Herb gardening is a fun and frugal way to experiment with new flavors in the kitchen. In addition, having your own herbal tea garden allows you to create unique and healthy loose-leaf herbal tea blends.
Growing herbs at home is actually more straightforward than you think. Easy to grow, simple to harvest and preserve, all you need is enthusiasm and the right growing system.
Let’s take a closer look at how to get started!
Advantages of Growing Your Own Herbs
Supermarkets stock hundreds of herbs, but growing your own has distinct advantages.
Here are a few good reasons to start your own herb garden:
They’re Always Kitchen-Ready: Fresh or dried, homegrown herbs are packed with flavor and have a higher nutrient density than store-bought. They’re ready when you are. Use them for making teas, salads, and to give nice flavors for cooking.
Chemical-Free: Store-bought herbs can contain toxic herbicide and pesticide residue. All it takes to grow healthier, chemical-free plants are organic potting soil, seeds or seedlings, and fertilizer. You can also make your own nutritious soil by composting organic waste.
Save Money: Cheap herbs are often less flavorful than name brands, but top-quality products are costly. And then there are organic varieties that can cost three times as much. After deducting the cost of supplies, you’ll still spend less growing your own and get more for less.
Perk Up Your Home: There’s nothing like a touch of green to liven up the kitchen. Aromatic herbs are visually appealing and smell fresh. It’s always spring with herbs in the house.
Planning Your Herbal Tea Garden
Expect some trial and error with your first herbal tea garden, but thinking ahead improves the odds of success.
Here are to most important things to consider before starting:
Should You Plant Seeds or Seedlings?
The choice is yours. There are pros and cons to each:
Price: Seeds are inexpensive. They cost pennies per plant versus potted seedlings at $2-$5 each. You’ll have to purchase pots and soil, but you’ll recoup your investment in months.
Time: Growing from seed takes more time. Germination takes up to ten days, and it can be 4-12 weeks before plants can be harvested. Seedlings take just a few weeks to mature.
Availability: Seeds are readily available and ship nationwide, but some seedlings are impossible to find. Nurseries stock only the most popular types and may not sell the varieties you’re looking for.
In addition, starting seeds at home is the surest way to control the growing process. Whether you’re avoiding GMOs or worried about soil contamination, fewer people handling your food improves its quality.
Seedlings are convenient, but herbs grown from seed are typically hardier. It’s not unusual to lose seedlings to transplant shock.
Gardening is therapeutic — getting back to nature appeals to us all. Part of the fun of growing herbs is the process. You’ll learn more about it by starting from the beginning, which means seeds.
Recommended Herbs To Grow
An herb garden can be exclusively for tea, or you can choose varieties that do double duty in dishes.
These are among the most popular and simple to grow:
Mint is a perennial staple in any herb garden. Aromatic, it smells heavenly, producing delicate pink flowers in the late summer.
Known for soothing upset stomachs, it complements other herbs in tea and cooking. Use the leaves fresh or dried.
Lavender is for more than perfume — it’s surprisingly delicious in tea. A tall perennial, it produces stunning purple flowers.
The fragrance of this herb evokes calm and soothes cold symptoms. Dry the buds and add them to herbal blends for a touch of sweetness.
Chamomile is the go-to herb for a restful night’s sleep. An easy-care perennial, it produces yellow and white flowers with a light apple scent and a delicate flavor.
Dry the heads for a calming herbal treat.
The same fragrant herb that makes pasta sauces shine makes a soothing cup of tea. Packed with trace minerals, it may help control blood pressure.
Ideal for the novice herb enthusiast, it’s an attractive annual and effortless to grow. Use the leaves fresh or dry them.
Here is a great video that shows how you can go from one basil plant bought from grocery to as many as you want:
Lemon Balm is a perennial with a light, crisp aroma. Part of the mint family, it’s a favorite among balcony gardeners for warding off mosquitoes.
It has few culinary applications, but the dried leaves brighten tea with a spark of citrus flavor.
Rosemary is an evergreen herb with both tea and culinary potential. Fresh, it smells a bit minty and has a subtle pine flavor with a hint of lemon.
The herb boasts fragrant flowers throughout the summer, but the leaves are the part where the magic happens. Dry them for teas or soups and stews. Rosemary grows best in warm, humid climates.
Ginger is a delicious culinary and medicinal herb. It’s a must-have in an herbal garden, but you can’t grow it from seed. Bury a piece of ginger root in soil and be patient — it grows slowly, but it’s worth the wait.
Homegrown ginger doesn’t usually flower, but the leaves have a pleasant spicy aroma. Harvest and dry the root.
Of the more than 200 varieties of flowering hibiscus, most have no scent, but they pack a tangy punch of flavor.
Slow to mature — 4-5 months on average from seed — they’re a colorful addition to indoor and outdoor spaces. Both the flowers and leaves are high in antioxidants, including Vitamin C.
Turmeric is a medicinal powerhouse. Known for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, harvest the root in its entirety when the plant is mature.
You can use it fresh or dry it for a pungent addition to tea and Asian dishes.
Soil vs Hydroponic Growing
Herbs are traditionally raised in soil, but hydroponic growing systems are an increasingly popular option for modern gardeners.
Growing in Soil
The benefits and disadvantages of soil include:
- Low set-up and supply costs
- Familiar growing process
- Readily available supplies
- Messy spills
- Frequent watering
Hydroponic herb kits are compact and self-contained. Easy for beginners to use, they include everything necessary to get started, including integrated lighting.
Advantages and drawbacks of hydroponic growing include:
- No mess
- Built-in lighting (in most systems)
- The herbs grow 30-50 percent faster compared to soil
- Limited need for watering
- Simple fertilization process
- High-tech features, including watering reminders and light timers
- Higher initial cost
- Electricity use
- Propriety seed pods cost more than generic supplies
- Fewer herb varieties to choose from
Both soil and hydroponics are proven ways to grow herbs. Soil is a good choice if money is tight. Hydroponics might be a better option if you need a forgiving, low-maintenance growing system.
Or why not do both?
Grow some herbs in soil and let them enjoy the natural light of your balcony or backyard. Then get a convenient hydroponic system in your kitchen or living room and use it to lighten up a dark corner.
Where to Grow
As long as the conditions are right, you can grow herbs inside or outdoors.
Raising herbs in your house is very convenient especially when using a hydroponic system.
Here are some pros and cons to think about:
- Quick accessibility
- Controlled temperature, light, and moisture conditions
- Ideal for small-space living
- Uses valuable floor or counter space
- Some plants grow better outdoors
- Spilled pots can make a mess
- Pets can ruin your plants
Growing outdoors is the traditional way to garden if you have a space for it. A small balcony or patio can accommodate at least a few pots while a backyard has space for a proper herbal tea garden.
- No artificial light required
- More space
- Indoor pets can’t reach the plants
- Soil and water never make a mess indoors
- Tender herbs can burn in high heat
- Temperature and rainfall are unpredictable
- Storms and insects can damage delicate plants
When the choice of where to grow is limited, select herbs that thrive in those conditions. If you have indoor and outdoor growing space, use both to maximize the number of varieties you can add to your herbal tea blends.
Growing, Harvesting and Drying – Let’s Start!
If this is your first time growing herbs, here’s a quick primer on growing, harvesting and preserving them.
1. Select Pots or a Hydroponic Growing System
Herbs will fill whatever size container they’re planted in, so consider how much you want to grow. Tall plants need heavy pots for stability.
Hydroponic systems hold a limited number of seed pods. Purchase the size unit that meets your needs and select your favorite herb varieties.
Check out our AeroGarden guide with reviews of their top models to find a product that best suits your needs
2. Prepare the Soil or Water
Purchase a high-quality growing mix designed for containers. Garden soils are too heavy for pots. Potting mixes are lighter and retain moisture with less watering.
Setting up a hydroponic system requires only water and nutrient solution.
Whether you’re planting seeds or seedlings, the package shows how deep to plant them and in what light and temperature conditions.
Hydroponic systems are effortless — pop the all-in-one seed pods in the base and you are set to go.
Water potted herbs until the soil feels damp to touch — moisture shouldn’t pool on the surface. Monitor plants daily and add more water when the soil is dry. Water outdoor plants in the morning before the sun hits the leaves or in the evening at sunset.
Check hydroponic systems every few days and refill as directed.
5. Give Them Light
Place pots in a bright window or in a sunny outdoor space. Most herbs need 6-8 hours of sun daily. Use a portable grow light in shady areas.
Most hydroponic systems have built-in lights. Seedpod instructions will tell you how many hours of exposure they need. Set the timer accordingly.
6. Add Nutrients
Potted herbs benefit from a dose of all-purpose fertilizer every few weeks. Choose from liquid or granular types or make your own compost.
Hydroponic systems use a blend of premixed nutrient drops. Add them to the water as directed.
Herbs should be harvested for peak flavor and aroma — timing depends on the part of the plant you’re harvesting.
Varieties grown for their leaves should be harvested before flowering — blooming affects the taste. Flowers should be harvested just before they open. Snip them off at the base.
Harvest leafy annual herbs, such as basil, by pinching leaves off the tip of the stem. To promote new growth, start as soon as they have enough foliage to sustain photosynthesis.
Leafy perennials like lemon balm should be pinched off at the base of the stem. Harvest indoor plants year-round by taking leaves from different parts of the plant while others regrow.
For stemmed herbs, like rosemary, harvest the top 2-4 inches in succession as long as the plant is in its growing phase. It will regenerate off-season based on the climate.
In cold zones, stop harvesting outdoor plants a month before the first frost.
Herbs for tea can be used fresh or dried for storage.
Drying is straightforward using one of these 4 methods:
Dehydrators work like an oven, circulating air and heat around stacked trays of foods. For the best result dry herbs at 95 °F (35 °C) for up to 12 hours. The drying time depends on the thickness of the herbs and the kind of dehydrator you are using.
This is our recommended method for drying herbs!
Check out our guide with the best herb dehydrators and you can’t go wrong.
Tie herbs in small, loose bundles and hang them in a cool, dry place. It sounds counterintuitive to keep them away from light, but UV rays will diminish their quality. Herbs too small to bundle can be spread out evenly on a screen to dry.
This a good and traditional way to dry herbs, although it takes a long time. You will also need good air circulation to avoid molds.
To dry herbs in an oven, spread them on cookie sheets and dry them at the lowest possible temperature. It is not recommended to go higher than 115 °F (46 °C), but that can be hard to achieve with an oven.
Microwave drying is quick and easy. Lay a single layer of leaves between dry paper towels and microwave them for 1 to 2 minutes on high power. Let the leaves cool. If they’re not brittle, reheat them for 30 seconds, repeating the process as needed.
If you want to preserve the aroma and nutrients of the herbs in the best possible way, we don’t recommend using a microwave.
Herbs are dry enough when they crumble like those you see in supermarket jars — too much residual moisture can cause mold.
Fresh herbs can also be preserved by freezing them.
Storing the Dried Herbs
Avoiding crushing leaves until you’re ready to use them for maximum flavor. If herbs are in large pieces that are hard to put in jars you can gently rub them between your palms to make them a bit smaller or remove the leaves from stalks.
Store the herbs loosely in glass, metal, or hard plastic containers in cool, dark, dry conditions. It’s worth investing in proper loose leaf tea containers to extend the storage life of your herbs.
An herb garden is a fun and cost-effective way to amp up your favorite recipes. And for herbal tea lovers, there’s an extra sense of satisfaction in growing your own loose leaf.
Start with your favorite herbs and then try new tastes. You’ll gain a greater appreciation for the miracle of gardening and the wonder of tea.
Enjoy Your Homegrown Herbs!
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