How to Brew The Perfect Pot of Herbal Tea

photo of a cup of perfectly brewed herb tea

“Tea… a magic word that conjures up fantastic tales of romance and poetry; of clipper ships and trade routes; of intrigue and revolution. It is ‘the Plant of Heaven’ the ‘froth of liquid; it is the ‘pernicious weed’ the ‘base exotick’.

It will keep you awake, it will put you to sleep. It will cure whatever ails you, it will cause your early demise. Some like it hot, some like it cold” – herbalist Edna Cashmore.

Yes, there’s a knack to brewing that perfect pot of herbal tea. Tea with appealing aroma and satisfying taste – meaning you’re making it purely for the enjoyment not the medicinal value. Tea that tastes like ambrosia not like last night’s dishwater. Tea with the strength to refresh you without calling to mind a dose of drain cleaner.

So, how do you achieve the above? It’s quite simple. You just need 5 things:

  1. An adventurous spirit.
  2. Your sense of taste.
  3. Proper brewing utensils.
  4. The right know-how.
  5. A handful of tried and tested herb tea recipes.

An adventurous spirit

Need I say more? If you can’t picture yourself trying anything else than the same old brew you’ve been taking for the past decade, herb teas are not for you.

Your Sense of Taste

Unlike English or China tea, herbal teas don’t darken as they become stronger. They remain light green or amber. Judge the strength of your brew by taste rather than sight.

Proper Brewing Utensils

You need a teapot (china, earthenware, glass, silver or stainless steel), teacups, an infuser for immersing the herbs in the water, a strainer, a mortar and pestle to crush roots and seeds just before brewing, and a rolling pin to bruise fresh herbs.

The Right Know-howtwo cups of herb tea

Step 1: As a general guideline use 1 teaspoon dried herbs or 1 tablespoon fresh herbs to 1 cup water.

Step 2: Fill your kettle with cold water, which retains more oxygen for fuller flavour. As soon as the kettle starts warming rinse your teapot to heat it. Switch off your kettle the moment it starts boiling. When using fresh herbs to make your brew, you actually need to switch the kettle off just before it starts boiling.

Step 3: Place your herbs in the teapot. Either loose or in the infuser.

Tip: Crush dried herbs to release their delicate flavours. Bruise fresh herbs slightly with a rolling pin.

Step 4: Pour the just boiled water over the herbs. Don’t pour boiling water over delicate fresh herbs.

Step 5: Allow your brew to steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Use patience and your sense of taste to determine when the brew is just right. If you want your herb tea to be stronger use more herb, not more steeping time. You don’t want the herbs to start releasing tannins. Tannin is great for curing leather, and for certain disorders, but it tastes awful.

Step 6: Strain and serve. You can add some honey (or Stevia) and lime or lemon. No sugar, milk or cream.

Please note that this is not always the correct way of making a medicinal tea (infusion). It describes how to make a herbal tea purely for enjoyment.

A Handful of Tried and Tested Herb Tea Recipes

Single-herb teas (using just one herb) can be lovely, but you will be delighted with your results if you combine a few herbs.

If you have your own herb garden you can create some pretty special herbal tea blends. And they will have the distinction of being your creations, brewed from plants you’ve grown and processed yourself.

Try a two herb tea blend such as marjoram and mint, or sage and lemon balm.

A popular three herb blend is 3 parts thyme, 1 part rosemary and 1 part spearmint. It’s also an effective remedy for nightmares and hangovers. Another old time favourite is equal parts mint, sage and bergamot.

Nothing beats a multi-herb-and-spice-blend. Here’s a good seed blend you might like to try. The anise and fennel give it a liquorice taste, while the coriander and caraway add extra tang – refreshing with a pleasant aftertaste. It also has beneficial properties. Especially if you are watching your weight. It’s not a weight loss cure though. Sorry.

Combine equal quantities of all 4 seeds. Measure one teaspoon of the mixture for each cup of tea. Crush and steep 10 minutes.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

download graphic for flavour building cheat sheets

Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis – Roosmaryn

Rosemary is in a class of her own. It has one of those distinctive, strong flavours that convince your palate that herbs aren’t just delicate things reserved for dainty soups and sprinkling on baby vegetables.

It takes hold of your taste buds with a woodsy flavour that reminds you of pine and sage but is buffered by a crisp herbal sweetness. And then, just when you think you’ve got rosemary’s number, it surprises you with a subtle approach in a savoury scone or crisp cracker that’s had just a hint baked throughout, lightening the mood of an otherwise mundane pastry.

Rosemary – Herb of the Hearth

photo showing a rosemary (rosmarinis officinalis) twig with flowers

Rosemary has a distinctive, strong flavour that convince your palate that herbs aren’t just delicate things reserved for dainty soups and sprinkling on baby vegetables.

A symbol of friendship, loyalty, and remembrance, rosemary is traditionally carried by mourners at funerals and by the bride at her wedding. Greek scholars wore garlands of rosemary when they were sitting examinations, to improve their memory and concentration.

In the 14th century Queen Izabella of Hungary claimed that, at the age of 72 years, when crippled with gout and rheumatism, she had so regained her strength and beauty by using Hungary water (rosemary tops macerated in alcohol) that the King of Poland proposed to her. In Hamlet, Ophelia gives Hamlet a sprig, saying, “There’s rosemary … for remembrance.”

Rosemary may not guarantee A’s on exams, marital fidelity, or vivid memories of the dear departed – but our ancestors were right about a lot of rosemary’s abilities.

The most important health benefit of the rosemary in contemporary diets is the fact that she is one of our richer sources of antioxidants. And antioxidants help to prevent cancer. Drink it as a tea and/or include fresh rosemary in your cooking.

As Queen Izabella of Hungary exclaimed, rosemary is also an indispensable beauty aid. When used in facials it is cleansing and boosts the circulation. It is also a very versatile hair care herb for people with dark hair. It restores lustre, revitalizes the hair and stimulate hair growth. It is also one of the best remedies for dandruff.

Recipes: Rosemary & Apple Cider Rinse / Rosemary Shampoo
You can make an apple cider rinse by steeping about 125ml freshly bruised rosemary leaves in 750ml vinegar for two weeks. Add about 100ml to your final rinse. You can also make your own rosemary shampoo. Use a good baby shampoo as a base and add 1 part strong rosemary infusion. Use as you would your normal shampoo.

Buying, Storing and Preparation

Varieties

There are many rosemary varieties. They range from low growing creeping varieties to large upright growing varieties. Any variety will do for cooking.

Parts Used

The leaves are used. The stems are used as skewers.

Your Best Sources

Buy a plant from the garden centre and grow your own.

Fresh sprigs are available from food stores, so there is no excuse for using dried rosemary, although dried rosemary is a good second choice and it has a definite place in the kitchen.

How to Preserve and Store

Fresh Leaves:  Fresh sprigs will keep for several days in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, or place stem ends in water.

Dried Leaves:  If you would like to dry your rosemary, use the air drying method in a dark room on a drying rack, or tie it into small bunches and hang upside down. Strip the leaves from the stems when dried and store in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.

How to Prepare

To release the flavourful aroma of dried leaves, crush just before using.

The needle like fresh leaves can be unpleasant in a finished dish. It is best to chop them very finely or to pound them in a mortar before use.

Alternatively, use whole sprigs to infuse long cooking dishes and remove before serving.

When making skewers with rosemary twigs, remove the leaves, then use a vegetable peeler to remove the bark from just one side of the stem. This will allow the flavours to permeate. Soak the skewers in water before using.

Flavour Notes

Aroma

Highly aromatic. Refreshing fragrance of sea coast, pines, fir, and balsam.

Taste

Strong components of tannin, nutmeg and camphor. Moderate bitterness and pepperiness.

Strength

A powerful herb that can easily withstand long cooking periods.

Menu Ideas

When to Add

Unless the recipe states otherwise, it can be added from the beginning of the cooking period.

How Much to Add

One of the few herbs where we use equal quantities fresh or dried herb. Be careful when first using rosemary, it can easily overpower. For most palates about 1/2 teaspoon per portion will be sufficient.

Note: All the measurements in our recipes (unless otherwise indicated) are for gently packed herbs, which means filling the measuring utensil with whole or chopped leaves, then softly pressing or tapping on them.

Flavour Pals

Bay, chives, garlic, lavender, lovage, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, summer savory, thyme, winter savory.

Matches Made in Heaven:

Apricots, beans especially dried, chicken, eggplant, oily fish like mackerel, sardines, game, grains, lamb, lentils, mushrooms, onions, oranges, peas, pork, potatoes, poultry, salmon, squash, spinach, steaks, tomatoes, veal. It can even be used in desserts.

Contribution to a Healthy Diet

Rosemary inhibits the action of many micro-organisms that can cause infection. For minor cuts in the garden, press some fresh, crushed rosemary leaves into the wound on the way to the wash and bandage it.

Like most culinary herbs, rosemary may help relax the smooth muscle lining the digestive tract, an action that makes it an antispasmodic, and a very effective treatment for indigestion. Simply adding it to your dishes will work magic.

Rosemary may also help relieve nasal and chest congestion caused by colds, flu, and allergies, and it is widely used to help relieve the symptoms of asthma.

For a pleasantly aromatic infusion to settle the stomach or clear a stuffy nose, simply steep 1 to 2 teaspoons freshly bruised rosemary leaves in a cup of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink three cups a day. As a home-made tincture use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon up to three times a day. When using commercial preparations, follow the package directions. You may give dilute rosemary preparations to children under age two.

Pregnant women should steer clear of medicinal preparations of rosemary, though using it in your cooking is generally regarded as safe. Other women might try rosemary to bring on their periods.

How To Grow Rosemary

Easy to grow, it prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Be careful not to over water and over fertilize. Prune regularly to encourage a bushy growth and you’ll have a fresh supply of rosemary whole year round.

Feed your rosemary at least once a month with a balanced organic fertilizer. Give it enough space, it can grow up to 2m – that’s if you don’t use it extensively.

Rosemary does exceptionally well in a container. Remember to feed your potted herbs at least every two weeks.

Rosemary Recipes

Country Pea Soup with Rosemary

Potato Wedges with Rosemary and Thyme

Country Pea Soup with Rosemary

photo of country pea soup with rosemary

Country Pea Soup with Rosemary

If you are wondering if split pea soup can be improved ask Rosemary, she has the answer. This delightful recipe by Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger is even better with the addition of smoked ham. Any pea soup improves in flavour when made in advance; thin it with a little water when reheating.

Country Pea Soup with Rosemary
 
Cook time
Total time
 
By:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: Serves 8
  • 700g split peas, washed and sorted
  • 1 large rosemary sprig
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs fresh rosemary, chopped
  1. Place split peas in a large soup pot and cover them with 5cm of water.
  2. Add the rosemary sprig and bay leaf.
  3. Cover and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Sauté the vegetables in the olive oil for 10 minutes, and then add them to the peas with the salt garlic and rosemary.
  5. Cook the soup over low heat for about 25 minutes, or until the peas are done, stirring occasionally.
  6. Adjust the seasoning and serve hot.

Like this recipe? Please share!

Herbes de Provence Croutons – Recipe

I’m sure you’ve heard about Herbes de Provence. The classic Mediterranean flavour medley consisting of thyme, rosemary, oregano and marjoram.

I get a lot of inspiration from Mediterranean cuisines. Most of the fresh herbs that form the mainstay of our flavouring repertoire are indigenous to the Mediterranean and therefore feature prominently in these dishes.

Meals throughout these cuisines usually begin with a selection of little cooked dishes or salads that are designed to stimulate the appetite. This means the herbal flavours in them can be especially pronounced and daring which is right up any herb cook’s alley.

Croutons are often used to add a zesty element to soups and salads. In the Mediterranean people use fresh herbs for making croutons. Don’t buy sliced bread for this recipe. Slice the bread yourself, and don’t be too precise when cutting. Having irregular sized croutons is part of their charm.

herb croutons

Herbes de Provence Croutons
 
By:
  • 8 slices day old bread, about 2 cm thick
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon oregano, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon marjoram, chopped
  1. Without removing the crusts, cut the bread slices into 2cm cubes.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until translucent, 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Add the bread cubes, reduce the heat to low, and cook slowly, turning once, until golden and crusty, 4 to 5 minutes on each side.
  4. Sprinkle the cubes with the salt, thyme, rosemary, and oregano and marjoram. Turn a few times in the pan to coat evenly.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the croutons to paper towels to drain and cool.
  6. To store, put in a paper bag, fold the top over several times, and keep for up to 1 week.

Potato Wedges with Rosemary and Thyme – Recipe

A favourite in almost every household and restaurant, this potato wedges recipe can be enjoyed as a snack, side dish, or as a light meal on its own. I love serving it with a juicy steak or as a quick snack with sweet chili sauce or a dipping sauce.

You almost can’t make a mistake with this recipe and if you do, well then you might have just created your own signature version of it.

Potato Wedges

Potato Wedges with Rosemary and Thyme
 
By:
Recipe type: Side Dish
Serves: 4
  • 6 large potatoes (peeled)
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Sea Salt & pepper
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220 C with a roasting pan inside
  2. Cut the potatoes into wedges about 1 cm thick.
  3. Boil the potato wedges in salted water for about 5-6 minutes until just tender not soft.
  4. Drain the potato wedges and pat dry with paper towel.
  5. Remove the hot roasting pan from the oven and scatter the potatoes in the pan.
  6. Coat the potato wedges with the garlic, herbs, olive oil, salt & pepper. Use tongs to toss all the ingredients to make sure everything is mixed properly.
  7. Bake for 10-15 min until golden brown and crispy, turning regularly during baking. Remove and serve.
Notes
Variations: Baby potatoes cut in halves. Add a sprinkle of fresh lemon juice. Tip: Use fresh herbs and not dried, as the fresh herbs flavours will develop more in the oven. Make sure the potato wedges are well coated with olive oil as this is vital in getting them crispy.

Rosemary for Remembrance

rosemary in a big pot

Rosemary does exceptionally well in pots, big and small.

Thinking about something special to give to a loved one?

Why not give one of nature’s most amazing little miracles? A rosemary plant.

A symbol of friendship, loyalty, and remembrance, rosemary is traditionally carried by mourners at funerals and by the bride at her wedding.

Greek scholars wore garlands of rosemary when they were sitting examinations, to improve their memory and concentration.

In the 14th century Queen Izabella of Hungary claimed that, at the age of 72, when crippled with gout and rheumatism, she had so regained her strength and beauty by using Hungary water (rosemary tops macerated in alcohol) that the King of Poland proposed to her.

In Hamlet, Ophelia gives Hamlet a sprig, saying, “There’s rosemary … for remembrance.”

The most important health benefit of rosemary is the fact that she is one of our richer sources of antioxidants. And antioxidants help to preserve our health and vitality and to prevent cancer.

So why not give that special person in your life a rosemary as a token of your love… and to help them stay healthy and beautiful?

Tips for Making Your Own Herbal Oils and Vinegars

Herb infused oils and vinegars are a wonderful way of using the bounty from your food garden to create very personal and individual gifts.

herb infused oils and vinegars

Herb infused oils and vinegars adds another dimension to your cooking.

From simple flavours to elaborate blends, these light (on calories), easy-to use products are revolutionizing menus. They are not for cooking but for flavouring: bread-dipping for a first course, mixing with other ingredients, or adding a sizzling finish to hot cooked items.

  • Herb infused oils can be used in marinades, salad dressings or for the initial sauté in a stir-fry – in fact for any dish that requires ordinary oil.
  • Herbal vinegars can be used in dressings, mayonnaise, marinades, stews, soups and stews, and for deglazing.
  • When making herbal oils and vinegars as gifts attach a little card that details the significance of the herb as well as ways of using it?
  • Robust herbs such as rosemary, tarragon and thyme work best. But almost any herb can be used.
  • Basil Dark Opal is particularly suitable for herbal vinegar because the purple leaves impart a wonderful colour to the vinegar.
  • Use mild flavoured oil. This can be olive oil, canola oil or sunflower oil.
  • Use a good quality natural grape, wine or apple cider vinegar.
  • Do not use chemically produced vinegar because it overpowers the herbs.
  • Keep your infused oils in the refrigerator and use them within a month.
  • Keep herbal vinegar in a cool, dark place and use them within three months.