For centuries, teas have been used to treat all sorts of ailments. Recently, scientific research is finding more connections to the truths our ancestors have known all along: Herbal medicine can help you feel better.
You can find all sorts of organic herbal teas in the health food store, but why not grow them yourself? Gardening is great exercise, spending time outdoors is good for your health, and the plants you grow will support pollinators and your local ecosystem.
Here are some of our top plants for full-body wellness.
Echinacea, often called purple coneflower, is a perennial flower native to North America. Native Americans used its roots and seed heads to treat illnesses like colds and fevers. They also dressed open wounds and sores with an echinacea poultice.
Modern research suggests that echinacea does have great benefits for the body. From antioxidant to antihypertensive properties, drinking a tea made from this plant could help your blood sugar and blood pressure. There’s also evidence that it may help reduce inflammation, however research is still inconclusive.
Alkamides, a natural bioactive compound in echinacea, are said to be what simulates your immune system. Then polysaccharides boost your immune system’s effects, which can help stave off cold and flu and can shorten the duration of your illness if you get an infection.
How to grow echinacea
Because echinacea is a native perennial, it’s very easy to grow. There are seven different varieties whose ranges overlap across the United States. Growing echinacea from the seed is a slow process. Don’t feel bad buying a grown plant from a local nursery.
How to make tea with echinacea
Echinacea tea has a strong floral, earthy flavor. Harvest a portion of the roots in fall from an established plant and wash them well to remove soil. Chop coarsely and dry if desired.
You can also harvest flower heads and leaves at any point during the growing season for use in tea. Add honey to improve the taste if desired.
Mint is perhaps the easiest tea to grow and harvest at home. And with the mint family (Mentha) being so huge, the biggest challenge might just be deciding which variety to get!
Mint has long been used as a digestive aid, and recent research shows evidence that mint tea does relax the digestive tract. Peppermint oil has also been used as a successful treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.
How to grow mint
For tea, try peppermint (Mentha piperita), spearmint (Mentha spicata), or apple mint (Mentha suaveolens). This plant, native to Europe, is really a prolific sprawler and can quickly take over a garden bed, spreading horizontally through underground shoots called runners.
It’s difficult to get rid of so it’s best to plant it in a pot or a bed confined by physical barriers like walkways. You can also grow it as a houseplant.
How to make tea with mint
You can harvest mint at any time during the growing season by using shears or scissors to snip off leaves and sprigs as needed. Rinse off the leaves in cool running water.
Cut off flower heads before they bloom to prevent the plant from becoming bitter. Brew tea from fresh or dried leaves.
You’ve probably heard that drinking chamomile tea at night will help you relax and get a good night’s sleep, and there’s certainly scientific evidence to back that up. Chamomile contains a flavonoid called apigenin that binds to receptors in the brain, causing drowsiness.
Chamomile tea is also used to help gastrointestinal issues and promote healthy digestion, which is generally attributed to its anti-inflammatory effects.
How to grow chamomile
There are two types of chamomile: Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutita). Both are members of the daisy family and are native to western Europe, though Roman chamomile is a perennial while German chamomile is a self-seeding annual.
German chamomile is more common in herb gardens and widely used in commercial teas because of its sweeter flavor.
How to make chamomile tea
Harvest flowers throughout the summer by snipping off flowerheads with shears or scissors. Doing this will also encourage more flowers to grow. Rinse the plants and let them dry. You can also cut flowers with longer stems for drying. Brew tea from fresh or dried flowers.
Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), known as holy basil, has been used for centuries in India to treat a variety of conditions. It’s a prominent herb in ayurvedic medicine and is classified as an adaptogen, a type of herb that helps the body counteract the effects of stress.
A growing body of scientific research shows that tulsi can help the body adapt to both physical and mental stress, thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants.
How to grow tulsi
Growing tulsi is much like growing regular basil, though it does require a bit more care and attention. Tulsi likes full sun, rich soil, and consistent moisture.
How to make tulsi tea
Harvest leaves and flowers repeatedly throughout the summer and rinse off with cool running water. Cut off flower tops to encourage more growth and prevent bitterness. Dry tulsi as you would other herbs, or brew tea from the fresh leaves and flowers.
The teas we listed above are a few of the most common, but you can easily brew tea out of any fresh or dried leaves. Some artisanal brands have even incorporated other elements like peppers or dried fruit into their teas.
Part of the fun with at-home teas is experimenting. Most of the teas we listed above you can drink alone, but some, like echinacea, will be more appealing when mixed with one or more herbs.
De-stress with tea
If you’re experiencing digestive distress or irritable bowel brought on by stress, try mixing mint with tulsi to soothe your digestive track and your nerves at the same time.
Stress can also play a role in weakening the immune system, so a mint and echinacea blend will help keep your mind and body healthy. Chamomile is delicious and comforting on its own, but it also tastes great mixed with mint.
If you don’t have a green thumb or are curious about other flavors, try some of these soothing brews.
And this list is just the tip of the iceberg of beneficial herbal teas. There are plenty of others you can try growing at home depending on your needs.
Rebecca Straus is a writer, editor, and plant expert. Her work has appeared on Rodale’s Organic Life, Sunset, Apartment Therapy, and Good Housekeeping.