While herbal brews are not real tea unless you have Camellia sinensis mixed in, herbs do contain nutrients. When you boil them or steep them in hot water, some of those nutrients (flavor and aroma too!) get transferred to the water.
Herbs as medicine and health supplement has a long history
Easy to say but hard to prove so why don’t I just provide a reading list and you be the judge of just how important we should treat herbal medicine today.
- The Engines of Hippocrates: From the Dawn of Medicine to Medical and Pharmaceutical Informatics
- The value of plants used in traditional medicine for drug discovery
- Discovery and resupply of pharmacologically active plant-derived natural products: A review
- WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy: 2014-2023 (downloadable file)
- WHO global report on traditional and complementary medicine 2019
Personally, in some instances, I prefer herbal brews over medicine from pharmaceutical companies. For cough, especially, I take ginger brew for relief and lagundi brew to get rid of phlegm.
All other herbal brews I made at home, I consume for flavor. Hot or cold, and with or without real tea. Whatever health benefits I derive from them are incidental.
Know the specific nutrients that each herb contains
The rise in popularity of herbal brews goes side by side with shady marketing. It’s bad enough that they are referred to as herbal teas even when they do not contain Camellia sinensis. It’s even worse when marketers claim that they are cure-alls for just about any ailment especially for cancer.
If you want to drink herbal brews to reap health benefits, there are three things to remember:
- The nutrients of herbs vary. What you will get from moringa (malunggay), for instance, is vastly different from what you will get from lemongrass. It is worth reading up on the characteristics of herbs.
- There are plenty of fake products in the market and it is not always easy to tell which is genuine and which is fake. This is especially true herbal “teas” packed in teabags. You don’t know what’s in it at all. So, be wary. Beware of the false tenets of paraherbalism.
- Drinking herbal brew is not the only way to ingest nutrients from herbs. You can always add them to your food.
Why it is best to plant and harvest your own herbs for making herbal brews
It’s really a case of knowing what exactly you’re brewing. It’s so easy to grow some plants popularly used for making herbal brews. These are what we have tried at home.
When you buy lemongrass from the market, the stalks are whole with or without the roots still attached.
Here’s how to replant and reproduce lemongrass at home.
If your store-bought lemongrass has no roots
Cut off the tops of the leaving only about six inches of the lower portion of the stalks. Soak the trimmed stalks in a jar of water so that the lower half is submerged. Keep the jar where it gets plenty of sunlight and wait for a few days for roots to grow.
If the lemongrass you bought has roots
Simply cut off the top portion of the stalks and plant directly on soil.
Plant directly on well-draining soil in a part of the garden that gets plenty of sunshine. Water once a day.
If you’re have several stalks, plant them at least six inches apart. Lemongrass is a grass. The replanted lemongrass will grow the way grass grows. Horizontally and vertically. The dark green portion of the stalks will regrow and new stalks will sprout around the original plant.
This, we discovered accidentally. There were some unknown plants growing in the garden, I thought they were weeds and I started pulling them out. To my surprise, out of the soil came a large piece of ginger.
See, sometimes, we throw vegetable trimmings directly on the soil. Natural fertilizer. Apparently, in one of those times, a knob of ginger got thrown out along with the skin. And it just grew. Here’s the non-accidental version.
Buy a large piece of ginger. The freshest you can find with smooth skin and no withered portions. Cut the ginger into two to three-inch knobs and plant directly in well-draining soil, in a sunny spot of the garden, about an inch deep and about six inches apart (or you can grow them in pots). Water the ginger once a day.
You’ll know that the ginger is growing when leaves sprout. Wait a few months to allow the ginger to gain volume. Depending on the temperature and humidity in your area, this can take anywhere from six months to a year.
Below, a video about growing ginger that I found on Youtube. No fluff and really instructional.
To harvest the ginger, simply grab the leaves and pull off the soil. To keep a steady supply, for every piece of ginger you harvest, cut off a portion and replant.
Just so it’s clear: we’ve never tried growing mint from seeds. We start with seedlings bought from plant / garden shops and propagate the seedlings.
Once we have our mint seedlings, we move them to pots or troughs.
Why not plant them directly into the soil? The roots of the mint grow and spread so much, invasive like weeds, that they can deprive nearby plants of water and soil nutrients. That was the first mistake we made when we planted mint back in the old house. We planted the mint seedlings directly into the soil next to the dill, and the mint eventually killed the dill. We wouldn’t understand why until much later but, by then, it was too late.
Still, if you want to go the direct-to-the-soil route, there is a way to protect the other plants growing nearby. Plant the mint in a pot, a strong one that won’t break, and plant the pot into the soil. The container will prevent the mint’s roots from growing horizontally, thereby protecting your other plants.
Mint likes water and the sun
When I say that mint likes water, I don’t mean keep them wet all the time. They like a moist soil but they also like the sun. Not direct sunlight all day but direct sunlight a few hours a day and a shady but still bright spot the rest of the time.
When and how to harvest mint
Personally, I prefer to wait until the main stem looks sturdy before harvesting. Height is really irrelevant because some mint plants are squat little things that don’t grow tall too much. So, I prefer to look at the main stem to see how fat it has grown. The fatter it is, the sturdier the plant and, ergo, the more mature and ready for harvesting. Harvesting can mean just picking the leaves (like I often do) or, if you need whole sprigs, cut the stems about two inches from the soil.
Pinch off the flowers for a more bountiful harvest
When the mint starts to flower, leaves will stop growing on top of the stems that has flowers. Since you want the mint leaves and not the flowers, pinch off the flowers to encourage the plant to grow more branches and leaves.
How to grow more mint from a single plant
When your mint is mature enough for harvesting, it is mature enough to be considered a “mother plant” from which you can take cuttings that you can grow into new plants. Yes, just like basil. Don’t just pull and pinch because you may uproot the darn mother plant. Cut instead. Use sharp shears to cut off stems about two inches from the soil.
There are three ways to grow the new cuttings:
1. In a jar or bottle of water. Just drop the cuttings in water making sure that the leaves are above the water. Otherwise, the leaves might rot and damage the stems. It is actually a good idea to cut off the leaves except the topmost ones. Leaving a few will make it easier to tell if the cuttings are in fact growing or if they have died. Place the jar or bottle in a bright area but away from direct sunlight. Replace the water every other day. Roots should start growing in about a week. When the roots are more than 1/4 inch long, you can transplant your new mint to a container with soil.
2. Planting directly in soil — in a container, of course. Bore a small hole into the soil, drop the cutting in making sure that a considerable portion of the stem is embedded in soil. Then lightly push the soil down to secure the cutting.
3. The third method using cocopeat, we have never tried but you can check out Geekgardener for more details.
Is it possible to grow mint indoors?
Some say it is possible so long as the pot is placed on a sunny window.
Updated from posts originally published in May 10, 2014, Ocotber 15, 2009, July 18, 2008 and November 18, 2018.