degrees your plants should be warm enough to keep growing.

For more information and some tips on growing herbs indoors, see our article Growing Herbs Indoors.

Regular Trimming Will Yield Terrific Results!

The grass in your Easter Basket, like the grass in your yard, will need periodic trims.  When your grass grows to be about 9” tall, give it a little haircut by holding a clump of blades in one hand and trimming off the tops with pruning shears.  Be sure to snip the flat part of the blade, not the more round part of the blade near the base. Periodic pruning will encourage the grass to reinvest its energy into growing stronger, and it helps keep your mini “lawn” in lovely shape. Continue to keep it in a nice sunny window and with frequent watering and regular pruning, your Easter grass will last you long after Peter Cottontail has hopped off down the bunny trail!

One Person's Trash is Another Person's Garden

As some of you may have followed our previous blogs on our Social Media and Marketing Director, Caroline’s Nasturtiums, here’s an update on her indoor garden!…

Those who know me, know that I’m a pack rat. I can’t stand to waste anything that has potential. This, coupled with my tendency to nurture, is what led me to my first attempt at indoor gardening, or, as I like to refer to it, my “Garden of Misfit Plants”. I’ve got annuals, succulents and houseplants cohabiting on an old card table that faces the sliding glass door to my backyard, that live in (general) harmony. Barring random attacks from our two nosy cats and the occasional neglected watering, my collection of crippled Cacti, Calendula and Nasturtiums have flourished in their new homes! After trials with recent repottings, I was excited to find that my ‘Empress of India’ Nasturtiums have begun to bloom yet again and my Calendulas are about to burst open in the next few days! These annual-turned-tender perennials have been such a great experiment in gardening–let’s see how long I can keep them going!

Lovely Lemon Verbena

I know I say this with many herbs, but Lemon Verbena has to be one of my absolute favorites.  It is easy to grow and maintain, loves living in a pot on the windowsill, and smells delightful! Lemon Verbena has a wonderful lemon flavor with no bitterness– nature’s lemon candy.  Try adding a few leaves to your next cup of tea, or steep a few leaves in milk to be used in pudding or ice cream.

Lemon Verbena likes warm, sunny conditions and well-drained soil.  If kept warm inside all year, lemon verbena is an evergreen perennial; if exposed to frost, it is deciduous.  Do not over-water, and prune in the fall for a bushier plant in the spring.

As previously stated, Lemon Verbena’s lovely medium-green leaves give off a light lemony scent.  Before guests arrive I make sure to shake and brush the leaves around a bit, to stimulate the essential oils and really release the natural aroma of my indoor verbenas.  Guests love it, especially on cold winter nights when we’re dreaming of summer lemonade and sunshine..  And might I add how much healthier it is to have fresh, all-natural, sweet-smelling herbs and flowers in your house, rather than scented candles and air fresheners?  Scented candles are one of the most popular house-hold carcinogens.  Plants, on the other hand, detoxify your home!


One common problem associated with Lemon Verbena is spider mites.  They love the underside of the leaves.  Keep an eye out for these little buggers, and if you do have a problem pick up a mild non-toxic insecticide at your favorite store. You can also companion plant herbs that are natural insecticides, like Rue, Pyrethrum and Tansy nearby to help discourage unwanted pests!