Garden Books

Homegrown Tea

book cover Homegrown Tea

The heat of July and August makes me say good-bye to garden work after early morning. Dripping with perspiration, I sag into a chair on my shady porch to rest and to contemplate the chores I finished. During this leisurely time, I always blissfully ingest a big honey-sweetened cup of tea.

Prior to this summer, ordinary tea bags furnished the beginning to my beverage, but my source for this drink changed after a spring visit to the spice market of Istanbul, Turkey. Wandering amid the sounds of different languages and pungent smells, I was fascinated by the tea shops‘ baskets filled with jasmine blossoms, dried chunks of citrus peel and leaves of fragrant, but unrecognizable plants.

Fortunately, Homegrown Tea: An Illustrated Guide to Planting, Harvesting and Blending Teas and Tisanes (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014) by Cassie Liversidge answered my questions about these exotic teas and provides detailed instructions on how to grow and prepare teas from plants commonly found in southern gardens.

The British author first explains how to best brew and serve all teas. She advises allowing boiled water to cool for about two minutes before adding the tea mixture. While waiting, warm the cups with a swish of hot water. After brewing the tea for about three minutes, fill a cup with the second-most consumed drink in the world.

Next discussed is how to grow and harvest camellia sinensis leaves, the source of white, green, oolong and black tea. Yes, a camellia plant is the basis of the most familiar teas. This camellia tolerates frost and cold to 14 degrees and grows well in zones 7-9, which includes the Triangle area.

The many other plants that she recommends are grouped by the part of the plant used for brewing. As one would expect, plants providing leaves are the most prolific. Rosemary, sage, thyme, hyssop, lemon balm, bee balm and mints were the most familiar to me and have grown well in my garden. Blueberries, lemons, rose hips, strawberries, cilantro, honeysuckle, jasmine, lavender, Echinacea, ginger and licorice are some of the seeds, fruits, flowers and roots suggested.

Since the author is also an artist, she introduces each type of plant with a colorful illustration and includes its history, medicinal benefits and instructions on how to grow, harvest and make hot or cold tea from it.

If you are as interested in teas as I am, plan a visit to the only commercial tea garden in North America, The Charleston Tea Plantation. Open year round, this farm is located on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina. View their website at before visiting in summer to witness the tea harvest or in early fall to enjoy being surrounded by acres of beautiful white camellia blossoms.

Christine Thomson is a Raleigh gardener obsessed with plants. She is a volunteer at the Raulston Arboretum and fills her spare time reading books, especially volumes about vegetation.

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