Savor Southwestern Iced Tea

Jacqueline here in this last week of a sweltering May, with a look ahead to next month. June is “National Iced Tea Month,” so time to think about some iced teas to help you Savor the Southwest.

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Language purists will remind us that true tea comes from Camellia sinensis, grown in the tropics, and any “herbal tea” is in fact a “tisane,” but the English language is subject to change over time, thus I am using the term “tea” to mean any herb infused into a beverage.

Speaking of infusing – teas should be prepared as an infusion. Infusions are made by adding water to fresh or dried herbs and allowing them time to infuse the water with their oils and flavors. The water can be hot or cold, depending on how strong a flavor you desire and how quickly. Avoid decoctions, where the plants are placed in boiling water and held over heat. This will extract plant compounds better left in the plant.

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Mint tea garnished with fresh mint and a slice of orange.

Traditional iced tea is often served with lemon. That is a nice way to blend flavors and engage your palate with both the bitterness of the tea and the sourness of the lemon at the same time. With this in mind, I like to put together more than one herb at a time for a richer gustatory experience.

Mint tea can be garnished with a fresh sprig of mint, and a slice of orange. I find the sweet orange helps highlight the tang of the mint in a pleasant way.

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Calendula grows well in winter in the Southwest.

Calendula tea from the petals I dried all winter is made tangy with a slice of lemon and a fresh bay leaf – delightful! I tried calendula with mint and didn’t like the way the flavors worked together.

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Calendula tea with bay and lemon.

Thyme is tasty indeed, and I find it freshens the palate. Rather than cucumber water at your next soiree, try some thyme.

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Thyme tisane.

I have tried all sorts of blends over thyme – I mean time – and tea with mint, sage, and a sprig of fennel was unique. The licoricy fennel blended nicely with the earthy notes of sage. The fennel plants are gone for the year, but next year I’m going to leave the mint out.

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Tea from mint, sage, and fennel. Some blends work better than others.

Run out of lemons? Don’t forget the lemony and luscious barrel cactus I wrote about in November 2014. The fruits add a wonderful citrus-like tang to teas and can be used in place of lemon. This is also good if you are trying to only eat things in season – the barrel fruit from last autumns blush of bloom is ripening nicely now.

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Barrel cactus fruit can be dried for use like lemon peel.

I hope you will celebrate Iced Tea Month by savoring some new teas. Please do let us know if you find a blend we should share! We welcome your ideas.


JAS avatarWant to learn more? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, $23).
© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.



Cozy Chamomile


chamomile 3489847_1280Jacqueline Soule this week to discuss a pretty, plus pretty useful, herb to plant in your winter garden.  And, if you plant seedlings now, you should be able to harvest some within a month!  As cooler weather comes along, it is nice to curl up with a cup of chamomile tea – and here is how to have your own.

The herb known to most Americans as chamomile comes from two different species of plants. German chamomile comes from an annual plant (Matricaria rectita), while Roman chamomile comes from perennial plant (Chamaemelum nobile). They both have many of the same plant compounds in them, and work much the same way, the difference is in how you grow them. The French “chamomile” is a related plant (Achillea millefolium) but with different compounds and actions. In English, that last one is known as yarrow.

European people have used chamomile, in one form or another, to treat just about every sort of affliction, from hemorrhoids to hay fever, sleeplessness to sores, and tummy aches to tooth aches. In almost every case chamomile is used as a tea (infusion) to either drink or bathe tissues. For tooth ache folks used chamomile wrapped in muslin and placed on the afflicted tooth. Peter Rabbit’s mom gave him a cup of chamomile tea after his adventures, to soothe his stomach and calm his nerves.


herb_tea_JAS_001The flavinoid apigenin found in chamomile tea is thought to be responsible for its anti-inflammatory ability. Apogenin combined with another phytochemical called bisabolol are thought to work in concert to calm gastrointestinal spasms. Apogenin has been proven to bind to the same brain receptor sites that the drug Valium binds to, and are believed to exert a calming influence in much the same manner.

With recent scientific investigation, a number of uses have been validated. Chamomile is recommended by Commission E for the treatment of gastrointestinal tract inflammation, gastrointestinal spasm, irritations of the mucous membrane, skin injury or irritation, as a gargle or mouthwash to alleviate oral or pharyngeal inflammation, and to treat anxiety disorders. (Peter Rabbit’s mom was right on track!)

German chamomile can be grown very easily in the cooler months of winter, while the Roman chamomile is best planted in spring. Both need six to eight hours of sunlight per day. Like many herbs, they do best in well drained soil. Thus if you have caliche soils , consider growing them in pots with a cactus soil mix. The German chamomile will die in the heat, so replant some next year.

chamomile 774818_1280Harvest chamomile flowers and dry before use. This allows some of the more bitter tasting compounds to evaporate. The active ingredients are predominately in the oils and are not lost by drying.

Chamomile is green to grow in our area, even though it uses more water than native plants. It does reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the need to import chamomile. It can also help reduce your reliance on manufactured drugs. Headache? Take a cup of chamomile tea and lay down for a half hour rest. Far better for the environment than aspirin. Just remember that moderation is key in this and all herbs.

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Note: the information in this article is for your reference, and is not intended to be used as a substitute for qualified medical attention.

JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tumacacori, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
Text is copyright © 2015, Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site.

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