We focus so much on the benefits of native plants for pollinators and wildlife but tend to neglect how humans can enjoy and benefit from them as well! This is the time of year when I take stock of the native plants that I have been growing and harvesting through the year to create my favorite native tea blends. There’s nothing like snuggling by the fire in the winter with a mug of hot brewed native herbal tea to take in the benefits of nature! (Note: all photos taken by the author.)
Which Native Plants?
The list of native plants that can be used to make teas and infusions is quite long! Our land has a rich herbal medicinal history -- too rich to give justice here. Much of what we know about the medicinal value of native plants is grounded in the experiences and contributions of indigenous cultures, such as those documented in the Native American Ethnobotany Database: http://naeb.brit.org/ and the underlying book "Native American Ethnobotany" written by Daniel E. Moerman (Timber Press, 1998), an invaluable and fascinating resource.
Exploring and enjoying the medicinal value of native plants deepens our connection to them and to nature in general. Many native plants share a special connection with human physiology. Learning about this connection enhances one’s appreciation for the plant and can fundamentally alter our relationship with it. The native plant becomes valued not just for its beauty and perhaps its aroma, but for its subtle medicinal and curative attributes. Of course, accurate plant identification and knowing which native plants not to consume is essential (see Foraging Disclaimer)!
My Top 8 Native Plants to Grow for Tea
All of the following favorites either grow naturally on my property or I cultivate them in my native pollinator beds. There are many more possibilities and I’ll keep adding more until I run out of room!
1. Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
A favorite native plant highly valued it for its beautiful blue spike flowers and ability to attract pollinators. The leaves and flowers have a delightful anise flavor and can be used in teas and infusions as a sweetener and cold remedy.
2. Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
A rather ubiquitous native perennial that is easy to grow, long blooming, and a prolific spreader. Both the aerial and root parts of the plant have significant medicinal value as a cold remedy and to boost immunity.
3. Elderflower (Sambucus canadensis)
This native shrub or small tree bears showy panicles of white flowers in early summer and clusters of purple fruit in late summer. Both have significant medicinal value. The flowers have a sweet floral scent and are used for teas and infusions to bring about calmness and relief from colds. The berries can be made into a syrup to boost immunity from illness.
4. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
This fall blooming native perennial with bright yellow flowers comes in many forms with medicinal value as teas and infusions for a variety of ailments, including colds and inflammation.
5. Horsemint (Monarda punctata)
This unique native perennial grows in clusters and bears highly unusual multi-tier tubular flowers in summer. It has an aroma similar to oregano, and is used to treat colds and illnesses.
6. Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
An attractive perennial native with delicate blue flowers. It is highly valued as a nervine with a calming effect and used in teas and infusions.
7. Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana)
A delightful native rose species that bears both rose flowers and rose hips. The rose petals can be dried and added to tea blends for a subtle floral aroma.
8. Violet (Viola sororia)
A ubiquitous groundcover that self seeds and spreads robustly. Its leaves and flowers can be used in teas and infusions to relax and provide relief from colds.
Harvesting and Preparing the Teas
Aerial portions (leaves and flowers), and roots (in the case of Coneflower), are harvested at just the right time to allow their benefits to be extracted to the fullest extent. That is, not too early and not too late, but when they are fairly fresh and vibrant. I harvest them in large bundles. Sometimes this effort conveniently coincides with the need to thin out portions of my garden! After washing the plant material, I dry it either in a dehydrator (shown below) or hanging basket-type dryer, depending on how quickly I want to complete that task.
Drying can take overnight in a dehydrator or a few weeks if done manually in a hanging dryer. Once thoroughly dry, I store and label the dried material in dated glass mason jars, sorted by plant species, until I have time to create my tea blends.
I also grow a variety of non-native herbs in containers to mix with my native plants for accent or flavor! I grow all of my non-native herbs in large pots so that they don’t spread into my native garden areas. My favorites are Tulsi Basil (Ocimum sanctum), Peppermint (Mentha × piperita), Lemongrass (Cymbopogon), Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Lavender (Lavendula), Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus), and Sage (Salvia officinalis).
Favorite Native Tea Blends
Making native tea blends is a process of constant evolution! I experiment with different native plant combinations and proportions. The blends are also a function of what I grow and harvest, are a matter of taste, and depend on the curative effect desired. I crumble the herbs and sometimes use an herb grinder to condense their volume, and then measure various proportions to make each blend. Here are a few of my favorite native tea blends:
The last step is to enjoy a cup of tea! I think I will go with a Winter Wellness Tea Blend. How about you?