Monday, May 13, 2019

"Growing Your Own Tea Garden" by Jodi Helmer

It rained all weekend and I didn't get to play outside as I'd hoped, but I did take advantage of the rain to read a review copy of a new book I got from NetGalley, Growing Your Own Tea Garden by Jodi Helmer, and this is one of the first tea gardening books I've read that I believe would be useful even to those who have no intention of gardening but simply want to educate themselves.

The book opens with a brief history of tea, then it gives a good overview of selecting all the plants for the tea garden, from true tea plants (Camellia sinensis) to those "teas" made with leaves, flowers, fruits, and roots. "Some of the most popular 'teas' are not tea at all," Helmer notes. "True tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant; herbal teas, including popular brews such as chamomile and peppermint, are considered tisanes. Tisanes are made from ingredients such as herbs, flowers, fruits, bark, and roots but no white, green, black, or oolong teas."

The distinction is an important one to make, so even someone new to teatime will be clear about what is and isn't truly "tea" in the tea garden. I enjoy drinking tisanes as well as teas, and I learned a lot about the plants used to make tisanes (and flavor my Camellia sinensis) by reading this book. For instance, Helmer writes that "although bee balm smells like Earl Grey tea and was even used as a replacement for black tea after the Boston Tea Party, the essential oil used in the iconic tea is from a different plant." Doesn't that make you want to run out and get a bee balm plant?

Quite a few mints are featured in the book (along with the advice to plant them in pots so they don't overtake the garden), and readers will learn fun things like the fact that pineapple mint is a subspecies of apple mint, chocolate mint is a cultivar of peppermint, and 'Kentucky Colonel' mint is the cultivar preferred for mint juleps because of its large and attractive leaves.

For those of us who like the idea of making our own tisanes, Helmer has helpfully included lots of potential benefits as well as cautions for these plants. St. John's wort, for instance, is believed to be a natural antidepressant, yet it has been banned from products in France because of its potential interactions with certain medications, she says. Similarly, burdock is a plant which "might inhibit tumor growth," she notes, but it's also a diuretic and should be used carefully. The section on these plants was one of the most useful parts of the whole book and makes an excellent starting point for anyone who does wish to use tisanes to benefit their health.

The book also includes tips for harvesting plants, recipes for blending them, some suggestions for tea garden designs, and a resource list for further study. A quick, entertaining, and highly useful read, Growing Your Own Tea Garden is sure to get lots of tea drinkers reaching for their spades and shovels.


  1. This sounds like a very interesting book, and just the thing to read on a rainy weekend!

  2. That does sound like a fun book. I'm glad the author puts in the cautions on the plants that can be dangerous to your health if you make them into tea. (And speaking of dangerous plants, I recommend the entertaining and informative book "Wicked Plants" by Amy Stewart if you haven't read it before.)

  3. Sounds interesting. I use to sell another book (can't remember the name) that was very similar in content.

  4. Sounds like an interesting book. My side yard and I agree, plant mint in pots.


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