home-made tea – tisane recipes
Home-made teas are a way of drinking water. I know that sounds ridiculous, but the health freaks are always going on about how much water we should drink and I really can't bring myself to glug down a two-litre bottle every day – especially as mine is disgustingly chlorinated.
So teas – herb teas or tisanes – are the thing. But the ones you can buy in boxes don't quite do it for me either; dried, the herbs lose that delicious intensity of flavour and, importantly for me, they lose their bright colour. So in the last year or two I've turned to making my own home-made teas, picking leaves and flowers from just outside my kitchen door and getting an instant fresh, natural, often therapeutic and delicious drink. If you rely on plants you have grown yourself, it's much easier to vary the tisane according to your mood.
I've now got a glass tisaniere – a special herb tea pot that I found in France. I scrunch the leaves up first to release their essential oils (the tasty and medicinal part), cover with just off boiling water and let them stew for five minutes. Keep the lid on your pot to prevent the oils from evaporating in the steam. Take off the top strainer section, replace the lid and pour.
lemon verbena and lemon balm
I have to go easy on my small bush of lemon verbena. This is my favourite taste but it is slow-growing, so you can't harvest from a young plant every day. To give it a break, I turn to lemon balm, which is almost as good and about as prolific as you can get. A word of warning, though: if you like an immaculate garden, avoid it. Lemon balm self-sows all over the place, particularly thriving in hot, freely-drained, gravel paths. I love it for this – my red-brick walls have self-perpetuating cascades of it – but that may not be your look.
Lemon verbena is very lemony, with pretty narrow leaves that make a lovely pale-green tea. It's the one for drinking before going to bed and will help send you to sleep (chamomile is good for this too – pick four or five flowers per mug). Despite its similarity in taste, lemon balm has the opposite effect to verbena. It relieves tiredness and is a useful morning-after pick-me-up. It's also good for tension and headaches, and studies have shown that it helps restore memory. For those with a sweet tooth honey, not sugar, goes best with the taste.
That's not all lemon verbena is good for. It has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. If you feel that tingly sensation presaging a cold sore, soak some cotton wool in lemon balm tea and bathe your lip three or four times a day and it may never appear. If it does, continue the treatment and the sore will disappear in half the time and the chances of further outbreaks will be much reduced.
My next favourite for flavour is peppermint tea, made with five leaves for one mug, left steeping in boiling water before you pour. Spearmint is one up from peppermint – a bit too strong and Colgate-tasting for my liking. Both are excellent for indigestion and colds.
You can dry your own herbs for winter teas but it's much easier to rely on the evergreens. Sage tea is all right – famously good for night sweats and apparently invaluable during the menopause. I prefer the robust delicious taste of rosemary. Pick a 2in sprig for one mug and leave it to stew for the usual five minutes. This is the one to get you going when you're feeling grotty and lethargic – a useful hangover cure and an invigorating stimulant for anyone who gets SAD.
Fennel-seed tea is another one for winter. Pour a teaspoon of seeds into your mug or pot and after 10 minutes strain them off like tea leaves. Fennel has a fresh aniseedy taste and diuretic properties that make it popular with dieters. It is also much more effective than parsley for freshening the breath.