Unsurprisingly, our herbal tea workshops tend to prove quite popular. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests that around 38% of Australians are tea drinkers, while it’s clear that tea culture is incredibly rich both here and around the world. When it comes to herbal tea, there seems to be a particularly potent set of associations attached; the soothing effects, potential medicinal properties, and cultural significance all mirror the similarly varied colours, flavours and aromas which make herbal teas so attractive. Along with the promise of cupcakes at our Food Co-op collaboration following the workshop, this made the herbal tea workshop an easy sell.
Of course, there are other good reasons to get involved in growing your own herbal teas. It is a wonderfully rewarding way to start your edible garden adventure, make the most of small spaces, and share the joys of home-grown produce. As we discussed during the workshop, growing, propagating, and harvesting some of the basics to kick-start your herb garden is very easy, and perhaps one of the simplest and cheapest ways to grow something edible under tricky conditions. If you don’t have much time to devote to maintaining plants, or else don’t have the space or conditions for much gardening, then a few choice herbs could be a fantastic option. Moreover, in addition to cooking, herbal tea is a rewarding way to enjoy and experiment with your edible plants.
Ticking all the boxes for looks, taste, smell, maintenance and growing conditions, mint is a go-to choice for tea. We began our workshop by talking a bit about the herb spiral which is a major feature of the garden, and mint was one of the first plants recognised by participants. Our herb spiral allows us to position different plants according to their needs. For example, plants like Vietnamese mint, which are used to a warmer climate and regular rainfall, work well higher up and against the black rocks which give shape to the bed and capture the heat well. Other mint varieties have spread around the spiral, and can be found amongst some of the other herbal tea favourites like thyme and lemon balm (helpful tip: if you’re growing mint at home, think about keeping it in a pot, as it can easily spread).
After taking a look at the herbs, tasting and smelling along the way, we set about doing some propagation. This is another area which marks herbs (again, mint is a prime example) as a faithful garden standby; for many herbs, it is extremely easy to take cuttings. Those who joined us for the workshop got a chance to take a cutting home with them, which was often as simple as snipping the top of a rosemary stalk, clearing about two inches of leaves (leaving a few at the top) and sticking it in some potting mix. Likewise, mint and lemon balm are easy choices on which to find a bit of the stem good for sending new roots out and putting it in a pot. In this part of the workshop, one of the favourites was definitely river mint, a native Australian plant with a distinct, almost sweet taste (a bit like candy-canes, perhaps?).
After we had finished in the garden, we picked some of our favourite herbs and headed to the Food Co-op for some tea brewing and cupcake decorating. While there, the fabulous co-op volunteers supplemented our fresh herbs with some of their huge range of dried teas for people to experiment with their own blends. Adding to the delicious fun, they had also provided cupcakes for us to try out some herbal icings on; hibiscus made for a great natural food dye, while some other herb combinations proved flavourful successes.
This time at the coop was a great way to finish our herbal tea workshop, and emphasise the creative ways you can put garden produce to use. Hopefully all our volunteers were able to take their chosen herb home, tend to it, and will soon be enjoying their own tea.
Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Food and Nutrients, 2011-12
Read all about it: MUC Garden and Burnley Student Association share updates on their activities.