By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Appealing peelings for tea

I have, over the course of the past year, developed a fondness for herb tea, driven by various motives, including that of frugality. I liked the notion of being able to make my own tea.

With a preference for fairly strong beverage flavors — tea, coffee, chocolate — this was a challenge. Most herbs — the pleasant tasting ones, at least — tend to be mild-flavored. And although an occasional cup of mint tea is pleasant, it’s not something I particularly want every day.

But it turned out to be fun to experiment, and once I got the notion of adding spices and dried fruits to my concoctions, they gained more flavor. I also learned to save lemon rinds, after juicing and zesting them, because they still have plenty of flavor to add to a pot of tea.

Lemon balm, dried raspberries and ginger is a favorite blend; dried apple peels, ginger and coriander is another; sometimes I add a pinch of crushed anise to that one.

Drying apple peels, an idea I found on a blog, also made me happy because it was a frugal use. Running the apples through an apple slicer is a fast way to prepare them for drying, but leaves you with all the peels to deal with — or more likely, toss in the compost. But they make very nice tea, although it does take a fair amount of them.

Other dried fruits I’ve tried in tea include raspberries, strawberries, quince, elderberries, blueberries and rhubarb — not all together, of course, but in various combinations with different herbs. Black currants would probably be tasty, too, if our little bush starts producing more.

Lemon balm is mildly lemony; lemon verbena stronger-scented, with a hint of sweetness. Dried rosehips or rhubarb (which I slice and dehydrate) add a lovely tartness; dried elderberries, which I put in when trying to fight off viral infections, are deliciously fruity. They’re also high in vitamin C.

Even more appealing, many of the ingredients do or easily can come from the backyard; we grow spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and various other herbs, many of which I dry in the summer.

The project has added other herbs to my list of items to grow. Thyme is supposed to be excellent for coughs, and while we have some growing and I love it in savory supper dishes, it’s less appealing in tea. Lemon thyme, however, would be a fine substitute.

There’s anise hyssop or Korean mint, for a delicate licorice flavor; chamomile for an appley-new hay sort of flavor; pineapple sage; bergamot; calendula — it’s a long list.

Hot tea is a welcome drink in winter, but in the summer, when cooling drinks seem a lot more appealing, I often add a few pieces of dried rhubarb to a water bottle; it slowly infuses the lovely tartness into the cool water — although you do want to be careful not swallow the rhubarb bits and choke. This is also a good place for using up those lemon rinds; another website suggests zesting any lemon from which you only want the juice, drying it, and using that for flavoring various items, including beverages.

I also like to make my herb tea and let it cool; it’s quite tasty served at room temperature.

A lot of very mild-flavored herbs can play a nice supporting role to the stronger flavors of spice and fruit, or stand on their own for those who prefer not to be shouted at by their drinks. They include nettles, raspberry leaf, clover and catnip.

A hot cup of rich, spicy chai will always appeal to me more than lemon balm-nettle tea first thing in the morning. By afternoon, though, the lighter flavors of herbs and fruit are especially appealing, and it’s very satisfying to be able to produce delicious beverages from your own garden, tailored to your own tastes.

Nicole Montesano can be reached at

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