A few months before the construction of the first containers at Jardins du bassin Louise, we set up a crowdfunding campaign to help us carry out this project. We had to think about what compensation to offer according to the donations received. Lots of great ideas were put on the table: gardening containers, vegetable-themed watercolors, t-shirts and even herbal teas! The last idea surprised and intrigued me since these herbal teas would be grown directly in the beds of the urban farm. We were going to create mixtures, grow and harvest the plants according to their own characteristics, dry them properly. I would be at the forefront of its production.
I’ve tested a host of vegetables and herbs over my years at Urbainculteurs, but I’ve never grown any plants that were meant to be dried and then infused. Suffice to say that we jumped at the chance of this new acquisition of knowledge!
This project was carried out in partnership with the organization Croissance Travail as well as with a citizen involvement committee. The volunteers, the organizations participating in the life of the urban farm, as well as curious passers-by were all enthusiastic and fascinated by this new project. A very successful educational activity was even set up, “Infusion de savoir” (Infusion of knowledge). Many said, “I never thought I could do this at home! ” But yes, you can! Due to its popularity, I wanted to share one of our recipes with you so that you can reproduce it at home. In addition, these herbal teas can bring you warmth and comfort during the winter months, and why not, remind you a little of your vegetable garden.
Noon Under the Sun
I present to you the “Midi au soleil” (Noon under the sun) blend, made up of rosemary, thyme, calendula, chamomile and mallow. The herbs used in this mix are all very easy to find. They are aesthetic and can be grown both on a balcony and in the ground. In short, a charm for the eyes and for the taste buds! Let’s take a closer look at each of its components.
Rosemary — Rosmarinus officinalis
Rosemary is best known for its use in cooking. Perennial in some places, it is grown as an annual in Quebec. Plant 2 to 3 seedlings so you always have some on hand and rotate the harvest. Rosemary is powerful in taste and smell, it is considered a tonic, invigorating and stimulating plant.
For the herbal tea, we want to harvest the leaves. Wait until the plant is 15–20 cm tall and select the longest stems. You can cut them back, say 5 cm, to stimulate growth. Be careful not to harvest too much at once, we want it to grow back all season long. A maximum of 30% of the vegetative surface is harvested at a time. Therefore, having more than one plant allows for better recovery. You can use the whole stem ends in the herbal tea, no need to separate the leaves individually (what a job!)
Thyme – Thymus vulgaris
Thyme is widely used in cooking, you can say that it is really a must. It is grown as a perennial and comes in a few varieties. If you are container gardening, you could dedicate an entire pot to thyme as it tends to expand over time. Its taste is powerful but irresistible at the same time.
As with rosemary, I advise you to have more than one plant in order to be able to incorporate it into your favorite recipes and to ensure a rotation in the harvest. The aerial parts are cut early in the season for second-year plants. Harvesting can continue until the end of summer. For 1st year plants, wait until midsummer. Also, it is important to stop harvesting at least 5 to 6 weeks before the first fall frosts to allow it to survive the winter. Again, a maximum of 30% of the vegetative surface is harvested at a time. No need to separate the leaves from the stem. In herbal tea, it is recognized for its antiseptic, tonic and expectorant properties.
Calendula – Calendula officinalis
The calendula is a flower that reminds me of beautiful little bright suns. It comes in shades of yellow to orange, some even have double flowers. It is an annual that reseeds itself abundantly in the garden, it is easy to grow and attracts a host of beneficial insects. In Quebec, it flowers from June to October. Calendula is harvested regularly, several times a week. This stimulates consistent flowering and results in the “freshest” flowers. We harvest the entire flower, we can even prune lower on the stem to stimulate growth. You can use whole flower buds, without the stem. Its taste is discreet, slightly peppery and spicy.
German Chamomile – Matricaria recutita
In the world of herbal teas, chamomile needs no introduction. It is drunk to relax, to prepare for sleep, its virtues are multiple. Chamomille can reach a height of 60 cm and produces an impressive amount of small yellow and white flowers. It is precisely these small flower heads that interest us, they can be harvested from June to September. As with calendula, harvest regularly to stimulate consistent growth. Chamomile is grown as an annual, but reseeds profusely.
Mallow – Malva sylvestris
We end with the largest of the lot, the mallow, which can reach a height of 1.5 m. With mallow, you need rigor. Its delicate flowers fade and deteriorate very quickly. An almost daily harvest is in order! It will add a nice color to your herbal teas, and it is said to have a softening action. Mallow is a biennial, but for my part, I have always grown it as an annual and removed from the ground in the fall. It is well rooted, there is no doubt! It also tends to self-seed.
The production of herbal teas is spread over the entire horticultural season. You accumulate and dry your plants as they are produced. Be gentle when handling and try to reduce the time between harvesting and the start of drying as much as possible. The drying methods are multiple, they will be chosen according to the material you have on hand and the space you have. In any case, you want to dry the plants in a place free of light and humidity. Use a fan. There are drying nets that can be hung from the ceiling. You can also use a dehydrator or make drying frames out of food mesh. Try to spread the plants in a single layer to optimize drying. They say to let it dry for an average of 2 weeks, but don’t forget that each plant has its particularities!
You’ll know your plants are ready when they break easily between your fingers and the damp smell is completely gone. You can accumulate your crops in brown paper bags identified according to each plant. If there is presence of white or black mold, do not take any chance and put in the compost.
Mixing and Storing
I propose to you today the proportions that were used for the creation of “Midi au soleil”, but do not hesitate to experiment, change, integrate new plants in your mixture. Creating and trying is also part of the experience, the possibilities are endless! So, for 100 grams of herbal tea, there are 20 grams (20%) of rosemary, 20 grams (20%) of thyme, 20 grams (20%) of calendula, 30 grams (30%) of chamomile and 10 grams (10 %) of mallow. After mixing, keep your precious creation in an airtight jar, away from light. Enjoy!
An inspiring tour
I leave you with some pictures of our visit as a team to the La Maria herbalist, in Saint-Michel-de-Bellechasse, in the summer of 2022. They produce there, among other things, a multitude of organic herbal teas. This visit has greatly enlightened us on all the work, the meticulousness and the passion that is necessary to produce, on a commercial basis, high quality herbal teas. Another exciting universe to discover.
Loved reading this, I am determined to try a small herbal-tea container garden on the balcony this year. Could you advise on washing the herbs please. What to use etc. Maybe a soak in water with baking soda for example? Thanks so much and Happy Gardening!
Creating a small herbal tea garden would be fun!
Love this inspiring piece. Thank you. I’ll be making a tea mix this season.