Southern California is a warm enough climate to grow actual tea (Camellia sinensis), which will grow just fine in a container on your patio as long as it gets regular sunlight. However, it will be at least two years – and more likely three years – before you can begin harvesting tea leaves. Plus, if you are a moderate-to-heavy tea drinker, you may not have the space required to grow enough tea to fulfill your tea-drinking needs.
Knowing this, you may still want to try your hand at growing Camellia sinensis and may have the patience to wait two or three years to reap the rewards of your labor but, in the meantime, you may want to also plant some faster-growing tea ingredients that you can use almost immediately. After all, while actual tea leaves are lovely and can certainly be part of your tea garden and your homemade tea blends, you can make all sorts of herbal teas that do not include Camellia sinensis leaves at all.
While some might argue that herbal teas are not real teas, since they do not have Camellia sinensis leaves, they are just as warming, comforting and flavorful. Plus, they are a lot easier and faster to grow.
So while you are waiting years for your Camellia sinensis to grow, or just forgoing real tea leaves completely, here are 10 herbal tea ingredients you can grow in a patio tea garden.
10 Plants to Grow in Your Patio Herbal Tea Garden
- Chamomile: Perhaps the most popular homegrown herbal tea option, chamomile is an annual with small, white flowers that can be dried to make tea. Chamomile tea is most often used for its calming effects, particularly to help improve sleep.
- Mint: There are lots of options in the mint family, including peppermint, spearmint and chocolate mint, with leaves that can be used fresh or dry to make herbal tea. Mint teas have historically been used to aid digestion and settle upset stomachs. Mint varieties are incredibly easy to grow and are invasive, which makes them a perfect choice for growing in containers in patio gardens. Mint is so easy to grow that this might be the first tea ingredient you should try if you are not sure just how green your thumbs are.
- Lavender: Easy to grow and beautiful in any garden, lavender has long been used to make calming teas. Dried lavender buds also look lovely in your teapot or cup and you can use them for other purposes around the house, such as for cooking or making potpourri, sachets or soothing eye pillows.
- Dandelion: Yes, we are talking about the dandelions that are commonly considered weeds in this part of the world. However, that does not mean that you can just start harvesting dandelions from your neighbors’ lawns to use in your herbal tea recipes. Only harvest your dandelions from areas where you are certain that no chemicals have been sprayed and no animals have defecated. Most natural grass lawns do not meet these requirements, but you can simply grow your dandelions in pots in your patio tea garden. As an added bonus, after you use the flowers for cold or hot tea, you can use the leaves in salads and you can roast the roots to make a delicious coffee substitute.
- Parsley: When grown from seed, parsley takes longer than most to sprout and mature. While this does require patience in the beginning, you will get a great payoff once your parsley is established. Fresh parsley leaves make a tasty herbal tea, but do keep in mind that parsley is a good source of vitamin A and K, which means that drinking too much could cause issues for people with certain health problems.
- Lemon Balm: Lemon balm is a member of the mint family, which means that it is pretty easy to grow and will work well kept under control in a patio container garden. The leaves can be used fresh or dry, and this plant is perennial, which means that you will be able to enjoy calming teas made from its leaves for years to come once it is established.
- Coriander: Growing cilantro in a patio container garden is easy and provides you with fresh cilantro to use in salsas, salads and other culinary ventures. What most folks do not know is that you can also save the seeds, which are called coriander or coriander seeds, to make herbal teas to aid digestion.
- Sage: Sage teas have historically been used as a diuretic, expectorant and preventive measure to combat diabetes. This drought-tolerant herb is easy to grow and can thrive in a container garden. You can use the fresh or dried leaves to make herbal tea.
- Rosemary: Both fresh and dried rosemary leaves are used to make herbal teas that have long been used as remedies for muscle pain, circulatory issues and memory improvement. This beautiful, fragrant addition to your patio tea garden can grow well in containers, but do keep in mind that rosemary is not for everyone. For example, pregnant women and folks with bleeding disorders should avoid rosemary tea or at least talk to their doctors first.
- Lemon Verbena: Lemon verbena is a perennial shrub with leaves that are most often dried for use in teas. Historically, lemon verbena teas have been used as natural remedies for weight management, to boost the immune system and to reduce inflammation.
If you have fruit trees in your yard, keep in mind that many fruits make great additions to herbal tea blends. For example, dried lemon, orange or tangerine peels are common tea ingredients.
Tips for Making Herbal Tea from Your Garden
- In almost all cases, you will need to allow for longer steeping times when making tea from fresh herbs and other ingredients from your garden.
- If you live in an area that freezes in the winter, you may need to dry herbs in the summer and fall in order to have the necessary ingredients for making herbal teas throughout the winter.
- Don’t just assume that anything you grow in your garden can be made into a tea. Some plants are toxic, some are allergens, others just do not taste good and even some well-known herbal remedies should be used with caution. If you want to try a new herbal tea ingredient, do a little research first to make sure it is safe for use. For example, chamomile is one of the most common herbal tea ingredients to grow, but it is not recommended for pregnant women. Same goes for rosemary, which is also not recommended for people with bleeding disorders or seizure disorders.
- If you dry your herbs, you can expect to use about the same amount you would use from a store-bought herbal tea blend. If you are using fresh herbs, expect to use at least twice the amount (and more likely three times the amount) to achieve the desired result.
- Dried herbs should be stored in airtight containers, preferably in a cool, dry, dark pantry, drawer or cabinet.
- Most fresh herbs can be stored in the refrigerator or in water on the counter (depending on the herb) for a few days, but it is best to pick no more than you can use in two to three days. Remember, your patio tea garden is just outside the door, so you can harvest ingredients as needed.
- When using fresh herbs, roots, spices or other ingredients from your garden, you will generally want to crush the leaves, stems, roots or flowers a bit with your fingers or a mortar and pestle to release the oils for aroma and flavor.
- Never make herbal teas from plants that have been exposed to chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.
- Most herbs and other plants grown for tea ingredients require at least six hours of sun each day, so if your patio tea garden is located on a covered patio, try to place it so that your container garden gets plenty of sun as it moves through the sky throughout the day.
- Most herbs prefer well-draining soil. The amount of watering required will depend on the type of containers you use. For example, soil dries out faster in unglazed terra cotta planters but stays moist longer in glazed pots.
What are your favorite herbal tea ingredients to grow in your patio container garden?