Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Growing Your Own Tea Garden, Interview with author Jodi Helmer

Home grown tea gardens can provide not only a scenic and meditative place to sip a cup of tea, but also produce the ingredients of that tea that can assist with anything from fighting fatigue to a hangover cure.  An exciting guide to planting and harvesting those herbs and flowers that produce such ingredients - along with a little tea history, instruction and recipes -  can be found in the recently published book, "Growing Your Own Tea Garden" by Jodi Helmer. We recently met up with the author, who is also a farmer, beekeeper, educator and crafter, to talk about her new book

Tea garden: a great place to share with friends
Planting at Pemberly tea garden

But, first a little back story. A few weeks ago, Nancy Szerlag, gardening columnist for the Detroit News, wrote on the topic of "The Secrets of Tea Gardens" and featured Jodi Helmer's  book. As someone who has tried to cultivate a tea garden in our up north retreat, Pemberly Pines, for almost ten years, this caught my attention. I immediately ordered the book on Amazon, and within two days, I was reading and re-reading Growing Your Own Tea Garden from cover-to-cover.

Potted herbs among a teapot fountain at Pemberly Pines tea garden. (photo courtesy R. Durling)

Growing Your Own Tea Garden is sectioned by tea, leaves, flowers, fruit and roots and gives a description of the individual plants under each category in addition to a tea recipe for each (over fifty altogether!). It provides garden designs by theme (e.g., "sleepy time" or "tummy troubles") and best practices from preparing the soil to assessing the location.

We caught up with Jodi Helmer last week for an interview via email.

1. You have so many recipes for the teas. Where did you come up with them? Were some of these (or all) original recipes? All of the recipes in the book are original and came from a lot of experimentation in the kitchen. In the process of coming up with the recipes in the book, I tried some truly terrible combinations that were not fit to publish (or drink) and discovered that one tablespoon of fresh herbs in one mug of boiling water is a good go-to for flavorful tea.

2. I know you like black tea in the morning and herbals later in the day. Do you have a favorite tea? My go-to tea is Earl Grey. I also love orange pekoe; it’s the tea I drank with my grandmother (and the tea that is served at restaurants in Canada, where I grew up) so it’s a comforting drink that reminds me of home.

3. In your spare time, you raise bees. Do you add honey to your tea? Great question! Yes, I put honey in some of my teas (like chamomile). The sweet flavor is such a nice addition to lighter teas.

4. You've written several books including what looks to be an awesome foodies guide to Georgia and a travel book for Charlotte. In your travels, is there a special place you like to have tea, be it just small cafĂ© or fancy place for afternoon tea? I had high tea at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and it was an experience I’ll never forget: The tea was brewed to just the right temperature and it was served with scones and finger sandwiches in the most beautiful setting. It was just as I imagined high tea would be. The tea house at the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, is also amazing.

5.  You live on a farm, author books, freelance for several publications, teach classes, collect vintage needlework and craft. That's quite a lot! In all your spare time (!), what do you craft? Creative classes are my favorite: It helps me set aside time to create something in a limited time period. I’ve made a barn quilt, prayer flags, centerpiece boxes, seasonal signs, embroidered napkins, painting, book-making, birdhouses…I’ll try just about anything crafty. 

6.  Your Tea Garden book just came out this year. Can we expect another book out soon? Yes! I had another book come out this spring: Protecting Pollinators: How to Save the Creatures that Feed Our World, which looks at the threats facing bees and other pollinators and how we can reverse their decline. It was released a week before Growing Your Own Tea Garden. Thanks to strong interest in Growing Your Own Tea Garden, the publisher contracted me to write another (similar) book about growing ingredients for a range of beverages, including sodas, juices, cocktails and more tea. I’m already experimenting with recipes.  

7. Any other information you would like to share with our readers?  I hope that Growing Your Own Tea Garden inspires both tea drinkers and gardeners to try new things. You don’t need a green thumb or background in recipe development to grow edibles and brew them into flavorful teas. Experiment: See what grows well in your garden; use different herbs in your tea and have fun.

We found Growing Your Own Tea Garden, informative and inspirational.  We're looking forward to an enhanced tea garden this year as well as checking out Jodi Helmer's other fascinating books.

For more information on Growing Your Own Tea Garden and its author, check out Jodi Helmer's website at www.jodihelmer.com/.

Enhancing this year's tea garden
This year's harvest will add more deliciousness to our tea parties!

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