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.
Care for echinacea
- Plant echinacea in full to partial sun. It’ll tolerate just about any type of soil so long as it isn’t overly wet and mucky.
- Be sure to choose a location carefully — echinacea will come back year after year and its deep taproot makes it difficult to move without killing the plant.
- Water young plants and recent transplants once or twice a week. Once established, water only during a drought.
- Cut back foliage in the fall once the growing season ends.
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.
Care for mint
- Buy a mint plant from your local garden center or get a cutting from a friend. Mint prefers moist, well-draining soil and part sun, but you’ll find that it’s generally resilient to most conditions.
- Mulch lightly using a layer of compost or decaying leaves to retain moisture, especially when growing in a container.
- For indoor plants, water twice per week, misting in between. Water outdoor plants only during dry spells.
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.
Care for chamomile
- Sow seeds directly in the garden after the last frost date in spring. Chamomile prefers partial sun and soil with average to dry moisture.
- Sprinkle seeds on the soil’s surface, pressing them into the ground without covering. Once established, chamomile requires very little care and tolerates drought well.
- Prune Roman chamomile as needed as it spreads aggressively through creeping stems.
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.
Care for tulsi
- Sow seeds directly in the ground in early spring, or start seedlings indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost.
- Apply compost and mulch generously when planting. Water regularly, especially during dry periods or if growing in a pot.
- Though tulsi is a perennial in its native habitat, it can’t survive frost and is grown as an annual in North America.
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.
Drying herbs for storage
- Gather rinsed cuttings into bouquets. Shake gently to get the water off.
- Tie the stems together with string, and hang the bunches upside down to dry in a warm, dry spot, such as an attic or porch. Keep them out of the kitchen — cooking creates humidity.
- When the herbs are completely dry, strip off the leaves or flowers and store them in an airtight jar for up to a year.
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.
To brew tea:
- Pour one cup of boiling water over 1 tablespoon of dried herbs. When using fresh herbs, use 2 to 3 tablespoons per cup of water.
- Steep three to five minutes, or longer if you prefer a stronger flavor.
If you don’t have a green thumb or are curious about other flavors, try some of these soothing brews.
Tea wonders that work
- Lavender. This purple flower is a proven stress-buster. The flavor would be far too pungent to drink on its own, but you can try this ultra-soothing combo of chamomile-lavender tea.
- Catnip.This herb is in the mint family, so it’s no surprise that it’s also a good digestive aid. If you’d like to grow it yourself, you can follow the same instructions for mint above. Try catnip tea after dinner to keep your stomach happy.
- Ginger. This spice has a laundry list of health benefits, but ginger tea is most commonly used to calm indigestion and nausea.
- Dandelion. High in antioxidants, dandelion may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and also supports healthy digestion. You can dig some out of your lawn to brew or buy it here.
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.
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Rebecca Straus is a writer, editor, and plant expert. Her work has appeared on Rodale’s Organic Life, Sunset, Apartment Therapy, and Good Housekeeping.