I retire on October 1 after 30 years with University of Illinois Extension. I've decided to focus my last couple columns on my favorite plants. I'll start with herbs. As most of my regular readers know, I grow a lot of herbs and use them to make a variety of tea blends.
Over the years, I've found that teas are much more than just a beverage. Sitting down to a cup of tea is a great way to lift us out of the hurrying present, even if just for a little while.
I find joy in the entire process of growing, harvesting, drying, storing, brewing, and drinking tea. It is fun to use fancy teapots and different teacups. I enjoy trying new herbal mixes and am particularly interested in teas with reported calming effects. Those sometimes touted as good evening teas for relaxation include lavender, chamomile, and valerian.
Lavender is one of my favorite herbs. The mild floral scent is heavenly and therapeutic. Studies have shown that just smelling lavender can reduce anxiety. Lavender is a perennial plant here and should survive a central Illinois winter. It does prefer a well-drained soil, however, and can die out in early spring if the roots stay wet too long. I harvest the leaves and flowers separately because I think the flowers make a stronger tea. Use 1 teaspoon of dry or 2 teaspoons of fresh lavender in a cup of boiling water and steep 3-5 minutes.
Chamomile has been used for years to help "induce sleep." There are two types of chamomile: German (Matricaria recutita) and Roman (Chamaemelum nobile). The Roman is a low growing perennial, while the German is a cool season annual plant. I grow the German chamomile in my garden. It has a dainty, daisy-like flower that is picked and dried to make tea. I often mix my chamomile with a lemon herb like lemon verbena and add a bit of honey for sweetness. Use 2 teaspoons dry or 1 tablespoon of fresh flowers and steep in boiling water for 5 minutes or more.
Valerian is a hardy perennial flowering herb. The roots of this plant are dried and ground to make tea. I don't grow this plant (yet), but you can see it in the herb garden at Luthy Botanical Garden in Peoria. Valerian is used in commercial teas. For example, Celestial Seasonings says that their Sleepytime Extra Wellness Tea has "calming valerian to help gently lull you to sleep." It also includes chamomile and spearmint.
To learn how I harvest and dry herbs, watch my Harvesting Herbs YouTube Video at go.illinois.edu/ILRiverHortvideos. I also demonstrate making my Surprise Spice Tea in the Indoor Edible Gardens video.
Need a respite from life's stresses? Try unwinding with a delicious cup of tea.