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Robyn Paterson - Grandma Marigold's mint tea - 13 November

Grandma Marigold Millar has always been a maker and a doer. She is infamous amongst her family for having once made 365 jars of preserved fruit, to ensure her husband and children had fruit every night of the year! In recent years however she has become better known for her wonderful home-grown teas.

Her granddaughter, Vic, remembers Grandma coming to live with the family. Vic would climb up into her bed and they'd watch TV together, drinking hot chocolate and eating biscuits. On hot summer days Vic would shelter in the shed, and gaze at all the drying tea leaves that Marigold had strung up on a line. Her specialty was mint tea, which the young Vic hated and wouldn't touch. But, now that she's been a grown-up for a few years, Vic has developed quite a taste for it - and Marigold delights in regularly sending her little tins of dried peppermint leaves.

Even if your only garden space is a windowsill, you can grow your own fresh herbal teas. Many of the plants that make good tea grow easily, and are pot friendly.

Mint Tea

Mint tea - peppermint in particular - is Marigold's favourite. Peppermint has all kinds of medicinal values, and has long been used as a natural soother for stomach upsets and indigestion. A hot cup of mint tea is refreshing and calming. You won't have any trouble growing mint, indoors or out. In fact it's better to keep it in pots either way because it grows like a weed in the garden, and can take over if you turn your back for a week or two. Make sure to keep it watered - particularly in the heat of summer - but don't let it get too soggy. Choose from many different kinds of mint, such as spearmint, peppermint, orange mint and chocolate mint. Several varieties (including peppermint) are hybrids, so it's rare to find true seeds. Buy seedlings, or take cuttings from friends' plants.

To make mint tea: Simply pour boiling water over the crushed, dried leaves, and allow to steep for a maximum of 10 minutes. Strain and serve, sweetening with honey if you wish. Use about 1 tsp leaves per cup of water. You can also use fresh leaves (about 1 Tbsp), but tear and crush them a little first to release the good stuff.

Drying your leaves

There are several ways of doing this. Choose the method that best suits you and your home space. Once dried, herbs can be stored for up to a year in jars or tins. 

On a line: Tie bunches of dried herbs together and hang them upside down on a line (a piece of taut string will do). Find a spot that is dark, warm and dry with good airflow.

In the oven: Spread leaves, flowers or stems onto a sheet of baking paper and place in the oven at the minimum temperature. Leave the oven door slightly open. It will take your herbs a few hours to dry, so this is not a great option for power conservation! Remove herbs when they are completely dry and leave to cool down before storing. 

In the microwave: Spread leaves, flowers or stems onto a paper towel and microwave on low for a minute. Keep doing this, checking every minute, until the herbs are nearly but not quite dry. Leave out overnight to finish off. This method is quick and easy, but may reduce the nutrient content of your tea.

In a dehydrator (if available): A fruit dehydrator will dry the leaves nicely.

With patience: Separate leaves, flowers or stems and spread onto a sheet of baking paper. Store somewhere dark, warm and dry until ready. How long this takes will depend a lot on your local climate.

Marigold says: 'Test your herbs for dryness by rubbing them between your thumb and finger. If they feel brittle and crumbly, they are ready.'