The health benefits of tea have been much-publicized in recent years, and with good reason. No matter how you prefer it – black, green, white – tea is packed with nutrients and antioxidants and even provides a small boost of caffeine.
But tea is hardly a new trend. People have been cultivating and brewing tea for a long time; historians say it has been used as a beverage for at least 5,000 years. It’s much easier to get your daily dose of tea these days than cultivating it yourself – but who says growing your own tea can’t be just as rewarding for you and your family as it was for our ancient ancestors?
Let’s look at growing your own indoor tea garden and reaping its benefits with delicious, healthy tea that everyone can enjoy.
A quick word about tea
Before getting started on how to grow tea, it’s not a bad idea to take a closer look at what it is. The important thing to know is that all “real” tea comes from one plant, the Camellia sinensis. Four types of tea can be made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant: black tea, green tea, white tea, and Oolong tea. Any other kind of tea isn’t really “tea” and comes from a different plant. There are also two subspecies of the tea plant: Camellia sinensis sinensis and Camellia sinensis assamica. Two of the key differences between the two is where they’re grown and in what kind of climate.
This is where the whole family can join in, and you can use it to help your kids understand the growing and harvesting process of plants. Here are some things to remember:
*You can start a tea plant from a seed or from a cutting taken from a mature plant. Germination will take about four weeks if you’re growing from seed. Make sure to cover the seeds lightly with soil and keep it damp and warm.
*Use soil that is slightly acidic, such as soil that is designated for rhododendrons. Also, give your plant a small dose of fertilizer every few months.
*Your plant will thrive if it can get plenty of sun throughout the day but it also tolerates shade very well.
*With proper care, your tea plant will last a long, long time and provide you with delicious tea for the next half-century – and beyond. If needed, prune back the plant every four years or so.
*You’ll basically only ever need four containers – 14” (diameter), 18”, and 24”.
New shoots will appear on your tea plant in the spring (it will go dormant in the winter). Pick the new growth, as well as the two smallest leaves, and the bud. This is what you’ll use for your tea.
Getting different flavors out of the tea leaves you harvested requires different methods of preparation.
After leaving your harvested leaves in a shady spot for a few hours, steam them on the stovetop for about a minute and roast them in a hot, dry skillet for a couple of minutes. Finally, dry them on a baking sheet in the oven at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes.
Place the leaves in a shady spot for about 10 hours. You have a couple of options after that: you can leave them in the oven at 250 degrees for 20 minutes, or roll them into thin strips or small balls.
After picking the leaves, roll them between your fingers and hands until they turn a darker color. Once you’ve done that, spread them out on a flat surface for two to three days before brewing your tea.
Herbal tea is tea that is brewed from a plant other than Camellia sinensis. Plants such as peppermint, rose hips, and chamomile are commonly used for tea.