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Backyard Teas

Vineyarders experiment with plants and herbs to create their own special blends.

As the lemon balm grows in her yard throughout the season, Niki Patton occasionally clips small bunches for drying and keeps the herb on hand to make tea. A few teaspoons, steeped in hot water, make a mild, lemony flavored tea that’s “uplifting,” she says.

The mellow lemon balm is an herb known for its anti-depressant qualities – its gently sedative oils relieve tension and stress and can lower blood pressure. For these reasons, along with the taste, Niki enjoys serving her home-grown tea when friends visit.

“When people leave, they say, ‘Gee, I feel great,’” says the West Tisbury resident, writer, and performer. “It’s the perfect host’s tea.”

Many garden herbs can be made into teas and, like their culinary counterparts, offer their particular fragrant flavors and often the complementary release of beneficial compounds. Making a home-grown tea may be as simple as gathering some of the herb – dried or fresh – pouring water over it, and enjoying the results.

Herbs like chamomile, peppermint and spearmint, lemon verbena, borage, and lavender are as easy to grow as the culinary herbs they often grow alongside of. Though you can purchase herbs at the Natural Food Barn in Vineyard Haven or fresh from Morning Glory Farm, some think it’s an added pleasure to find ingredients growing in nature, from your own surroundings.

If you take a guided, edible-herb walk with Chilmark herbalist Holly Bellebuono (see “Island stores stock Vineyard blends,” next page), you will discover a number of plants suitable for “social” – as opposed to medicinal – teas, which are easy to drink, and tasty. These include yarrow, violet flowers, sassafras, rose hips, and rose petals.

Red clover grows abundantly in any field, and the top blossoms make a “delicious” tea, Holly notes. The leaves from the Indian spice bush also make a nice tea. “You crush them in your fingers,” she says. “It’s instantly aromatic.”

Landscape gardener Abigail Higgins, of West Tisbury, started drying peppermint for tea after realizing she had been tossing it out or composting it after pulling it up at clients’ houses. Now, she takes off the roots, ties the peppermint in bunches, and hangs them up to dry. “It makes your kitchen look as if you know what you’re doing,” she says with a laugh.

One of her favorite teas is a ginger tea, steeping grated fresh ginger with a little dried peppermint or lemon rind. “The ginger warms you and peppermint is soothing,” Abigail says.

Heidi Feldman, a Tisbury resident, discovered her favorite herb tea, lemon verbena, by chance. Heidi owns and operates the Down-Island Farm on Takemmy Path near Chicama Vineyards. She sells fresh cut herbs, edible flowers, and mushrooms from her gardens and greenhouse to local restaurants.

She was drying some lemon verbena for the Edgartown restaurant Détente (for a lemon verbena sorbet), and decided she would try the herb in tea, along with some honey. “I didn’t know I could use it for tea. It’s like a breath of sunshine,” says Heidi, who now refers to it as her “summer in a cup.” She also tried putting dried lavender leaves into a scone recipe for additional flavoring, with similar success.

Over the past few years, Heather Jardin has experimented with using fresh garden herbs to make teas for herself and co-workers at Morning Glory Farm, where she’s worked for the past ten years. About five years ago, Heather was put in charge of the farm’s culinary herb garden. She likes to use fresh herbs because of their immediate availability.

During the rush of August, she drinks fresh chamomile tea for the “calming” qualities the herb is known for. If she gets cramps at work, she blends together some catnip and mint. It’s as good or better than taking Tylenol, she says.

Once, when a farm employee had an asthma attack, Heather made her a tea for inhaling. She pulled some leaves from a eucalyptus plant in the greenhouse and added some lavender, spearmint, and chamomile. She had her co-worker put a towel over her head and breathe in the steaming herb mixture.

“It worked, and she was surprised,” Heather recalls. “She kept doing it and liked it so much she went and bought a eucalyptus plant.”

Heather took some classes on herbs while attending the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I like to help people if I can and if I have the means to do it,” she says. “Herbs definitely do their job. It’s proven that certain herbs have certain [beneficial] compounds in them.” Though she adds, people have to be open to it.

She particularly likes her digestion tea for stomachaches, nausea, and even for the occasional late partier who does not feel in top shape the next day. This tea contains both peppermint and spearmint for digestion; calming lemon balm; fresh ginger, known for helping with nausea; and a few leaves of basil, which eases nausea as well. Sometimes she also adds fresh parsley, which is beneficial for the stomach and aids in digestion.


There is a correlation between herbs and healing, says Oceana Rames, a naturopathic doctor in Vineyard Haven. “I do quite a bit of herbal mixing in my clinic,” she says.

“For a person who has a lot of stress, a daily cup of lemon balm tea is excellent. The best place to get it is in your garden,” she notes. “Lavender is also great for the nervous system – you can take a few pinches of lavender and lemon balm and make a tea. It’s very uplifting.”

Kitchen herbs can also help with digestion. “Fennel is a great one, because it helps with gas and bloating. Rosemary is good for the brain and memory, but may also be good for coughs and colds. You can make a tea with some rosemary, garlic, and thyme and a little honey,” says Dr. Rames.

“Thyme is a great immune stimulator. Basil is like an aphrodisiac. The mints are good for improving alertness,” she continues. “A good, strong cup of peppermint tea is good for driving if you don’t drink coffee.” Nettles are good if you have seasonal allergies, and are good overall for your system. For headaches, she suggests lemon balm, feverfew, and lavender.

“Herbs, even dried herbs, have a strong feeling of life to them, as opposed to a supplement,” says Dr. Rames. “That’s why I like clipping a sage leaf or a calendula flower. You have a direct connection with nature.”

Recipes for teas and scones

Rose Hip Tea

Makes 1 cup

Kristen Kinser and her daughter Kendra of West Tisbury gather the orange-red rose hip fruit from the Rosa rugosa bushes abundant near many beaches, dry the fruit, and store it for tea. The citrusy dried rose hips, very high in vitamin C, make a wonderful addition to other teas.

• 1 to 2 teaspoons dried rose hips*

Add the rose hips to a teacup and add boiling water. Let steep for 3 minutes. After drinking the tea, you can eat the softened and nutritious rose hips, but not the seeds.

* To dry rose hips, place them on a baking sheet. Turn the oven to lowest setting and slowly dry the fruit for 3 to 4 hours, checking after 2 hours. Alternately, let rose hips sit in the oven with a pilot light, with the door ajar, for a couple of days. (Or you can use a dehydrator.) Once dried, separate the thin outer membrane, which you save, from the seeds. Discard the seeds.

Lemon Balm Tea

Makes 1 cup

Niki Patton dries the fresh lemon balm growing in her yard and serves this
delightful tea as an antidote to everyday stresses. You can purchase dried lemon balm on-Island if you don’t grow it.

• 2 to 3 teaspoons dried lemon balm leaves

Fill a tea infuser or ball with dried lemon balm and place in a cup. Add boiling water and let stand for 3 to 5 minutes.

Lemon Verbena Tea

Makes 1 cup

Heidi Feldman uses the whole leaves she harvests from her garden, which settle attractively into the bottom of the cup. If you purchase crushed lemon
verbena, use a tea ball or strain before drinking.

• 1/4 cup dried lemon verbena leaves, whole (or 1 tablespoon crushed)
• Honey*, to taste

Place leaves in a cup and add boiling water. Let steep a couple of minutes. Add honey.

*For added enjoyment, collect and use honey from different pollinations, such as citrus trees or apple blossoms. Using honey produced where you live is said to reduce seasonal allergies.

Tummy Tea

Makes 1 cup

Heather Jardin has created an herbal tea remedy for upset stomachs, nausea, and hangovers.

• Fresh peppermint, leaves from 4 stems
• Fresh spearmint, leaves from 4 stems
• Lemon balm, leaves from 2 to 3 stems, depending on your taste
• Freshly grated ginger, 1 to 2 small coin-size pieces
• Fresh basil, 2 leaves

Place the loose fresh herb leaves and ginger in a mug and pour boiling water over the mixture. Let the tea steep for 10 minutes. Strain and serve.

Lavender scones

Makes 6 to 8

Heidi Feldman’s lavender scones can accompany any tea.

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
• 1/4 cup sugar, plus extra for topping
• 2 teaspoons fresh lavender or 1 teaspoon dried culinary lavender leaves (L. angustifolia), coarsely chopped, plus extra for topping
• 2/3 cup milk, plus extra for glaze, room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with butter and dust with flour.

2. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Use a pastry blender or fork tines to cut in the butter until the mixture looks like fine bread crumbs. Stir in sugar and lavender. Add enough milk to make a soft, sticky dough. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface.

3. Flatten dough either to create an 8-inch round (about 3/4-inch high) to cut into 6 to 8 pie-shaped slices, or cut dough into 1-inch-thick rounds with a cookie cutter. Place scones on the prepared baking sheet.

4. Brush the top of each scone with milk and sprinkle with sugar and lavender.

5. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with butter and/or jam.