Friday, November 5, 2010

First Friday Focus on: your own tea blends

A Suburban Greenmom settles down for some meaningful memories over a nice cup of tea...

This particular First Friday of the month, instead of focusing on a particular herb , I'd like to enter the Meaningful Memories zone and talk about one of my favorite gifts to make for friends, family members, teachers, etc--homemade tea blends. (And reclaim a delightful beverage from its more recent political overtones.)

This can work whether you drink "real" tea (black or green) or prefer herbal teas (which are technically "infusions" rather than "tea," but that's neither here nor there); it's still a lot of fun, can be very affordable, is a great "with kids" project, and is just, well...sort of neat.

So below I'd like to offer some options for different blend recipes, depending on what kind of result you want and just, in general, what you're looking for. From a gifting perspective, you'll want to pick combinations that taste and smell lovely; if you're wanting to be more medicinal, try not to have it taste horrific, but here it will be the choice of herbs that makes the most difference.

Black Tea Blends:
If a store local to you (like Whole Foods) sells bulk black tea, that's probably the way to go. I also get my tea spices in bulk. You can also get the tea and spices from various mail-order places--I happen to love Mountain Rose Herbs, because their products are excellent across the board and they observe ethical growing practices, but you may have another source you prefer. You may find some of this kind of stuff at your local Home Economist or other bulk store--that will probably vary from store to store.

For any black tea blend recipe, I tend to go with a ratio of 2-3 parts tea to 1 part added herbs/spices, but many might want more tea and less spice. For my own preferences, I lean to the warm-ish, wintery kinds of spices--I blogged about my own favorite recipe last winter, a mixture of basic black tea (I usually get Assam, but use what you like) with cinnamon chips, orange peel, dried ginger, and hulled cardamom . This exact blend, especially if one added a little black or white pepper (and/or fennel, anise, and I've even seen bay leaves in the recipe) and drank it with milk and honey, would make a very nice chai.

From here on out, though, you can Orange peel and clove only (go easy on the clove and up the tea in the ratio!)--delicious orange spice tea. Lemon peel with a little ginger. Yummm. A tea blend with fennel seeds and dried ginger would be great for soothing an upset tummy after a particularly large holiday meal. Dried apple pieces with cinnamon chips. Your possibilities are endless--this could be one of the most fun and tasty experiments you'll ever try.

(I'll be honest here--I'm not a green tea person, so I'm not going to go there. Anyone have any nice green tea recipes you use a lot?)

Herbal Tea Blends (for--at least partially--medicinal purposes, or to avoid caffiene)
This is where the boundaries blur a bit--because in reality, you can do any of these blends with black tea as well--it all depends on what you like. And while some herbs are good for addressing a particular medical condition, others are just great herbal "tonics," i.e. they "tone" your system and keep everything in good strength and balance. For example:

Rose Hips are one of the best sources of Vitamin C ever.
Ginger warms the system and is a great remedy for indigestion
Chamomile flowers, as we all remember from Peter Rabbit, is soothing and calming
Peppermint leaves cool the system and are wonderful for easing headaches
Raspberry leaf is an ingredient in lots and lots of teas to strengthen women's reproductive systems and is often given in the second and third trimesters.
Hibiscus flower is a gentle diuretic and laxative (erm...also helpful during pregnancy!)
Dandelion root and leaves are honestly among the best tonics and body-strengtheners around; I happen to think they both taste vile, but not everyone agrees with me. If anyone comes up with a nice dandelion blend that masks the bitterness, please let me know!
Licorice Root, Marsh Mallow, and Slippery Elm are all mucilaginous, which means they are soothing and sort of...well...mucousy, but in a good way. These are the ones to use the day after screaming too loud at the rock concert or soccer game. They sooth and coat the throat and help make the raw tissues less raw and inflamed
Dried Elderberries and Wild Cherry Bark are old-fashioned cough remedy ingredients, and they taste nice in tea as well.
Lemon Balm leaves are citrussy and soothing, and easy to grow
Dried Lavender flowers are another natural sedative, and they go beautifully with many other herbs--especially lemon balm and the citrus peels, in my opinion.

These herbs can be mixed with each other or with black or green teas to make your own blends to address whatever you need to address at any given time. Our go-to herb tea is a mixture of mostly chamomile flowers with some mint leaves; it's a wonderful de-stressor and tastes lovely. Sometimes we'll add some ginger root to it.

A blend of rose hips and chamomile is also very nice--tart and fruity, but also soothing.

A winter cough would probably respond well to a lovely tasting blend of black tea, cinnamon chips, and elderberries (haven't gone there yet, but it sounds delicious!), which I may have to try today, since this cough just isn't going away.

As I said, the possibilities are endless. Use your imagination, use your search engines, and tea responsibly--remembering that I am neither a doctor nor a license herbalist, so please do your own homework and make sure whatever you try is first safe for you. There's a lot of good herbal information on Mountain Rose Herbs (where I buy most of my stuff), at, and through Rosemary Gladstar's site--these are where I'd go first.

And finally, if you are interested in pursuing teas for addressing physical ailments but don't want to blend your own, there's a great line of teas called Traditional Medicinals (Whole Foods carries them, at least mine does, as well as most other natural food stores I've been to) that does the blending for you. Mountain Rose Herbs also has a wide range of medicinal tea blends. (Sorry--I don't mean this to be a running commercial for them, but they are sort of my go-to site!)

Gifting tea blends
As I said, for tea gifts you're going to want something that tastes lovely and looks pretty in the gifting.

For creating the blends, I've had a lot of fun sitting around the table witih my kids and different bags of herbs and spices, letting them inhale each thing and get used to its smell, then smell what you get when you blend the two together, and so forth. It's like mixing colors, only training their noses to pay attention to what's going on around them. Then we play with different proportions, try different things, till it smells just right. Then we drink a cup of tea to make sure. Then we tweak. It's a seriously fun way to interact with kids and get them thinking about something they maybe never thought about before.

For the gift's presentation--basically you just need something airtight. If you don't mind buying more stuff, those bail-lid jars are really pretty and classy looking. Ordinary mason jars like you'd use for jam would also work well. Another pretty option would be to hit the local thrift store for some pretty teacups, put the tea into a ziploc baggie, and put the baggie into the teacup. (I know, we don't want to use more plastic, but I can't think of another safe way to get it around...anyone have any ideas that would work with the thrifted teacup method?)

Don't forget to include a little muslin bag or other form of reusable "tea bag" and instructions for how to brew--usually about a teaspoon of tea blend per cup of tea--with your gift.

Enjoy! And enjoy some meaningful holiday moments of de-stress over some tea. And maybe some cookies too.


Green Bean said...

What a cool idea for a handmade holiday gift! I had a friend who gave all her son's teachers tea made from herbs from their garden one year. Very original.

Daphne said...

My two favorite teas are chamomile with chocolate mint and green tea with candy mint. Sadly when I moved this year my mint plants did not come with me (the closing got moved up unexpectedly and a lot of garden plants didn't get to come). Now that my new yard has been put together, I'll have to put in those two mints and a nice patch of chamomile (well once spring comes around again).


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