Soule Garden: Iced tea treats from your yard, part II - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Soule Garden: Iced tea treats from your yard, part II

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Posted: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 3:00 am

The tea industry has declared June to be “National Iced Tea Month,” so last year in June, I wrote of some lovely caffeine-free herbal teas you can grow in your own yard and enjoy anytime. It’s June again, and time to continue the topic with more low-care, low-water landscape plants that even your HOA will approve of.

First, a caution. Moderation is key. Especially when ingesting a plant product you have never had before, try just a bit, then wait 24 hours before consuming again. All the herbs mentioned here are prepared as infusions, pouring boiling water over the dried material and allowing them to steep, like store-bought tea. Avoid decoctions, where the plants are placed in boiling water and held over heat. Sun tea that sits out for longer than a half hour at midday is a form of decoction, and such preparation is to be avoided with these herbs.

In all cases, these herbs are dried before using. To dry herbs, I have a number of large clay pot saucers. After harvesting and washing, I put the leaves or flowers in the saucers, out of direct sunlight, to dry. A thin layer of plant material will generally dry in 24 hours. Once dry, store herbs in jars or plastic bags, labeled with what they are and when harvested. For safety, discard unused dried herbs after one year. This goes for all herbs, including the ancient store-bought sage in the back of your spice rack.

Creosote makes a uniquely flavored herbal tea. I like it better than black pekoe tea. This is a case where just a few leaves can be flavorful enough.  Ethnomedicinally, tea from creosote leaves has been used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, headache and asthma, some of the same uses found for pekoe teas. 

Creosote bush is has a reputation as being tough to transplant, and it may be because people tend to overwater it. I grew mine from seed and it became a large bush in just two years. Since it gets more water in my yard than in the wild, it has dense, luxuriant foliage, and flowers almost all year long. I find it goes very well in the landscape with agave and mesquite.

Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) is also called lemon beebush and is a close kin to our native Wright’s beebush (Aloysia wrightii). Native to southern South America, lemon verbena grows well in our warm summers. The cold is a challenge however, but mine is coming back from the roots after the freeze. The lemony leaves can be used for a tangy tea, and also to add a lemony flavor to fish and poultry dishes, vegetable marinades, salad dressing, jam, sorbet and pudding.  

As you can tell by the name, the lemon beebush is a wonderful plant if you are a beekeeper, providing ample nectar for a very flavorful honey. Native butterflies will also visit the long stalks of white flowers that grace this low perennial almost all summer. Plants do best with some afternoon shade.

Speaking of lemony flavors, why not try the lovely ornamental lemongrass? Native to warm temperate and tropical regions of Oceania, lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is widely used in Asian cuisine. Both fresh or dried lemongrass are commonly used in teas, soups, curries and poultry, fish, beef, and seafood dishes. The tea is refreshing without the excessive tartness of true lemon.

Lemongrass grows best in improved garden soil, but will also tolerate clay soils, a real plus for some Marana readers. Afternoon shade is ideal, because our summers are hotter than Asian ones. Some extra water is needed if the monsoons don’t come. You will need to give the grass a crew cut in March, but you can then use the leaves to scrub the grill and impart a pleasing lemony flavor to grilled fish.

Beautiful, flowering, low-care, low-water landscape plants that also provide products for the pantry. What is not to like?!

Jacqueline Soule has been writing about gardening in the Southwest for close to three decades. Her latest book, “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today,” is available at area nurseries or email kinoherbbook@hotmail.com for more information.

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