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.

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The Top 5 Soup Herbs

gourmet soup guide top 5 herbs

#1: Parsley

At the top of the list is parsley as it’s such an excellent garnish for all your soups. And don’t forget flat-leaf parsley (Italian parsley) which will not only serve as a garnish but it will also add loads of flavour and nutrition, especially when used with Lovage in soup stocks.

# 2: Chives

Chives is a close second because it’s also an excellent garnish and because it adds a delicate oniony aroma to almost any soup. Always add just before serving.

#3: Lovage

Lovage gives more depth and flavour to the stock of all soups. It is especially good when combined with flat-leaf parsley. Use the stems as well as the leaves for better flavour.

#4 – 5: Winter Savory and Thyme

Winter Savory and thyme are good soup all rounders which can be used in a wide variety of soups. And they both make nice additions to bouquets garnis. Combine them with parsley, chives and lovage to liven up your existing soup recipes.

#6 – 10: Basil, Bay leaf, Celery, Cloves and Marjoram

These are all close contenders for the top 5 position because they are so versatile and because they all work so well with each other. If you are serious about creating gourmet soups you’ll find them indispensable in your arsenal.

36 Popular Soups Herbs and Spices

Here’s a list of the 36 herbs and spices we recommend in this Gourmet Soup Guide. You will note that we use the classification system we developed for making your own bouquets garnis. If you need more information on this system and how it will improve your cooking read this article.

Fusion Soup Herbs:

Bay leaf, chervil, chives, marjoram, parsley.

Mild Soup Herbs:

Anise, basil, borage, dill, fennel, celery, coriander, salad burnet.

Robust Soup Herbs:

Garlic, ginger, hyssop, lemon balm, lovage, mint, oregano, savory, sorrel, tarragon, thyme.

Soup Flavourings and Spices:

Allspice, cardamom, cayenne, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin, juniper, mace, nutmeg, paprika, rosemary, sage, turmeric.

7 Homemade Salad Dressing Recipes

“The secret of a good salad is its dressing. Not only does a dressing add flavour and interest but it also marries its individual ingredients into a harmonious whole.”

homemade salad dressing ingredients

Why buy salad dressings loaded with preservatives and artificials when you can mix a superior one yourself in minutes, using the freshest ingredients?

Salad dressings are not new – a basic mixture of olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and salt has been used since ancient times in the countries bordering the Mediterranean.

Today you can go into any food market and choose from a wide range of dressings. But why buy ready-made ones loaded with preservatives and artificial flavourings when you can mix a superior one yourself in minutes, using the finest and freshest ingredients.

The Classic Salad Dressing

The classic French salad dressing is known as a vinaigrette.

There is an old French saying that it takes four men to make a good vinaigrette: a spendthrift for the oil, a miser for the vinegar, a wise man for the salt and a madman for the pepper.

The classic proportions for a vinaigrette are 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil. Salt and pepper are essential, and most French chefs will add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, some fresh herbs and a pinch of sugar to emulsify the dressing.

This classic vinaigrette adds flavour and interest to green salads, tomato, and cucumber salads.

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons wine vinegar, preferably tarragon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk the oil with the vinegar, mustard, herbs, and salt and pepper until well blended.

Alternatively, place all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake vigorously to combine well before using.

This basic dressing can be varied in many ways:

Indian Style Salad Dressing

For cooked vegetables, rice or pasta. Add 1 small crushed garlic clove and 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion, fried until soft in 1 teaspoon oil with 1 teaspoon curry powder.

Anchovy Style Salad Dressing

For raw salads, potato, pasta, roasted sweet (bell) peppers or tomatoes. Thoroughly soak 4 anchovies to remove the salt and fillet them if necessary. Puree the with 1 teaspoon capers. Add this mixture to the classic vinaigrette.

Herb Salad Dressing

Chop some chives, chervil and parsley with a few tarragon and mint leaves. Prepare the classic vinaigrette and add in the herbs.

Nutty Salad Dressing

Chop ½ cup (50g) walnuts, peanuts or hazelnuts, or a mixture of all three. Prepare a salad. Make a classic vinaigrette and add the chopped nuts at the last minute just before tossing the dressing into the salad and serving.

Herby Lemon-Lime Salad Dressing

Lemon and lime juice is another popular variation on the classic recipe. Here we combine it with herbs for a dressing to serve with a classic tomato, cucumber and onion salad.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh herbs (e.g. mint, parsley, chives, thyme, tarragon)
  • salt and pepper

Whisk together in a blender, or place all the ingredients in a screw top jar and shake vigorously to combine well before using.

Minty Salad Dressing

This light and refreshing salad dressing goes well with a cucumber salad, cold potato salad or tossed lightly over a fruit salad or apple and tuna salad.

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
  • pinch of sugar
  • salt and pepper

Whisk together in a blender, or place all the ingredients in a screw top jar and shake vigorously to combine well before using. Set aside for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavours to develop, then whisk or shake again before using.

Basic Creamy Salad Dressing

The addition of cream or yoghurt to a salad dressing puts it into a completely new dimension. Like the classic vinaigrette recipe you can use this one as the basis for endless variations.

The secret of a good salad is its dressing. Not only does a dressing add flavour and interest but it also marries its individual ingredients into a harmonious whole.

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream, sour cream, whipped cream or yoghurt
  • 1 tablespoon  fresh lemon juice or wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp fresh herbs, minced (dill, parsley, thyme)
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper

Whisk all the ingredients, except the oil, together in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil. Set aside for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavours to develop, then whisk or shake again before using.

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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.

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.