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Flower Power! Herbs for Tea

By February 18, 2020 Tea Blog

Way back in the 1960s the advice, if you were going to San Francisco, was ‘be sure to wear some flowers in your hair’. The advice nowadays, wherever you may be, is more than likely, ‘be sure to have some flowers in your kitchen’. Not only in a vase but to add colour to your salads; scents and flavours to your soups, mains, and desserts; and also to teas and infusions. Cocktails you make with them are divine!

Flowers in tea are of course our favourite use, you’ll find some of the below botanicals in many of our handcrafted blends.

Fennel

Fennel is a hardy, perennial herb of the carrot family. It is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean and its flowers, seeds and leaves all have a powerful scent reminiscent of that area. It is widely naturalised in many parts of the world and usually found in profusion almost everywhere it grows.

In the Middle Ages, on Midsummer’s Night, people hung fennel over doorways to protect the household from evil spirits! Nowadays it’s no longer used as a protective decoration, but for its many other benefits. For generations it has been used as a herbal remedy, especially as an aid to eyesight. The poet Longfellow extolled its virtues in rhyme.

‘The fennel with its yellow flowers

In an earlier age than ours,

Was gifted with the wondrous powers,

Lost vision to restore.’

The age old practice in most Indian households of having a few fennel seeds at the end of every meal is as much an aid to digestion as freshening the breath. A cup of fennel tea makes a delicious ending to a meal particularly at the end of the night as an alternative to coffee.

Herb fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, is easy to grow from seed and is best grown in borders or pots because of its leggy nature. Not only is it a useful herb in the kitchen but the flowers make an attractive display in a vase, particularly when mixed with others.

Fennel is such a lovely herb for teas and we enjoy it in our Detox and Breathe Easy blends.

Elderflower

The elder tree, Sambucus nigra,has many associations in folklore, including Anglo-Saxons who believed if you fell asleep under a tree in full bloom, you would be invited into the world of the fairies and be protected from evil spirits

Elderflower the flower of the elder tree is white to pale cream in colour and attracts a lot of wildlife, and at least a dozen moths use it as a food plant. Although found in areas all over the world, its presence is most commonly seen in the northern hemisphere. It has long been used in traditional medicine in many different cultures due to its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.

When collecting the flowers it is best to collect those from higher up, although that is where the creamier, denser blossoms usually are. This does have the advantage of them not being tainted by dogs! Hessian weeding bags are best although sturdy black bin bags will do. To clip the flower, simply slide your fingers up a stalk and snap the flower head off. A light shake to remove the larger bugs and place lightly in your bag, so as not to bruise the delicate blooms. Once you have picked your flowers leave them in the shade so that they stay cool and don’t go brown. Don’t be tempted to wash them when you get home as it is thought to remove some of the fragrance.

There are plenty of recipes on the internet for producing Elderflower Cordial and a host of other delicious concoctions including cocktails.

Elder leaves when rubbed on the skin works as an insect repellent but must not be eaten.

Do not eat any part of the plant raw, the leaves, flowers and berries are poisonous.

Elderberries

As summer gives way to autumn, the elderflower clusters still on the tree turn into elderberries. These small, purple-black berries are a valuable resource for wildlife and humans alike, the berry’s medicinal properties being widely recognised as helping to strengthen the immune system and fight colds and flu.

However, they must be cooked first to safely remove the lectin and cyanide (toxins). Raw berries, which are tart, are mildly poisonous can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Cooking with elderberries does tend to get messy but is well worth it. They are full of health-giving properties, high in vitamin C and have been used medicinally for centuries.

There are lots of elderberry recipes on the internet including crumbles, pies, jams and liqueurs and they make a delicious wine for the home-brewers among you. They also make a useful dye!

Borage

Borage also known as a starflower, is a medicinal herb with edible leaves and flowers which again is native to the Mediterranean region but has naturalized in many other locales. It is an annual, growing satisfactorily in many gardens, remaining from year to year by self-seeding, and is a favourite plant of bees.

With a taste comparable to that of cucumber, borage has various culinary applications. The leaves can be used as a salad green and the flowers as an edible garnish, and to the more adventurous, in soups, preserves, borage jelly, various sauces, cooked as a stand-alone vegetable, or used in desserts in the form of fresh or candied flowers, to name but a few. Ice cubes with a borage flower frozen into them are the perfect way to chill your elderflower cordial or elderflower martini!

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For many generations, it has served many purposes. Pliny the Elder believed it had a cheering effect, and it has long been thought to give courage and comfort to the heart. The flowers were given in wine to departing Crusaders and borage flowers were even embroidered into the banners that they carried into battle. One old wives’ tale suggests that if a woman slipped a bit of borage into a lover’s drink, it would give him the courage to propose!

In alternative medicine it is used for stimulating breast milk production and as a tonic; thus it can be used to relieve stress.

Lavender

Lavender is a flowering plant in the mint family, with a history dating as far back as 2,500 years, that is easily identified by its sweet floral scent. English lavender is the most fragrant of all the lavenders and ironically is the variety grown in Provence, France for the perfume industry!

Tasmanian Lavender fields

It is, however,more than just a fragrant plant and is commonly used for medicinal and therapeutic benefits and has long been used to scent fabric and soothe a troubled mind at times of stress. As Izaak Walton wrote in 1682 ‘…let’s go to that house, for the linen looks white, and smells of lavender, and I long to lie in a pair of sheets that smell so.

Traditionally, lavender has not been seen as a culinary herb; however, the classic fragrant mixture herbes de Provence includes crushed lavender flowers and the famous Moroccan spice mixture ras el hanout contains powdered lavender as well as rose petals.

Tea made from dried lavender flowers, makes a caffeine free soothing cup of tea with amazing health benefits, the most well known being its ability to induce calm. The relaxing effects can help improve sleep and may be used to treat sleep disorders and help you achieve more restful sleep. Studies have shown that it also contains vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium and contains high amounts of antioxidants and antibacterial compounds that can help fend off the common cold and flu. We love the organic Tasmanian lavender in our bestselling Rock the Cradle blend.

Marigolds (Calendula)

There are French, African and Mexican marigolds, however, the one in question is Calendula officianalis, a different flower altogether, known as the pot marigold due to its culinary use.

Medieval legend has it that the Virgin Mary wore golden blossoms hence the name, marigold, in her honour.

The marigold is one of the earliest cultivated flowers and has been highly valued by herbal healers for centuries. The early Greeks used the petals for decoration and many other uses including food colouring, make-up, dyeing fabrics and for medicinal purposes.

One medieval author, named Macer, thought that marigolds had such magical powers that merely to look upon the blooms would improve eyesight.

In many countries garlands of the brightly coloured flowers are, frequently used in festivals.

Only fresh flower heads of marigolds are used medicinally and should be used immediately for maximum potency. Dried flowers can last 6-12 months. Well known for their wound healing and antiseptic properties, modern herbalists have found a wide variety of uses for them, including amongst others as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent, bactericide, carminative, and a tonic. The petals have been made into an infusion that is useful as an eyewash and are said to benefit the complexion and the flowers provide an instant antidote to insect stings.

Marigold has long been employed for culinary purposes, the petals containing carotene and lypocene, give a subtle, spicy flavour, and have often been used as an inexpensive substitute for saffron, the world’s most expensive spice by weight.

Nasturtium

Tropaeolum majus also known as Indian cress or monks cress, was brought to Spain by the conquistadores in the 16th century. They had seen it used as an antibacterial and to treat respiratory ailments.

The popular etymology of the name from Pliny is that it is from the Latin, nasitortium, literally ‘nose twist’ from nasus, ‘nose’ and torquere, ‘to twist’, a reference perhaps to the expression on one’s face after eating a particularly peppery specimen!

Under a hot sun, quite strong flavours of the flowers, leaves and seeds do develop and dried and ground seeds have even been used as a substitute for pepper. Even if you only have a window box or hanging basket, a few nasturtium seeds, in a sunny spot, will thrive throughout the summer. Whole small leaves and chopped larger leaves make a delightful, and colourful, peppery addition to a green salad.

Nasturtiums are not only beautiful and edible, they have health benefits as well. The leaves are high in vitamin C and also have strong anti-bacterial properties. Tea made from the leaves is a common preventative for colds and flu.

Orange leaves and flowers.

Orange flowers bring with them hints of warmer climes, and those used for orange flower water and other preparations are from the Seville orange, best known to cooks in the British Isles for making marmalade.

Neroli is the fragrant oil of the bitter orange and is used in perfumery. Orange flower water is the aromatic by-product of the distilling process used to make the more costly oil.

Orange flower water is nowadays used rarely in the kitchen, however, there are many Olde English recipes that deserved to be revived and good quality orange water is becoming more readily available in food halls.

Orange leaves have antioxidant power and help to strengthen the immune system. In addition, they have properties capable of bringing down a fever and calming headaches. The dried leavesare used as mild sedative and diuretic.

Orange peel tea has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Full of Vitamin C, it contains lots of pectins to lower cholesterol, it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, lowers blood pressure, helps with insulin resistance, and boosts up our immune system. We use sweet orange peel in our Devil Belly and Karma blends.

Jasmine

Jasmine has been used as a traditional medicine in many cultures as a sedative, a cure for coughs and even as an aphrodisiac.

There can be some confusion with jasmine in that there are two varieties suitable for culinary and medicinal purposes and two most definitely not.

Jasminum officinale, known as Common Jasmine is highly scented with white, star-like flowers

Jasminum grandiflora also known as Spanish Jasmine, has larger flowers.

Both belong to the olive family, Oleaceae, and both are edible.

Cape Jasmine, Gardenia hasminoidis, is not edible, neither is Yellow or Carolina Jasmine, Gelsemium sempervirens which is poisonous!

Jasmine must be picked early in the morning before the essential oils evaporate, and can be dried for use in teas and tisanes.

With a delicious, delicate flavour, jasmine tea has a lot to offer, with just a cup or two a day helping you towards a healthy, happy lifestyle. Thanks to high concentrations of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, jasmine tea can also help promote beautiful, healthy skin and boost your immune system.

The powerful antioxidants and polyphenols can help to slow down the ageing process by eliminating free radicals that can cause wrinkles and skin damage. These polyphenols also work to even out skin pigmentation and minimize fine lines.

To reap the benefits of jasmine tea for your skin, you can consume 2-3 beverages per day, but not on an empty stomach, or wash your face using a cooled cup of jasmine tea.

Our favourite jasmine blend is Goddess Green, Tasmanian green tea blended with organic jasmine and rose buds.

Linden Blossom

Unter den Linden (Under the linden trees) is a boulevard at the heart of the historic section of Berlin and must be a sight to behold when they are in full blossom in mid-summer.

Although commonly called Lime trees they are not related to the tree that produces lime fruit.

Linden tea, Tilleul, made from an infusion of linden blossom and originally used as a remedy for headache, has been used in folk medicine across many cultures to relieve high blood pressure, calm anxiety, and soothe digestion.

Tilia cordata (small-leaved lime) and Tilia platyphyllos (large-leaved lime) produce the most fragrant flowers ideal for tisanes but also perfect for flavouring desserts such as Linden Flower Ice Cream!

Linden trees come into flower just after elderflowers, and its flowers can be dried for use throughout the year.

Dandelion

The dandelion plant is known by the botanical name Taraxacum officinale and many gardeners describe this bright yellow and hardy plant as the scourge of their gardens. Children love blowing on the seed heads spreading them far and wide where they take root almost anywhere, taking over entire fields and in the heart of lawns and flowerbeds.

On the other hand, dandelions have been used since the early 10th century as a medicinal herb. It was used by the Chinese to treat stomach problems and there are many disorders for which the plant provides relief. Liver, kidney and skin complaints are all said to benefit and it is a staple in traditional medicine for bone health.

Every part of the plant from its roots and leaves to the vibrant dandelion flowers is edible. Its health-giving properties arise from its unusually long roots which penetrate through the relatively nutrient-poor topsoil, to the subsoil where the plant draws in nutrients and a variety of minerals.

Dandelion leaves contain more protein than spinach, and are the principal ingredient of the classic French salade de pissenlits, and the flowers have long been used to make wine. When using dandelion leaves to make your own salad, use those of young plants yet to flower otherwise they will be tough as those proverbial old boots!

You can also reap the health-giving benefits through dandelion tea which can be made from the leaves, flowers, or roots of the plants, with the latter being the most common method.

Herbal tea made with the flowers tends to be more delicate and sweet than those made with the roots or leaves.

Dandelion on its own is not overpowering so it can be combined with bold flavours such as masala chai or black tea leaves and sweetened, if necessary using citrus fruits and other herbs.

The following are just a brief description of flowers that, although used in many recipes, are also found in teas and infusions.

Rose

Dried rose petals are used in China to flavour tea, notably the delicate rose congou, a black oolong, not so well known outside China yet is a classic sweet and soothing loose-leaf tea. For an Australian alternative we blend a Tasmanian grown Oolong with organic red rose buds and petals for a delightful afternoon blend – Huon Oolong Rose.

Bergamot, Oswego

This bergamot, Monarda didyma, also known as beeweed, has nothing to do with the oil of bergamot used to scent Earl Grey tea, which is extracted from the peel of a member of the citrus family with the same name.

The bright red flowers are used to make Oswego tea which is made like any other tisane. We recently discovered some Tasmanian-grown Bergamot – let us know if you’d like to try some!

Cornflowers

Cornflowers get a mention as one of the truest blues to be found in nature. They have little scent or flavour but look fabulous mixed with other small or shredded edible petals, such as lilac, nasturtium, violet, pansy, primrose or sweet cicely. They give a beautiful splash of colour to many tea blends – including our Blueberry Blitz and Stress Less blends.

Hibiscus, Roselle

In Jamaica a refreshing drink the islanders call sorrel is made with hibiscus, and in Mexico hibiscus is called Jamaica!

Hibiscus tea is a herbal tea made as an infusion from crimson or deep magenta-coloured calyxes of the Roselle flower. It can also be made with dried hibiscus and can be taken both hot and cold. It has a tart, cranberry-like flavour. Hibiscus is one of our favourite herbs and we use it in Aurora Berryalis, Chatterbox, Campfire Chai and Digestion blends.

We hope that we’ve given you some inspiration to try some new flowers and herbs in your tea, always remember that plants are powerful – seek professional medical advice for any serious ailments or if you are taking any medication.

If you’re thinking of cutting down on the beer or wine this year, read our top tea substitutes for alcohol here.

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