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Gardening with Jack: Garden Teas

Teas are both healthy and refreshing and if you collect your makings from the garden they are also very cheap. Teas are usually freshly made and drunk hot but can also be prepared, cooled, and used ice cold. You can also use the sun to make your teas. Place your tea leaves in a sealed glass container and leave it in the sun until evening.

Many teas benefit from the addition of a sweetener but those made from savoury herbs can take a pinch of salt. Some teas are best made with boiling water, others with a cooler but longer steeping. Mint is an example of a tea that should merely be allowed to stand for two or three minutes then the leaves removed. Other tea bases benefit from longer contact – cooking, in fact.

A wide range of teas can be made from citrus leaves and zest. Whether the citrus tree is lemon, lime, grapefruit or mandarin is reflected in the smell of the leaves; just crush and sniff. Citrus leaves should be picked and dried for a few days in the shade to remove excess moisture and concentrate their flavour. The zest should be removed from the fruits with a sharp paring knife and boiled for about ten minutes. They should then be allowed to dry completely until crisp, using a low oven if you are impatient. Any white pith will be easy to scrape away once the peel is dry. You can make tea from the leaves alone or a combination of leaves and zest.

A great favourite in The Bahamas is fever grass tea, also called lemon grass. Use only the white portion of the stems, chopped and crushed. Add a cupful of boiling water to one teaspoon of lemon grass and allow to steep for about ten minutes.

Ginger tea is useful for digestion and settling the stomach yet tastes delicious. Freeze root portions then grate them. No need to peel – you will find the grater will reject the skin. Add a cupful of boiling water to one teaspoon of grated ginger, as for lemon grass.

Mint is also a gastric aid, whether spearmint or peppermint. Muddle the leaves and add boiling water but remove the leaves (or strain off the tea) after two or three minutes.

As I mentioned earlier, savoury herbs cannot be sweetened but sometimes benefit from a pinch of salt or even a quarter teaspoon of Marmite to add a beefy flavour. The more delicate herbs can benefit from a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.

Bay laurel leaves should be dried for a few days before use but most other herbs can be used fresh. We Bahamians love our thyme and a few sprigs in boiling water left for ten minutes gives a sophisticated tisane. For parsley tea use only the leaves, not the stalks. Chop fairly finely using two large sprigs for each cup of tea. Sage tea should only need two or three leaves for each cupful of boiling water. Chamomile tea can be made from fresh or dried flowers and the number of flowers adjusted to suit your taste.

Basil tea is a great pre-prandial drink; a sip or two will awaken your appetite. Use enough Genoa basil leaves to make a tablespoonful after chopping. Roll the leaves as if you were making a cigar and then slice the chiffonade finely. Thai basil leaves are smaller but stronger and have a distinct licorice flavour.

Other herbs that can be used as teas are borage (tastes like cucumber), fennel (use the seeds), cilantro (an acquired taste), and chervil (anise flavoured).

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