Published in Natural Awakenings Magazine 2011
By Sara Stewart Martinelli
Making your own teas from herbs that you’ve planted, tended, and harvested is one of the most satisfying ways to enjoy your gardening efforts. Herbs are wonderful to grow in the garden because they are easy to grow, don’t need meticulous care, and yield completely usable harvests. There are countless varieties, unlimited uses, and myriad smells, textures, and habits. Here’s a list of 10 easy- to- grow herbs that can be combined in a number of different ways to make delicious and healthy brews.
Planning your Garden
Find a spot that gets a fair amount, to full sun. Once established, herbs tend to like it bright and hot and to be relatively drought tolerant. Be aware of the amount of space each plant will need, and how high it will grow. Remember when designing your garden to plan for harvesting, so leave a few stepping stones close to the plants.
Many tea herbs are also prolific spreaders. Mints, for example, will need to be carefully controlled, either by edging, or container gardening, or else they may become invasive to other areas. Decide how much time you want to spend controlling the spread of some of the plants, and plan accordingly. If you hope to harvest a year’s worth of peppermint, you may not mind if the mint spreads to a large area.
Planting and Tending
After you’ve designed your garden and determined where your herbs will go, you’ll need to either start plants from seeds or purchase starters from a local nursery. Choosing organic seedlings is highly recommended, especially with herbs that you plan to use for tea or other culinary uses. Herbs that are given commercial fertilizers do not always develop the same high levels of essential oils as their organic counterparts, and this can affect both taste and shelf life in the long run.
Herbs tend to love our rocky Colorado soil, and many of these herbs will survive over the winter with a little mulch. As your herbs grow and start to flower, be sure to pinch of the flower stems and the first few leaves before they go to seed. During the hot weeks of late July and August, this is especially important as plants that are left to go to seed will get leggy and woody, instead of focusing their energy on developing the aromatic leaves that are used for tea.
Harvesting, Drying, and Storing
Harvesting – The best time to harvest your garden herbs is on a warm summer morning, after the dew has evaporated but before the sun gets so hot that it affects the essential oils of the plant. Harvest often, using a sharp knife or harvest shears to minimize trauma to the plant. Do not yank at the leaves or stems as this can damage the roots and bruise the plants. Most leaves are best harvested before the plant comes into flower. Flowers themselves are best harvested when in full bloom, however some are best harvested just before they bloom.
Drying – After harvesting, wash the herbs thoroughly. Shake them dry, or pat them gently with a clean towel. There are a couple of easy drying methods.
Oven drying – place the herb on a cookie sheet and put it in the oven for a couple minutes at about 85 -95 degrees. Leave the door open and check the herbs often, so they don’t overcook. When chip dry, they are done.
Bundling – small leaf herbs can be tied into small bundles and hung upside down to dry in a cool, ventilated place safe from insects and moisture.
Basket drying or paper bag drying– Dry flowers or large leaves in a basket, and gently shake or turn them daily. Carefully monitor their level of dryness and watch to avoid any moist areas. Flowers seems to dry quickly so the basket method works well for them. Large leaf herbs take a little longer, and need to be shaken a couple times a day. You could use a paper bag the same way, although you don’t get the same level of air circulation as with the basket. Be sure to poke some holes in the bag to encourage air flow and moisture evaporation.
Storing – When the herbs are fully dry, try to store them in the largest form possible to preserve the essential oils in the leaves and flowers. Do not chop them up as you see in grocery style herbs. Airtight glass jars, preferably not clear, will best preserve the herbs. If you can’t find colored glass jars, then keep the jars in a cabinet or some place with minimal light. Most herbs when stored in their full form will maintain their potency and aromatic oils at least until the next harvest season. Compost herbs that have been dried for over a year.
Lemon Balm – Melissa officinalis – this perennial herb is a staple for any tea garden. It grows about 24’ high and the leaves create a great base for any herbal tea. They have a delicately citrusy flavor, which lends itself well to balancing a blend. Lemon balm is relaxing and reduces anxiety, and is safe and widely used for kids. The fresh leaves make a flavorful tea, or just place a few sprigs in your water bottle. Dry the plant in bunches and hang, and use the dried leaves throughout the colder months.
Mints – Peppermint –Mentha piperita, or Spearmint – Mentha spicata – these extremely prolific and often invasive herbs love disturbed soil. Luckily for the tea lover, these strong, vigorously spreading plants make some of the best and most useful teas. Both are very high in essential oils and are extremely beneficial for the digestive tract. Mint has many healing properties, and is especially useful in blends for colds, digestive distress, and flu. Mint is often used to improve the flavor of less palatable medicinal herbs.
Echinacea – Echinacea purpurea – Well known for its immune enhancing properties, Echinacea is also a beautiful plant in the garden. The large, purple petaled flowers are also known as purple coneflower, and prefer full sun to partial shade. All the parts of the plant are medicinally beneficial, but in order to keep the plant returning year after year, use only the aerial parts (leaves and flowers) for teas. Snip the flowers and leaves and dry in a basket or bag. Echinacea is useful in blends for colds or flus, and to support the immune system. It has an earthy, aromatic flavor. Avoid excessive use, and it’s not reccommended for people with compromised immune systems.
Calendula – Calendula officinalis – This common garden flower is one of the most useful plants you can have. The cheerful sunny flowers make a wonderful addition to the garden and gladly reseed themselves each year. Use the petals of the flower to add color to teas, with a delicate floral flavor. Harvest the flowers before they begin to seed, and remove any spent blossoms to encourage the plant to continue blooming. Calendula is often used in blends to soothe the stomach. Topically, calendula is recommended for a number of skin irritations.
Anise Hyssop – Agastache foeniculum– Anise Hyssop combines the flavors of anise and mint, and has a pungent root beer – like aroma. All of the aerial parts can be used for teas, so ideally harvest when the flower is in full bloom and has not yet begun to fade. This beautiful perennial herb grows to about 2 -3 feet and attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, and honeybees and readily reseeds its surrounding area. Anise Hyssop supports digestion, soothes respiratory tract symptoms, and helps to lower fevers.
Chamomile – Matricaria recutita – Chamomile has been used as a relaxing, soothing blend for centuries, and truly makes a delicious tea. This annual herb grows about a foot in height and produces small, daisy – like flowers. Harvest the flowers using a “chamomile rake” or just pinch them into a small basket. The tea is soothing to both the nervous system and the digestive system.
Roses –Rosa spp. – The world of roses is large, but even a single rose bush can provide you with enough rose petals and hips for a year’s worth of tea. Look for a variety of rose that has a strong scent, which indicated higher levels of essential oils in the petals. The size of the hips can vary greatly as well, so look for ones that are nice and large. Dry the petals gently in a fine basket. The hips are collected in late fall, after the cold weather has had a chance to increase the sugars in these tiny fruits. Slice the hips in half, remove seeds and fibers, and string on a thread to decorate your holiday tree. Once dried, the hips can be stored. Rose hips are extremely high in Vitamin C, and taste like tiny citrus fruits. They add a wonderful flavor to tea.
Fennel – Foeniculum vulgare – this member of the carrot family produces some of the most flavorful and beneficial seeds. The licorice flavored seeds can bring sweetness to a tea blend, and enhance digestion and the body’s assimilation of food. It can also support milk production in nursing mothers. Unlike the other herbs in the list, it’s important to allow the yellow, umbrella-like flowers to develop into seeds. Dry the seeds for about a week in a paper bag before storing to ensure there is no moisture. The leaves can also be used for teas.
Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis – This evergreen style, aromatic herb is well known for its rejuvenative properties and ability to improve memory. This is due to its affect on digestion and circulation. It’s also a strong anti-bacterial herb. What isn’t as commonly known about rosemary is that it makes a delicious, slightly piney, but sweet tea. It can be used either fresh or dried, but definitely dry your own, storing the dried stalks intact before using. Rosemary is grown in Colorado as an annual herb since it doesn’t fare well through our harsh winters. However, it’s a great container plant and may make it through the winter if brought inside during the coldest months.
Thyme – Thymus vulgaris – The strong flavor and aroma of thyme tea clearly indicates how useful it is in relieving congestion, colds, and coughs. It’s one of the most antibiotic of the herbs and it helps to cleanse infection and treat all types of mouth sores. Thyme tea supports the immune system, digestive system, and respiratory system. This powerful plant comes in a small package, with plants featuring tiny leaves and growing only about 12 inches high.
2 parts peppermint
1 part Echinacea
1 part lemon balm
1 part rosemary
1 part thyme
2 parts chamomile
2 parts lemon balm
½ part rose
½ part anise hyssop
Kids Cold and Flu Tea
2 part peppermint
1 part Echinacea
1 part rosemary
1 part rose hips
Digestive Distress Tea
2 parts fennel
1 part peppermint
1 part chamomile
1 part calendula
2 part Thyme
2 part Rosemary
1 part Anise Hyssop
1 part Rose Hips
Clarkson, Rosetta E., Herbs- Their Culture and Uses, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1942.
Hartung, Tammi, Growing 101 Herbs that Heal, Storey Publishing, Vermont, 2000.
Mars, Brigitte, Healing Herbal Teas, Basic Health Publications, CA, 2996.
By Sara Stewart Martinelli
Did you know that you can plant any number of things around and near your barn to reduce and repel flies, mosquitos, and other insects? Here’s a list of some easy to grow plants that thrive in Colorado that are wonderful allies for keeping the population of these pests down.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) – Every cat’s favorite plant, catnip is a member of the mint family, so it grow with great enthusiasm. A natural compound found in catnip, nepetalactone, attracts cats, but repels insects. In one study, this compound has been found to be 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitos than DEET. [i] Catnip grows wild here in Colorado, and we have found that merely crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your skin can be effective at keeping mosquitos at bay in the evening. Planting catnip near the barn has the added benefit of attracting the barn cats, helping to put the mice on notice that the area has a feline patrol. Catnip is also a wonderfully relaxing herb when prepared as an infusion. While drinking this relaxing and quite tasty tea in the evening, spread a few drops on exposed skin to ward of the bugs.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) – Grow some mint around the barn so you can always grab some when it’s time to make mojitos. But, in addition to the it’s mojito uses, mint has been found to contain highly effective properties that repel mosquitos. Research has shown that mosquito larvae were unable to survive when exposed to peppermint oil.[ii] We throw a few sprigs of fresh mint into water trough’s in the summer to prevent mosquitos from breeding there, and have found that the horses love the added flavor. Peppermint oil has also been shown to be highly effect at repelling mice, and a few drops placed in areas where mice tend to hang out will let them know that they’re not welcome. Be careful, though, as mint grows with glorious abandon and will need to be controlled once it’s established. We find it to be an attractive plan, with a wide range of uses, so we encourage it to grow all over the farm.
Lavender (Lavendula ssp) – Lavender one of nature’s most beloved gifts due to its incredible scent that has been used for centuries as a relaxing, soothing aromatherapeutic ally. The highly fragrant essential oil is repellent to insects, however, and can be used directly on the skin. In addition to the scent, lavender oil is known to be highly antibacterial and antimicrobial, so it’s an effective treatment for minor cuts and scrapes. It is also useful as a topical remedy for minor burns, and can be soothing to painful or itchy bug bites and stings. Growing lavender near the barn offers a beautiful garden plant with a multitude of uses. Here at Three Leaf Farm, we make lovely herbal swags each year using lavender sprigs, catnip, lemon balm and tansy and hang these throughout the barn
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) – this low growing mint is famous for its ability to deter and repel mosquitos, fleas, and flies. It was one of the traditional strewing herbs used to keep bugs from the home. A few crushed stems can help repel mosquitos in the evening, or the dried and powdered leaves can help repel fleas when sprinkled on dog beds or even sprinkled directly on your dog. Like catnip and peppermint, pennyroyal is in the mint family and can tend to get a bit invasive if not controlled, however in Colorado we’ve found it to be relatively low maintenance and not as aggressive as it is in other zones
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) – this perennial plant has been used historically in funereal practices to ward off bugs and worms. It was placed in coffins, wrapped in burial sheets, and made into wreaths to place on the dead. [iii] In Colonial days, tansy was used to preserve meat by rubbing it with the leaves. It has shown usefulness in repelling flies, and ants, and in the 1940’s it was infused in alcohol as a common mosquito repellent. Today’s research has shown tansy extracts to be useful in repelling mosquitoes, but not as strong as DEET.[iv] Research in Sweden has shown that tansy is effective in helping to repel ticks.[v] Some people have shown a sensitivity to applying tansy directly to the skin, and most herbalists today do not recommend internal use of tansy at all. However, it will grow with exuberance in the garden, and should be planted in areas where it can spread and reproduce without concern of invading the space of other plants. Tansy is a great plant for cutting and hanging in the barn to help repel flies.
Geraniums (Geranium spp) – Geraniums have been selectively bred for scent, and the lemon scented variety is the most effective against mosquitos. Best grown in pots, they make attractive, useful, and low maintenance additions to the barn gardens. Our local variety, Geranium maculatum, commonly called American cranesbill, blooms from May to August in the foothills and make an attractive, clumping garden plant that emits a unique aroma that drives away flies and mosquitos. The root is traditionally used in herbal medicine as for its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) – Lemon balm has a delightful and delicious lemon scent and flavor. While attractive to humans, insects are repelled by its citrusy aroma. Also a member of the mint family, lemon balm is a relaxing herb prized for its ability to calm anxiety, slow a racing heart, and instill a feeling of serenity and peace. A few sprigs in a water bottle can calm nerves, and a tea made from either fresh or dried leaves is both delicious and slightly sedative. Like it’s other mint cousins, lemon balm spreads with joy, so be thoughtful where you plant it. We cut and dry our lemon balm at Three Leaf Farm to use in tinctures and teas during the rest of the year, and we’ve found that you really can never have too much of this plant.
Marigolds (Tagetes spp) – these pretty little orange or yellow flowers have a compound in them called Pyrethrum, which is used in many commercial insect repellents, and in controlled studies it’s been shown to be even more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitos. These little annuals are easy to start from seed, and make a great border for a garden or are easy to grow in pots. They come in many colors and sizes, and tend to be easy to grow and tolerant of many conditions. Marigolds will bloom faithfully from late spring all the way into the fall, so they make a wonderful addition to a garden border or to a potted arrangement.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – Yarrow is a common wildflower in Colorado, but has also been selectively bred for the garden. The wild variety tends to be smaller, with white flowers, while the garden varieties are taller, and tend to have either soft or hot pink flowers. All are useful as insect repellents, both in the garden and directly on the skin. The feathery leaves can be mashed and rubbed on the skin, or they can be infused in either vodka or vinegar as a spray to keep away mosquitos. The medicinal uses of yarrow are many, and it grows easily in the garden, so it’s a useful and attractive addition to any barn garden.
Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) – Citronella is a clumping grass. The oil has been used commercially in insect repellents and candles, and most people are familiar with it’s citrusy scent. It’s native to Southeast Asia, so here in Colorado, we can only grow it during the summer in pots, and it will die off during the winter. Plant some citronella in pots along with the geraniums, and you’ll have a lovely, bug repelling floral planter by the doors to the barn.
A recipe for a natural mosquito repellent
In a large, quart size mason jar:
½ cup fresh yarrow, chopped small
12 sprigs fresh pennyroyal, chopped small
12 sprigs fresh peppermint, chopped small
12 sprigs fresh peppermint, chopped small
Rind of one lemon, chopped into small pieces
Place all herbs into the jar.
Pour either vodka or apple cider vinegar over the herbs.
Place the lid on the jar, and allow it to steep/infuse for 6 weeks.
Strain and compost the herbs.
Add 25 drops each of lavender, citronella, lemongrass essential oils.
Put into spray bottle and use as needed.
[iii] Mitich, Larry W. (March 1992). “Tansy”. Weed Technology. 6: 242–4.
[iv] Mitich, Larry W. (March 1992). “Tansy”. Weed Technology. 6: 242–4.
[v] Pålsson K, Jaenson TG, Baeckström P, Borg-Karlson AK (January 2008). “Tick repellent substances in the essential oil of Tanacetum vulgare”. Journal of Medical Entomology. 45 (1): 88–93
by Sara Stewart Martinelli
Searching for a good boarding facility for your horse can be overwhelming. Not only do prices usually range on a wide scale, but so do the amenities, services, and quality of the facilities. Before you even begin your search, determine what you need in the way of care and amenities. Make a list of the things that are most important to you, and determine the areas in which you might be able to settle for less.
We all want the very best for our equine friends, but sometimes our budget doesn’t cooperate with our dreams. The good news is that horses are not bothered by the same aesthetics as we often are. Their needs are much more simple, but there are some areas in which you should not compromise.
Safe Fencing, Stalls, Paddocks –
The first thing to check is the condition of the fencing, stalls, and any other building or area that your horse may be kept. Age doesn’t really matter, but condition does. Check areas for exposed nails, sharp edges on panels, or broken wires in the fencing. Horses will find ways to hurt themselves no matter what we do to protect them, but ensuring that they are safely housed, both in pasture and in the barn, is a must
Experienced, on-site Staff-
You are boarding your horse because you can’t keep him at home, so you need to be able to trust the staff at the facility to care for him. Staff should be readily available to you and willing to talk to you about your horse at any time. You need to be able to trust them to do whatever needs to be done in an emergency, and to always put the best interests of your horse first. Additional services, like blanketing, putting on fly masks, exercising and turnout are often available at higher end facilities, and you need to be sure that the staff is experience and capable at handling horses.
Good Quality Hay and Feed –
Ask to see the hay before you agree to board somewhere. Take a little time to ensure the hay is high quality, not dusty, and stored properly. Ask where the hay comes from, and how often they take delivery. You should see a nice stock of hay – avoid facilities where they are clearly only purchasing enough hay to get by. This could be a sign of financial trouble. If there is pasture turnout and your horse will be getting a portion of his nutrition from fresh grazing, you need to walk the pasture and inspect what’s growing. If your horse eats a grain ration, or additional supplements, ask in advance how the facility handles that. Some facilities will custom feed your horse whatever you ask, while others will require you to measure and bag up meal size baggies so they don’t have to do that.
Facility Maintenance –
Cleanliness of the Barn, Aisle, Stalls, and Tack Room – in addition to checking the buildings, barn aisle, pastures, and fences for safety, you should also look with a critical eye to see how the facility is maintained on a daily basis. Is it clean? Are the stalls cleaned daily? Does the tack room, and tack, look tidy and well-kept? Do things look organized and easy to find, like First Aid supplies? Are the barn aisles, grooming areas, wash racks clean, organized, and free of clutter? Observing how the facility is generally maintained can give you a good idea into the general culture of the facility. Remember, things don’t need to be fancy and new to be clean and well organized.
Fly Control –
Although some might consider this a luxury, flies can become quite a problem. Not only are they annoying to both humans and horses, but they can carry disease. A good facility will make efforts to mitigate fly problems and will practice some kinds of fly control. Clean stalls and paddocks are a must, but additional efforts like using Fly Predators or even overhead fly mist dispensers can greatly reduce the fly populations at the facility.
Secure Tack Room and Tack Storage –
“Missing” tack is a notorious problem at even the nicest boarding facilities. People often borrow your supplies, thinking you won’t mind, and then forget to put it back or replace it. Does the facility have a secure tack room where you know your supplies are safe from theft or unwanted borrowing? Is there enough storage for all your tack and supplies on site?
Don’t forget to look at the restrooms. It might not seem like a big deal until you board somewhere where they don’t have these facilities. Really. It’s not fun. Ideally, the restrooms will be clean and functional, but experience has shown that most barn restrooms are just pit stops for people who have mud and horse poop on their boots all the time. Don’t be too critical!
Good Arena Footing –
Depending on your individual needs, a fancy, indoor arena may not be necessary. Whether you are training for upper level Hunter/Jumpers or are just a weekend trail rider, you need a safe place to exercise your horse. If they have an area that is used for this, check that the footing is suitable for your riding style. Even if it’s just a flattened outdoor area with no commercial style footing, you need to make sure the area is generally safe, flat, and not slick. Check the arena, round pen, and any other area that is used as an exercise area. Ask about how it holds up to the rain; does it puddle? How long does it take for it to drain? And, on the opposite end, ask how they facility controls the dust when it’s overly dry?
Drama- Free Culture –
A larger equestrian facility can offer a lively and fun social community, but sometimes that can come with a large dose of drama. If this isn’t your thing, ask around to get a feel for the reputation of the place. Make sure that your personality will fit the culture of the facility. If you are a laid back, casual rider who just enjoys spending time with your horse, then a fancy dressage barn might not suit you. On the flip side, if you are seriously competitive and working toward specific goals, you might not be happy in a more casual facility.
This is so important that maybe it should have been number one. Although often we have to drive relatively long distances to get to a facility, you need to determine if your boarding choice is close enough that you’ll be able to get there as much as you want to. If you think that distance might ever become a reason that you have to skip going to the barn that day, you might want to look for a facility closer. Your horse would much rather spend time with you than have a fancy stall door, and you never want visiting your horse to become a burden.
Choosing a boarding facility to care for your treasured horse is hard, but with a little forethought, planning, and a critical eye, you can make the process a little easier.