For many years, tea has formed a key part of daily rituals and tonics for general wellbeing. But have you ever considered making your own? Briar Winters, creator of NYC-based analogue beauty brand and botanical apothecary, Marble & Milkweed, does just that. She picks, brews and drinks her own blended teas, as well as selling seasonal, dried blends through her store.
“For me, having a tea (and blending it) is a ritual that allows me to collect my thoughts outside of the hurricane of the day…” she explains. “Tea blending is truly a sensuous process. I usually start with one special ingredient, a sliver of an idea or even a mood, and then I explore it from different angles.”
Carving out a peaceful moment to gather your supplies – whether it’s from your garden, shared allotment or a sunny windowsill – can really help you reconnect with your surroundings too, as she explains, “Working with the natural cycles of the seasons keeps us grounded, bringing us back into our bodies and into the moment.”
Herbal practitioner and founder of Hedgerow Herbs , Dee Dade, agrees: “Making our own herbal teas gets us outside in the fresh air, with our feet on the earth.” Selecting ingredients also offers great benefits, not least the focus it requires from us in those precious moments of the process, “It involves all our senses, this in itself instantly makes us feel better…” confirms Dee. “When we pick, make, dry and drink our own herbal teas we know exactly where they’ve come from.”
Formulating your own brew can seem daunting, but it’s easier to get started than you might think. “My teas are seasonal and generally spontaneous in their making,” says Dee. “If I’m going to be at home working I grab my tea pot and take a wander around the garden, popping in whatever grabs my attention… don’t worry about how much of each, just trust your instincts and see what you enjoy.”
Dee’s teas change as a wheel of the year turns, so with Spring comes new leaf growth of nettle, young daisy flowers, violets or primroses. Summer offers up flowers such as lime blossom, calendula, rose, self-heal. Autumn, meanwhile, provides berries, hips and haws, which makes way for the roots of Winter “My favourite at the moment is rose and lime blossom… if I want a bit of zing, it would be nettle leaf and lemon balm,” she says.
Favourite recipes for Briar, meanwhile, is to pick whatever is ready on her tiny plot in the 6&B community garden in the heart of Manhattan’s East Village. “Right now, it’s anise hyssop, catnip, mints of every stripe, lemon balm, calendula and holy basil. I just let the garden guide me.”
Unlike normal recipes, exact quantities of ingredients can vary depending on what you feel you need that day. But to make the most of the flavours, it’s best to keep your blends simple. “I find quite often I am not blending any more than three herbs and definitely not more than seven,” says Dee. “Keeping it simple, for me, is the key to successful herbal teas.”
“Adding too many ingredients can result in a muddy flavour and certain delicate notes can get lost,” confirms Briar. Having a play and allowing time to experiment can make for really delicious discoveries, as she explains: “Sometimes the scent of a blend can be so different before and after brewing. Start with fewer ingredients, test and then build from there. Think of it a bit like constructing a perfume, with top, heart and base notes, melding in harmony.”
Using your curiosity, intuition and gratitude is all part of the magic, as Briar tells us: “Making your own blends allows you to customise everything according to your needs and preferences… use [the practice] to sharpen your senses: notice the scents, textures and colours of the ingredients you’re working with…” Shifting the focus to the present and paying attention to the details allows for mindful moments to keep you grounded. “Notice how each ingredient varies from season to season, from source to source,” she says. “Imagine the slight variations in soil, air, water and weather that created those differences and be grateful for it.”
Tea-blending wisdom – Expert advice from Hedgerow Herbs’ Dee
Always be 100% confident in your plant identification – if you don’t know, ask someone who does. Don’t pick the first plant you see; it might be the only one. Always pick fresh, healthy, happy plant material.
If you’re looking to dry your plant material, make sure it’s dry when you pick it otherwise you could risk it going mouldy. Then pop it in a brown paper bag and leave on a sunny windowsill. Give it a shake every day and your herbs will be dry within a week or two.
Keep dried ingredients in a glass jars or brown paper bags. These should be labelled up with the plant’s name and date it was picked, then stored in a cool, dark place.
Best tea-making secret
Enjoy the process, engage all your senses and always pop a lid on your teapot or cover your mug with a saucer –quite often all the wonderful volatile oils escape if we don’t use a teapot and just leave our mug uncovered.
About the interviewees
Dee Dade is a herb craft practitioner whose interest in herbs started out as a young girl. She is passionate about sharing this ancient wisdom and knowledge with others, helping people to reconnect with the natural world and the healing plants local to them. She runs courses and workshops across the South of the UK. Visit: www.hedgerowherbs.co.uk for more.
Briar Winters is the creator of Marble & Milkweed, an analogue beauty brand and botanical apothecary based in New York City. She has regular open studio hours where a cup of tea is always on hand for everyone who stops by. Alternatively, if you don’t live locally, you can also check out her lovely shop: www.marbleandmilkweed.com online.
Images from Dee Dade & Briar Winters.
Sarah is a freelance writer and editor based in Dorset. She is a curious person who’s passionate about people, the environment and creative adventures.