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University of Illinois

Herbal Teas in the Garden

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 7, 2014

URBANA, Ill. - Tea is very important to my family, said one University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“This is because my Grandma Kinsel emigrated here from South Wales, where tea is a popular beverage,” explained Rhonda Ferree. “Over the years, I’ve found that teas are much more than just a beverage. Sitting down to a cup of tea is a great way to lift us out of the hurrying present, even if just for a little while.”

Teas have been used for millennia to help with relaxation and nourishment. “As a horticulturist, I can’t speak on the medicinal side of these claims, but I do believe that sipping tea in my favorite chair or garden room does provide a charming respite from my busy life,” she said.

Ferree explained she finds joy in the entire process of growing, harvesting, drying, storing, brewing, and drinking tea.

“It is fun to use fancy teapots and different tea cups,” she said. “I enjoy trying new herbal mixes and am particularly interested in teas with supposed calming effects. Those sometimes touted as good evening teas for relaxation include lavender, chamomile, and valerian.

“Lavender is quickly becoming my favorite evening tea. I grow lots of lavender in my garden. The mild floral scent is heavenly and therapeutic. Studies have shown that just smelling lavender can reduce anxiety.”

Lavender is a perennial plant here and should survive a central Illinois winter. It does prefer a well-drained soil, however, and can die out in early spring if the roots stay wet too long. Ferree suggests harvesting the leaves and flowers separately because the flowers make a stronger tea. She recommends using one teaspoon of dry or two teaspoons of fresh lavender in a cup of boiling water and steeping three to five minutes.

Chamomile has been used for years to help “induce sleep.” There are two types of chamomile: German (Matricaria recutita) and Roman (Chamaemelum nobile). The Roman is a low-growing perennial, whereas the German is a cool-season annual plant. Ferree grows the German chamomile in her garden. “It has a dainty daisy-like flower that is picked and dried to make tea. I often mix chamomile with a lemon herb-like lemon verbena and add a bit of honey for sweetness,” she said. “Use two teaspoons dry or one tablespoon of fresh flower and steep in boiling water for five minutes or more.”

Valerian is a hardy perennial flowering herb. The roots of this plant are dried and ground to make tea. You can see it in the herb garden at Luthy Botanical Garden in Peoria. Valerian is used in commercial teas. For example, Celestial Seasonings describes their Sleepytime Extra Wellness Tea as having  “calming valerian to help gently lull you to sleep.” It also includes chamomile and spearmint.

“Need a respite from life’s stresses? Try unwinding with a delicious cup of tea,” Ferree said.

Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture & State Master Naturalist Coordinator, ferreer@illinois.edu

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