Herbal tea has been enjoyed for centuries thanks to its many health benefits, which include boosting the immune system, improving digestion, lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation and relieving anxiety and stress. But, did you know that tea drinking has becoming increasingly wasteful, thanks to single-use tea bags that have a devastating effect on the environment?
Did you know?
A shocking 2019 study found that steeping a single tea bag releases 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics (particles that are 1,000 times smaller than an algal cell). Most tea bags contain up to 25% plastic; for the tea bags to seal up and keep their shape in hot liquids, a plastic – usually polypropylene – must be added. Because of this, tea bags can’t completely decompose, making it bad for the environment and your body, since plastic negatively affects our endocrine system.
Plastic-free tea bags can be put into the compost bin, it’s always better to buy loose leaf teas, or make your own custom blends. All you need are some herbs or flowers, something to dry them with (a microwave will do) and a bit of patience!
Step 1: Buy (or Grow) Your Herbs and Flowers
Choose fresh, organic herbs from the supermarket or the farmer’s market. Or, if you have the space, grow them yourself! You don’t need much room – a windowsill or sunny balcony will do. Grow them from seed, or buy “starter” plants from a local garden store or farm. Some of the most popular herbs for tea are mint, lavender, basil, ginger, chamomile, rosemary, thyme, jasmine and lemongrass.
If you’re growing them from seeds, fill a pot with potting soil or space plants out in a long container. Plant seeds according to the instructions on the seed packet; usually, a couple of seeds should be placed on top of the soil and covered with a small amount of soil. Keep the soil moist until sprouts appear.
If you’re using starter plants, fill the bottom portion of the pot with soil and transfer the bought plants. Gently tease apart the roots and fill the remaining space with soil. Tip- water the herbs only when the soil is dry about 2cm under the surface.
If you’re using flowers, try to grow your own, since many flower shops use pesticides or other chemicals to grow and preserve flowers. Again, you can use seeds or starter plants, or you can use pre-dried flowers if growing isn’t possible.
Step 2: Dry Your Herbs and Flowers
Before creating your home-made blend, you’ll need to dry your herbs and flowers. Depending on the plant, you can air dry them, or dry them in a microwave, oven or dehydrator.
When growing your own ingredients, harvest outdoor herbs and flowers in the mid-morning; you’ll want to harvest before the afternoon sun starts to bleach the essential oils out of the petals. If you’re air-drying herbs with branches – like thyme, mint, basil and rosemary – keep enough of the branch to hang them.
Air drying is the least difficult, and is considered one of the best options for preserving flavour. However, this method takes a bit more time (from one to three weeks) and it works best with thicker, waxier leaves, like rosemary. Gather herbs with the cut branches facing the same direction, and tie them together with rubber bands. Wrap a paper bag with ventilation holes around the bundle to prevent dust from gathering on the herbs. Hang the herbs from the stems, preferably in a cool, dry room. When they break/ crumble easily in your hand, they’re ready to be taken down, stripped from the branches and stored.
If you don’t want to wait this long, you can dry herbs in the oven. Set the oven at 135ºF, or around 57ºC. If the lowest setting on your oven is higher than this, open the door slightly. The process can be daily quick, often under an hour, so watch the herbs and remove them once they start to get crispy and crumble easily.
If you want to use the microwave, wrap the herbs in paper towels and microwave on high for one minute. Allow the herbs to cool for 30 seconds, then microwave them again on high for 30 seconds. Remove this process until the herbs are dry.
If you’re using flowers in your tea – like roses or hibiscus – clip the plant underneath the petals. Wipe the petals clean, spread them on a cloth and place in direct sunlight. Rotate them every few hours until they’re completely dry. The petals should crumble off the crown easily. Soft-leafed herbs like mint, parsley and basil can also be dried this way.
Store all your dried herbs and flowers in airtight – reusable – containers until you’re ready to use them.
Step 3: Assemble Your Tea
Now comes the fun part. Most herbal teas follow a basic structure: a base (3 parts), compliment (1-2 parts) and an accent (1 part). Here are some wonderful tea recipes.
For sweetness, add honey and dried orange or lemon peels, or other spices like cinnamon, cayenne and turmeric. For relaxation, add lavender, chamomile or basil. For a cold, try lemon, ginger, honey, mint or cinnamon. To strengthen your immune system, use turmeric, lemongrass, peppermint or elderberry. You can also mix your blend with caffeinated tea, like black or green tea. Store your blends in glass jars or another airtight container.
Step 4: Brew and enjoy
Add one teaspoon of dried blend per cup of boiling water; for fresh ingredients, use two teaspoons per three-quarter cup of water.
Steep dried tea for three to five minutes, or five to 10 minutes for fresh ingredients, and enjoy!
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