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16 January 2017

Grow Yourself a Tea Party

Leave it to a gardener to complicate the concept of "tea party." Store-bought leaves? Please. You call yourself an obsessed gardener? The tea party isn't real unless the leaves are harvested in your backyard. I know this how? Because yes, I did thank-you-very-much. Easy. 

First things. Since Camellia sinensis, the tea plant, dreads the cold (USDA zones under 7 may endure Camellia tantrums that end in death), two words of advice: Go herbal. 

Two more words: Lemon verbena.

Why? It’s my favorite. Why? Romantic memory that begins in Paris (where else). Wandering Places des Victoires many years ago, I pushed open the door of a 19th century herbalist shop and left laden with tea bags labeled verveine. The philosophical point to this out-of-left-fielder story is this: When choosing what to grow, start with a fond memory. A garden of memories is a happy place.

The 7 steps to grow yourself a tea party and make new friends

    1. Choose an herb. You can make tea from plants that include lavender, peppermint, bergamot, or chamomile. Lemon verbena, a South American native, isn’t the easiest to grow (that award may go to mint). But I bought two 6-inch-high Aloysia citrodora which, 15 years later, have sprung to 6-0-inches high. I harvest so much tea from my two babies that I gift verveine.
    2. Be impeccable with your source. I use Gilberti’s in Westport, Connecticut. It’s the largest herb plant grower on the East Coast. If you’re out of range, try Burpee for mail-order.
  1. Read up on your USDA zone. It'll let you know when to best plant your young ones. For my zone 6, after the last frost. 
  2. Harvest. In late summer and early fall, I start cutting the branches as they get weedy.
  3. Prep your herbs. Wash the harvested leaves, then dry them outside for at least a full day of sun, or longer if needed. I learned the hard way that the wind may steal your leaves. Now I place rocks on the ends of leaves to keep them homebound. 

6. Store them. Once dry, put the leaves in plastic bags or a container. Make sure they are completely dry, otherwise they will grow mold. They keep in the cupboard indefinitely.

7. Throw a party. The fun part. When everyone arrives, I recommend telling everyone in a fake British accent the health benefits of lemon verbena tea (weight loss). Proceed to serve the full fattening monte, like jams, finger sandwiches, petit fours, Eton Mess. You know the drill.

8. Gift the extras to your guests (or for other special occasions). I use these containers and either these labels or these.

9. Be a good mum. Before the first frost, bring your plant in and pot it up. Keep it in a dry place where it won’t freeze over the winter. Do not water it while it is dormant. Bring it out after the last frost and you'll soon get the 6 foot bushes that I have. Then start thinking about the herbal tea business you'll start ...