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Tea Gardening

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How to grow your own organic teaChamomile Plant

Whether it’s a tall glass of iced tea a hot day or a warm mug of hot tea on a crisp morning, tea is the ultimate drink of comfort. Throughout history, people have been drinking tea for medicinal and health purposes, but only recently has tea proved to provide antioxidants that can act as a digestive aid, stress-reducer, and can even prevent strokes, neurological disorders and certain types of cancers.

Many people are now growing their own tea, and have many reasons to do so. One advantage is that home tea growers can control what goes into the soil such as fertilizers and pesticides, ensuring their tea is organic and pure. Moreover, it can be fun to personalize your tea selection by growing exactly what you want based on tastes and preferences. The great thing about growing your own tea is that you so not need a big garden or a lot of space to do so. You can use a planter on your windowsill or porch, or a small corner of your veggie garden.

The Camellia sinensis plant, pictured to the right,  will produce what we know as white, green, black and Oolong tea. The sinensis variety of this plant is the most common for household growers, and should be taken inside during cold winters. Your tea plant will thrive best in slightly acidic soil and will need direct or partial sunlight. Overall, it is fairly easy to successfully raise a Camellia sinensis plant. If you are worried about space or concerned that this plant will take over your other plants, consider growing it in a pot or planter.

During the spring, you will see new shoots appear on your plant. Pluck the two newest leaves and buds on each shoot, and start making some tea!

The type of tea you make depends on how you prepare the leaves once harvested:

  • White tea: white tea is prepared much like green tea, except you only use the buds (no leaves).
  • Green tea: Once harvested, place the buds and leaves in a cool space away from sunlight for a couple hours. Then steam the leaves on your stove for about a minute. Place on a baking sheet and roast the leaves for about 2 hours at 250˚F. Once the leaves are sufficiently dried, take them out of the oven and enjoy immediately or store them in an airtight container.
  • Black tea: Take a few pinches of harvested leaved and buds in your hands, rolling them in your fingers while gently crushing them. The leaves should darken and take on a slight red color. On a tray or baking sheet, allow them to dry for the next two days in a cool, shaded spot. Then, dry them completely in the oven for about 2 hours at 250˚F. Enjoy immediately or store in an airtight container.
  • Oolong tea: Place the harvested buds and leaves under sunlight and allow them to wilt for about 45 minutes to one hour. Next, bring them inside and allow them to sit in a shady environment for a few hours, mixing around and moving the leaves occasionally. Watch for the leaves to turn a reddish color as they begin to dry. Dry them completely in the oven for about 2 hours at 250˚F. Enjoy immediately or store in an airtight container.

For a more unique flavor, consider adding a few more plants to your tea garden that could be added to the brew. Lavender, mint, rosehips, sage, catnip, Stevia, anise, and lemon verbena add depth and bursts of flavor to your teas, can be grown fairly easily, and can be brewed right off the plant (not to mention your garden will smell divine). So, this spring choose organic, homegrown tea and enjoy all the benefits of fresh tea in all your favorite flavors. Enjoy, and drink to your health!

Photo Credit: By kallerna (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons