Monday, February 6, 2012

Herbal tea, anyone?

It’s early February…late winter in most of North America. What better time for a cup of something warm, a fuzzy blanket, and a good book? With just a little thought (and maybe a little something yummy to nibble) you can turn it into a real party. For my friends in the Southern Hemisphere (or in the American South!) – make your brew a little stronger, add some ice, and keep cool – and enjoy any lovely fresh herbs you may have in your garden right now!

Actually, the term “herbal tea” is a misnomer. When you steep dried herbs in boiling water, it’s more properly called an infusion. Using fresh herbs, it’s a tisane. “Tea” more properly refers only to the leaves of Camellia sinensis, which give us black, green, and white tea.

But “tea” is easier to say than “infusion” or “tisane”. Or “plant leaf drink”… so, herbal tea it is. ;-P

‘Nuff said - here are a few ways to go about making your own Herbal Hot or Cold Plant Leaf Drinks!

Basic method for steeping most herbal tea blends: Place a heaping teaspoon of dried herb mix in a tea infuser, muslin bag, or seal into a heat-sealable tea bag. (Or, you can put herb mix directly into a cup and strain it out after it steeps.) Add one cup of briskly boiling water, cover the cup, and allow to steep for five to ten minutes. Sweeten if desired, and enjoy! If you’re using fresh herbs, use triple the amount or more, to taste. To prepare in a teapot, use one teaspoon of tea for each cup the pot holds, plus one extra teaspoon “for the pot”.

1 tsp. dried peppermint

Simple, yes? Sweet black peppermint is a wonderful place to start for tea, and there are many different types and flavors of mint to play with. Most varieties of mint grow abundantly and pair well with black tea, green tea, fruit juices, and different sweeteners (honey, sugar, stevia, artificials, etc.).

3 parts peppermint
1 part catnip
1 part rose petals
1 part lemon verbena

Here’s a different side of peppermint - rose petals for aroma, lemon verbena for a little zing, catnip for a little green sweetness. Catnip isn’t just for the kitties – it is actually a gently calming herb for people. You can grow your own or purchase dried catnip at any health food store, but don’t buy it at the pet store! The quality of people-grade “nip” is much better than what Kitty usually gets. (If you have cats, be sure to store this tea somewhere they can’t reach it. I’m serious. They will find it.)

1 tsp. green tea (or 1 tea bag)
3 tsp. fresh mint (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 tsp. honey

Antioxidants, all freshened up! Mix all ingredients and infuse in 2 cups boiling water. Lemon-flavored herbs also go well with this blend: Experiment with lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemongrass, or a little organic lemon zest.

Adapted from Another Taste of Herbs  (The cookbook of the Kentuckiana Herb Society)

I love this punch, and serve it whenever I host a garden party of any type. (I rarely use the full amount of sugar.)
2 cups strong black tea
4 cups herb tea (mint or mixed herbs)
2 cups sugar or to taste
1 pint orange juice
1 pint lemon juice
1 pint pineapple juice

Brew black and herb teas; while still warm, add sugar and mix to dissolve. Add fruit juices and mix well, adjusting sugar to taste. Chill and serve over ice. Yield: 12 8-oz. servings.

Wait – didn’t  someone mention “nibbles”, earlier?

Hmm… I do believe so! Here are just a few of my favorite recipes for herbal party food:

From Herbs – Cultivating & Cuisine, Carol Asher ISBN 0 913383 75 9

1 clove garlic, minced
16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 Tbl. fresh oregano, chopped
1 Tbl. fresh dill, chopped
1 Tbl. fresh basil, chopped
1 Tbl. fresh thyme, chopped
¼ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients, mix gently and thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature prior to serving.

Note: This is actually a good method for testing out blends of herbs you’d like to sample – take a little bit of cream cheese (or fat-free Neufchatel, since its flavor is more neutral), mix in the herbs you’re considering and let it sit at room temperature for half an hour to let the flavors blend. Stir again and sample it on a plain cracker to see how your mix works.

From The Complete Book of Herbs by Lesley Bremness
( I LOVE this book!)
For this recipe… think “Savory granola bars”.

2 oz. butter                                                                          
2 cups rolled oats                                                
1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated          
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. chopped rosemary (fresh or dried)
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350°.  Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Place remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix in the butter.  Lightly press the mixture into a greased 8” square pan.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, cut into fingers.

Adapted from
Here is a sweet, buttery little cookie with a tart citrus zing – and the unexpected flavor of thyme.

2 ¼ cups (10 ounces) unbleached flour
½ tsp. salt (optional)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest (about 1 large lemon)
1 Tbsp. finely grated lime zest (about 1 large lime)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. each lemon and lime juices
½ tsp. dried lemon thyme (or 1 tsp. fresh, finely minced)
1 ½  tsp. pure vanilla extract
Colored sanding sugar

Sift the flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Using a mixer or heavy spoon, beat butter and lemon and lime zests until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the 1 cup of sugar slowly; mix well. Blend in the lemon and lime juices, thyme, and vanilla. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in two sections, mixing just until blended.

 Shape half of the dough into a log about 10 inches long and place on a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Roll tightly, twisting the ends tightly to seal and pressing them inward with your hands to compact the dough. Repeat with the remaining dough. Refrigerate the cookie log for about 2½   hours, or freeze until ready to use.

Heat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, cut cookie log into 1/8 inch rounds. Set the rounds 1 inch apart on the baking sheets, sprinkle with colored sugar, and bake one sheet at a time on the center rack of the oven. Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 10 minutes, rotating cookies as needed. Let cool about 5 minutes before transferring cookies to racks with a spatula.
Makes about 8 dozen.

1 cup (1/2 lb.) butter
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
2 large eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons dry lavender buds
1 tablespoon grated orange peel.

In a food processor, pulse lavender and 1/2 cup of sugar until lavender is powdered. Combine butter, lavender sugar, and 1 cup plain sugar; beat until thoroughly blended.  Beat in eggs until smooth.  Add flour, baking powder, and orange peel; mix well.  Put remaining 1/4 cup sugar into a small bowl.  Shape into 1 Tbsp-size balls (chill for an hour for easier handling); drop balls into sugar & roll to coat.  Place balls 1 inch apart on ungreased 12x15" sheet.  Bake at 375° 9 to 12 minutes.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

ROSE GERANIUM POUND CAKE (featured in the photo at the top of this post)
From A Taste of Herbs
This has become something of a “signature” cake for me – if I’m having a garden party, it seems that I Must bake this cake, or I’ll be hearing about it later. :D

4 to 6 medium large rose geranium leaves, flattened* and oiled
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
3 cups sugar                                                         
6 eggs                                                                    
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 cup (8 oz.) sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Arrange geranium leaves, dull side up, in bottom of a greased and floured Bundt pan; set aside. Cream butter; gradually add sugar, beating well.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, salt, and soda; add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning with flour and ending with flour. Stir in vanilla.  Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1½ hours or until pick comes out clean.  Cool 40-60 minutes; remove from pan and cool completely.

(*To flatten leaves, arrange them between two paper towels and place a couple of phone books on top. Flatten for several hours or overnight.)

All righty then... I'm going to exercise a tiny bit of self-control and stop here, even though I'd love to share every single recipe I've ever found or concocted! (There is, after all, a Monday in every week of the year.) Hope you have some fun with these - and if you have a favorite recipe, I'd love to hear it! Just throw me an e-mail:

Pick a day, and make it a tea party just for you! Enjoy. <3

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