Original article by: Tom Oder
From your garden to your teacup, Cassie Liversidge’s new book, Homegrown Tea teaches how to plant, harvest and blend it yourself. If growing your own food isn’t your cup of tea, Liversidge is out to change your mind. Be forewarned, though, that if you love tea, Liversidge has already won half of the mind-game battle.
Liversidge, an artist, writer, and gardener who lives in London and says that one of the best parts of her day “is sitting in bed in the morning, reading to my children and drinking a cup of black tea,” has written a book that explains how anyone can easily plant, grow and harvest a large variety of common plants from which they can brew teas and tisanes. “Homegrown Tea: An Illustrated Guide to Planting, Harvesting, and Blending Teas and Tisanes” (St. Martin’s Press) is due out March 25.
“One of my main reasons for writing ‘Homegrown Tea’ was because I would like people to utilize and understand the plants they grow so that we can all live in a more sustainable way,” said Liversidge, who came to love plants and develop a healthy respect for sustainability at an early age when she was growing up at her parents’ plant nursery. “When you have grown your own, you naturally learn about that plant, not only how to grow it but also when it is good to harvest as well as knowing what effect consuming it has on your body.”
Let’s start at the beginning
Liversidge begins the book with tips on how to brew a great cup of tea: why and how to use a teapot, how to properly place tea in your own tea bag (did you know tea bags were developed by accident when people receiving samples of tea in silk bags thought they were supposed to brew the tea in the bags?), why you should always boil fresh water to make tea, how long you should let the water rest before pouring it onto your tea, and what time of day to harvest tea to obtain the most medicinal benefits.
Liversidge then goes into the heart of the book, the plants from which various teas can be made. She divides plants into five sections based on which parts of the plants are used to make tea: leaves, seeds, fruits, flowers and roots. In each section, she includes a variety of common plants with a description of the plant and a guide that explains their medicinal benefits, how to grow them, how and when to harvest them and how to optimally prepare and brew tea from each plant. The best news of all for tea lovers is that you don’t have to live in a house with a yard and a large garden to have your own natural tea cupboard. Many plants that can be used to make teas and tisanes can be grown in pots on a patio, an apartment balcony or even in a sunny window. Liversidge even includes a chapter with extra gardening advice.
Here is a guide to growing and harvesting a plant from each of the five sections. Be aware, Liversidge advises, that many of the homegrown teas she includes in the book will be very pale in color. But, she promises, if you try them you will be amazed at how complex in flavor they can be.
TEA FROM LEAVES
Example: Camellia sinesis, tea plant
Camellias are popular among gardeners for producing beautiful flowers during the fall and winter when little else is in bloom. One camellia species though, Camellia sinensis, is unusual in that it produces all of the world’s commercial teas, including white, green, oolong and black teas. Two main varieties are grown and harvested for tea, Camellia sinensis var. sinensis from China, and Camellia sinensis var. assamica from Assam, India.
How to grow: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis will thrive in a sunny to partly shaded location in USDA Zones 7-9. If growing in a pot, you may want to move it to a sheltered location to protect the roots from freezing during severe winter temperatures. You can prune it to a height of three feet or so as commercial growers do for ease of harvesting, or you can let it grow naturally into a large shrub or small tree. The small white flowers that appear in the fall can be harvested and dried and added to the leaves to enhance the flavor of the tea. Different methods of growing, harvesting or processing are used to create the different teas from this species. Here is how Liversidge makes green tea from Camellia sinensis var. sinensis.
How to harvest: The secret to making green tea is to harvest the top two leaves and leaf bud on the new spring growth. The new stems will be green in contrast to the brown stems from the previous year’s growth.
How to make tea: Heat the leaves before they have a chance to oxidize (dehydrate). To heat the leaves, steam them for 1 to 2 minutes and then immediately run cold tap water over them to stop the heating process and to retain the green color. Then roll the leaves, which will be soft and flexible, with your hands or with a sushi-rolling mat into tubes. Immediately after all the leaves are rolled, spread them in a dish and place them in an oven preheated to 212-230 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes, turning them after five minutes to ensure even drying. The heating process is finished when the leaves are totally dry and crispy. Store them in a sealed glass container.
How to brew the tea: Put six leaves in a tea bag, place the bag in a cup that’s been preheated with hot water, pour boiling water into the cup and cover it with a lid, and let the tea steep for three minutes.
Medicinal benefits: Green tea is known as a stimulant, an antibacterial, and a diuretic. Vitamins and iron in green tea may also help lower cholesterol and slow the aging process.
Bonus tip: Dried Camellia sinensis flowers or dried flowers from roses or violets can be added and stored with the dried and rolled leaves to enhance the flavor of green tea.
Other choices: This is the largest section of plants in the book and includes 20 plants with leaves suitable for making tea. Among those are lemon balm, mint, rosemary, sage and thyme.
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