Skip to main content

Spice Special Tea

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

Last night while making my newest favorite evening tea I got to thinking about the plants that produce these ingredients. My Spice Special tea is a blend of rooibos, anise, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, orange bitters, and honey. Let's look at each of these a bit closer.

Rooibos comes from the African plant (Aspalathus lineraris), also called Red Bush. Traditional black and green tea come from the Camellia bush. Rooibos is considered an herbal tea with no caffeine. A member of the pea family, this shrubby plant grows to six feet tall. The needle-like leaves turn red when oxidized into tea leaves. In the summer I make an iced Rose Rooibos tea with rooibos, rose hips, stevia, and vanilla.

Star anise (Illicium verum) comes from a small tree native to southeast Asia. The unique star-shaped seed is an aggregate fruit type since it is a combination of several flower ovaries in one. Crushed leaves and fruits from this plant have a licorice aroma, thus the name anise.

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of tropical cinnamon trees (Cinnamomum zeylanicum). These are small trees that grow about 30 feet tall that are native to southwest India.

Cloves are the aromatic flowerbuds of an evergreen tree (Syzygium aromaticum) that grows up to 30-50 foot tall. Crimson flowers group in clusters at the end of branches. Whole cloves are harvest before the flowers buds open.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardammommum) is a perennial plant in the ginger family. This aromatic tropical plant grows to 10 foot tall. The uniquely sweet seeds come from tiny flowers that turn into capsule fruits. Inside the fruits are the seeds used as a spice.

Orange bitters are an ingredient in many cocktails, but I find they also work well in tea. Traditional bitters come from aromaticherbs, bark, roots, and fruit. Orange bitters include the peels of Seville oranges, caraway seed,coriander, and sugar. Seville orange (Citrus aurantium), also called sour orange due to its bitter taste, are a tree that grows 10-30 foot tall with 2-3 inch small round fruit. Native to southeastern Asia, the Spaniards introduced the sour orange into St. Augustine, Florida where they still grow. Caraway seed has a fennel taste. The caraway plant (Carum carvi) is an herbaceous biennial that resembles a carrot. Also in the parsley family, Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is the seed of the cilantro plant.

This tea has a rich, mild licorice flavor that I've grown to love. Here is my recipe.

Rhonda's Spice Special Tea

  • 1 tablespoon rooibos loose tea (or 1-2 teabags)
  • 2 anise stars
  • ½ cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 whole cloves
  • 4-5 whole cardamom
  • Dash orange bitters
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Crush spices with a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder. Steep tea and spices with the bitters and honey for 2-3 minutes. Makes 16 ounces. I make this in an infuser, but you can also steep in a tea pot and then strain before drinking.



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.