Technique Tuesday: DIY Herbal Tea

It always is the case that this time of year is when I finally start to think about drying and putting away some fresh herbs from the garden.  Maybe it is because I am so busy using them fresh in the previous months, or I'm subconsciously trying to put them away as late as possible to have them fresher longer (or I procrastinate...).  Regardless, it is not until the the temperatures flirt a little with the upper 30s (like it did last week!) (and which can be the kiss of death, literally, for basil and other more delicate herbs) do I seem to motivate to do anything long-term with them.

Along with the weather dipping lower, and Friday's first day of fall, I also start craving warm cups of tea, and, just as big marketing execs would want, start thinking ahead to the holidays.  This project helps satisfy both categories.

Herbs at the Jean-Talon market in Montreal last month.

Giant, and criminally inexpensive, bunches of gorgeous, fragrant, vibrant herbs are still available in the farmers' markets, and until a frost, perhaps in your yard or garden.  Drying an assortment will give you great building blocks for your own herbal tea.  Endlessly customizable, and super-natural, will be far more flavorful than anything that has been sitting on a store shelf for months and months.  And putting away more than you need will also give you the raw materials for a lovely on-the-fly holiday gift.

Drying Herbs

  • Prep: First, gather herbs at their freshest, ideally before they have flowered or bolted, when the oils are the strongest.  Wash the herbs and dry thoroughly, a salad-spinner works best, to remove any dirt and grit.

  • Air Drying: Tie herbs together in small, loose bundles and hang upside down in a dry, well-ventilated spot, out of direct sunlight.  Check every day or so, and take down when the herbs are dry and crumble easily.

  • Oven Drying: Place clean herbs in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Set the oven to the lowest temperature, ideally about 140 F, or just the "warm" setting.  Using a wooden spoon, prop open the door to allow moisture to escape and to keep the temperature from getting too hight.  Herbs should be dry after about forty-five minutes.  Allow to cool overnight.

  • Moisture Test: Crumble the herbs and store in an airtight glass container for two days.  If any moisture or condensation forms on the inside of the container, remove, continue the drying process, and then repeat the test again.  (I have skipped this in the past, to sad, moldy results.)

  • Storage: After confidently dried, store herbs, or a mixture thereof, in an airtight container for up to six months.

Tea Inspiration:

A huge amount of tea-friendly herbs are available at the markets right now.  Keep an eye out for:

  • mint

  • rose hips

  • lemongrass

  • lemon verbena

  • lavender buds

  • chamomile flowers

  • rose petals (unsprayed and edible)

  • thyme

  • rosemary

In addition, try adding some ingredients from your spice cabinet:

  • cinnamon sticks

  • clove

  • star anise

  • vanilla bean

You can also add other dried ingredients.  Darina Allen suggests making a loose garland of these with a needle and thread and hanging it over your stove, or wood stove, to dry for a few days.  Finely dice when dry and add to herb mixture.

  • lemon peel

  • orange peel

  • sliced apple

  • sliced pear

  • sliced ginger

Lastly, for gifting, or just for convenience at home, you can portion the tea mixture out into fillable tea bags or store loose in a tea tin and use with a tea ball or my favorite in-mug tea basket infuser.


One response to “Technique Tuesday: DIY Herbal Tea”

  1. This is perfect tea weather today! Wish I had some of your tea.

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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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