Thursday, August 17, 2006

Clip: Herbs on Ice

Here's an example of what I do all day...

Column, plant photos, illustration and page design by me. I know you can't really read it, but non-southerners might notice that my deck uses the terms "sweet and unsweet." In the South, the servers will ask you if you'd like sweet or unsweet tea. Sweet is reeeeally sweet. Unsweet is just normal iced tea. Anyway. The column is about herbal teas I enjoyed in Taiwan and my inspiration to make infusions out different herbs from my container garden.

Here's the text of the story:
Herbs on ice
Botanical blends take summer teas beyond sweet and unsweet

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 1:15 PM CDT


“If it moves, they’ll eat it.”

So goes the joke about the Chinese and their thrill-seeking approach to food. I’d like to expand the proverb with “If it grows, they’ll drink it.” Where else but Asia can one find 7-Elevens on every street corner, stocked wall-to-wall with things like winter melon juice or peanut milk or rosebud tea?

When my husband and I lived in Taiwan, it was always fun to snag some of these liquid wonders as souvenirs for my husband’s dad, who got a kick out of drinking “something different.” He still talks about the asparagus juice.

Convenience stores weren’t the only places to find unusual thirst quenchers. While I lived in Taiwan, I grew accustomed to an afternoon “tea break” — an unofficial but regularly observed trip with my co-workers to the tiny tea stand around the corner from our office. The stand was about the size of a closet. Yet it was able to produce over 100 flavors of tea — some herbal, some fruity and some floral. Some came equipped with oversized straws to accommodate chewy tapioca balls or gummy gelatin or chunks of fruit. The tea could also be sweetened or plain, with milk or without, hot or icy. Whatever the concoction, it was only about 60 cents.

I bid my days of gulping fresh aloe tea goodbye when I moved back to the U.S. In the South, the most popular teas are “sweet” or unsweet.” But I see a world of potable possibilities growing around me.

My father-in-law is also an adventurous gardener. The small backyard patch he started about a decade ago has grown each year to make room for another variety of squash or cultivar of thyme. Spring through autumn, my mother-in-law is ever faithful to weave his wares into her home-cooked meals.

The first summer after we moved back to the U.S., she had prepared a pot of fresh peppermint tea from the abundance of the garden. Though mint has always been my herbal teabag of choice, I was stunned by the superior strength and smoothness of the fresh infusion.

This summer, I decided to grow a few of my own herbs to have on hand for that next beverage break craving. My “tea stand” is open for business, and always open to new flavor suggestions.

3 recipes for tea Time

Iced Vanilla Mint Tea

Though I think peppermint is perfect by itself, my father-in-law has discovered an even more indulgent partnership of flavors, adding creamy vanilla to the crisp tea. To make it, drop 1/4 cup fresh peppermint leaves into 2 quarts of boiling water.

Turn off heat and cover.

Let leaves steep for a few minutes or several, depending on desired strength of tea. Remove leaves and chill. Before serving, add 2 drops of vanilla extract to each cup.

Lavender Milk Tea

Lavender has been used in European cooking for centuries, but my first sip of this perfumy herb was in Taiwan. To try this fragrant treat, fill a tea ball with 1 teaspoon of dried lavender buds. Common or English lavender lavandula angustifolia has a better taste than lavandula stoechas, also called French or Spanish lavender.

Submerge the buds in 1 cup of boiling water. Stir in 3 tablespoons milk or soymilk, and add sugar to taste.

Lavender tea is a unique treat served hot or chilled.

Lemon Thyme Tea

My mother-in-law and I knew thyme spiced up mild fish fillets, but we were curious whether it could make a good tea. The result was intense and tangy. Coil one sprig of fresh lemon thyme into a tea ball and let it steep in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Add a teaspoon of honey, if desired.

According to herbalists, this invigorating infusion can help clear respiratory congestion and soothe indigestion. It also makes a nice afternoon pick-me-up.

Emily Parrino is a New Era copy editor. She can be reached at 887-3298 or Her column runs once a month.


Rachel said...


very cool.

I love bragging to everyone that you're a real newspaper journalist. :)

Emily said...

I like you Rachel, always on-line, always putting up new posts and comments and always a wonderful morale-booster :-)