We British love our tea, but could you grow your own?
We British love our tea, but could you grow your own?
 

Although coffee shops abound on every street, teas and tisanes are ever popular with several tea shops in Hammersmith including the tea house at Ravenscourt Park, Betty Blythe in Blythe Road, Upsydaisy and Drink me Eat Me in King Street.

Tea remains ever popular with 66 per cent of the British drinking tea according to the UK Tea Council. But how about growing our own and making it fresh as fresh can be?

Most black teas come from China and India and derive from the tea plant, Camelia sinensis. This plant is related to the lovely Camelias we see around west London and especially at Chiswick House and Gardens Camelia Festival in March 2014. With their shiny green leaves and beautiful red, pink or white flowers appearing in early spring, it is a sign winter is nearly over. These plants like an acid soil so be sure to add some ericaceous compost for best blooms if you are lucky enough to have one in your garden.

Tisanes, however, are herbal teas, that we can easily grow in our small gardens and balconies. They are plants whose leaves we can pick, pop in a mug and infuse with boiling water. Many have health giving benefits and the plants are most attractive either in pots or flower-beds. They often attract beneficial insects and bees and their strong aromas can keep away slugs and harmful insects.

A challenge for city gardeners is always space and what to grow. Herbs are usually hardy so here are some easy to grow herbs to grow your in your new tisane bed or tub.

For calming tisanes choose a sheltered sunny spot for Catnip, Camomile, Mint and Rosemary. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis) can be the main perennial ‘thriller’ plant; buy one. The ‘filler’ around this would be the Catnip (Nepeta cataria); buy three plants and plant these around the Rosemary. You could also add Mint (Mentha peperita) here or Apple Mint (Mentha suaveolens): buy three. Mint is best in a container as it spreads easily. The ‘spiller’, ie spilling over the edge of the pot or bed, would be the Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile); buy three plants or sow seeds around the Catnip. These can be bought as plants or easily sown as seeds, available from seed suppliers such as Suttons . This plant has feathery leaves and pretty, daisy-like white petals and yellow-centred flowers, which are out from June to October.

When the Chamomile gets to 10 cm height you can give it a ‘hair cut’ and use the leaves to make your tea, as you can with the Catnip and Rosemary. This lovely combination of plants and aromas will provide evergreen foliage with the Rosemary and its pretty blue flowers in the spring. Catnip, also known as catmint, produces lovely lavender-like flowers over the summer. Pollinating insects love it as do cats. They are all perennial plants and will return year on year. The Chamomile can spill out of your pot or onto your lawn.

For an energizing herbal tea collection, and also good for the tummy, grow Ginger, Bronze Fennel and Bergamot. Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare “Purpureum”) grows tall and willowy so needs to be at the back of a bed or in a large container or tub positioned against a warm south-facing wall. Its seeds are often used as a restorative tea.

You can grow Ginger (Zingiber officinale) from fresh ginger roots bought at the supermarket and follow these instructions from Kew Gardens . However, essentially for our herb tub, plant three fingers broken off the ginger root (or rhizome) in front of the Fennel and this will grow into an exotic red flowering plant. It is the root you would use for a most reviving cup of tea, aiding digestion.

City gardener Sarah Heaton
 

Bergamot (Bergamot monarda) has vibrant coloured pink flowers. It is from the mint family and contains thymol which is good for colds and sore throats. It was first used by the Oswego native Americans in North America and after the Boston Team Party of 1773, it was drunk by patriotic Americans. It differs from bergamot orange, a fragrant citrus fruit, used to flavour Earl Grey. And finally, you can make your herbal tea in a beautiful glass tisaniere or teapot .

If your garden is shady, here are two pretty herbs that thrive in a shadier aspect: Sweet Woodfuff (Galium oderatum) has a lovely vanilla smell. Most of the mint family likes a shady area.

A new beautiful and unusual book called “Pharmapoetica” blends poetry with 10 herbs and has been published by Pedestrian Publishing. It consists of “a medical cabinet of poems” about plants used pharmacologically and has been written by herbalist Maria Vlotides and poet Chris McCabe . Maria as dedicated it to the ladies of the greenhouse in Hammersmith.

HERB OF THE MONTH BAY (Laurus nobilis)

I chose bay for February as it is evergreen and goes well in casseroles, stews and soups, which are so warming in this cold dark month. Maria Vlotides advises: “It’s not a tea or tisane but flavours cooking and it has insecticidal qualities and will keep moths, mice and weevils away. It can be strewn in larders and pantries and in drawers.”

Maria Vlotides says in her book: “I love the fact that its Greek name – Daphne – reflects its mythological origin. Daphne was a nymph metamorphosed into a tree to save her from the lust of Apollo. She was then - as a tree – patronised or honoured by Apollo, and her leaves used to crown victors or Laureats.”

If you would like a “tea and tisane” tub containing these herbs, please order from (cost £25- 35) or for advice on planting your edible garden: contact Sarah Heaton on shgardens@btinternet.com. The herbs in this article are plant combinations, rather than medicinal remedies. Readers should consult a doctor or herbalist for treatments and remedies.