Did you know that all of our black, green, white, yellow, oolong and pu-erh teas all come from two varieties of Camellias? I sure didn’t until I saw an exhibit at the Fowler Museum on the UCLA campus a few years ago. The plant is Camellia sinensis, and it’s leaves and leaf buds are used for tea. According to Wikipedia, the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis is used for Chinese teas and the Camellia sinensis var. assamica for Indian Assam teas. The differences in the teas come from the varying degrees of oxidation in the processing of the leaves and leaf buds. Both East Bay Nursery and Berkeley Horticultural Nursery carry the Camellia sinensis plant in one and five gallon containers.
Many of plants for our herbal teas can be grown in our herb gardens: lemon verbena tea, a favorite of mine, is brewed from the leaves of Aloysia citrodora. This lemon verbena is frost tender and rangy. So grow it against a warm wall, or amongst lower plants so it doesn’t look too awkward in the garden. And actually harvesting the leaves for tea, and pinch pruning helps keep it slightly more compact.
Our chamomile tea comes from the dried flowers of Matricaria recutita—not to be confused with our groundcover Roman chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile. Matricaria recutita will grow to about 2’ high with a 1 1/2’ spread, whereas the latter will grow to about 3-12” tall. It can be used for tea, but the flavor isn’t as sweet.
Other herbs that can be grown in your herb garden for teas include the following:
- Anise hyssop, Agastache foeniculum ‘Golden Jubilee’. You can use both the blossoms and leaves of this 3’ tall variety to make a licorice tasting tea.
Bee Balm, Monarda didyma. Not only will this wonderful herb attract bees and butterflies, but it will produce citrus-flavored white, pink or red blossoms to use in a cup of hot water for tea.
Lavender: there are many types of lavender, but the best for steeping the blossoms are our English lavenders: Lavandula angustifolia varieties.
Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis, is a spreader and self-sows, so keep an eye on it. Catch up with it to use the fresh leaves in a tea that tastes like mint plus citrus.
Nutmeg Geranium, Pelargonium x fragrans ‘Nutmeg’, is the woodiest of the tea herbs (besides the lemon verbena) and can grow to 3’ by 3’. It has aromatic leaves that taste and smell of nutmeg.