Tea house

Tea has been on my mind this week, so pop the kettle on and make yourself a brew and sit down for a tea-themed edition of Tendrils 🙂

A couple of weeks ago, James Wong was talking about growing chamomile from tea bags, which might be a fun project if you’ve got some chamomile tea handy and fancy growing your own in a container or a patch of the garden. I don’t like chamomile tea (although James says the flavour of the bought stuff doesn’t compare to homegrown, so I’ll give it a go in the spring), but I keep some on hand to use to water seedlings – its anti-fungal properties protects them from damping off disease (and also deals with the harmless outbreaks of mould on paper pots and toilet rolls that are being used to start seedlings). I have sowed the contents of a chamomile tea bag, but there are no signs of life as yet. I do have a chamomile plant outside that will suffice as a back up plan.

Conventional gardening wisdom has it that, in a kitchen garden, you should only give space to plants you intend to eat. There is no point, apparently, in growing things you don’t like. Personally I throw that advice to the wind, which is why I have two olive trees. I could class them as ornamental, I suppose, grown for the craic, but at some point I fully intend to try making olive leaf tea. Rhizowen reckons it’s so nasty that it must be super-healthy, but he grows mashua even though he doesn’t like it, so his taste is perhaps questionable 😉

Now I didn’t think there was a link between mashua and tea, but it turns out there is – you can make tea from nasturtium leaves, so it’s probably a fair bet that mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) leaves would make an almost identical tea. Whether it would be drinkable is another matter.

T&M currently have plants of Sweet tea vine (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) available. It makes an interesting and vigorous houseplant – I had to discourage mine from climbing the curtains last summer. I have never seen mine flower; it dies back periodically, looks dead and then starts back into life again. I did try making tea from its leaves once – it’s supposed to have a perky ginseng-like effect (which I didn’t notice). I should give it another go, it would be a good way to keep it under control!

I touched on cooking with tea last year, when I reviewed Steeped. It’s one of those things that I’d like to get into, but for which I haven’t yet found the time. The Guardian have encouraged readers to send in their tea recipes, and their chosen results are visible in Readers’ recipe swap: tea. There’s an exciting selection, including Chinese tea eggs, Cucumber green tea and Keemun tea mushroom risotto. Bara brith (fruit loaf) seems like the most accessible place to start, especially since it needs to be left overnight – it looks like a good weekend project, and Ryan likes fruit cake, so I will give it a go. You can also browse all of the tea recipes that were submitted for consideration. There aren’t as many involving matcha as you might expect, given its current en vogue status.

The Tea Foodie reckons that stirring dry tea into cookie mixture is one of the easiest ways to get started cooking with tea, and offers a recipe for Tea & Lemon Thumbprint Cookies that’s bound to go down well, and for which you can use any citrus-scented tea leaves. Of course, if you grow your own chamomile you can make Ruby Tandoh’s camomile vanilla cupcakes later in the year; they’d also be a good way to use up those dusty tea bags in the meantime.

Last year, NPR had a ‘Tea Tuesdays’ series, with one episode looking at how tea and sugar reshaped the British Empire, which makes for interesting reading. There’s certainly a lot of ethnobotany involved with those two plants.

And as a special treat for those of you who are coffee drinkers, here’s how to make coffee after the world ends. Enjoy your weekend everyone! I’m off for a cuppa….

And if, like me, you enjoy drinking tea in the garden then you’re going to want it looking lovely this year. Now is the time to be thinking about ornamental perennials, and SarahRaven.com is offering 15% off its selection until midnight on Sunday.