8 Things You Should Know About Tea

liptonBy Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

I learned about tea as a young child, My lessons weren’t sophisticated, but they were an essential part of my mixed-European (and English) heritage.  If a car crunched onto our gravel driveway, mom fired the tea kettle before they unlatched a car door. Tea meant friendship.

By the time I was five years old strong tea made opaque brown with milk and sugar was the definition of comfort. Replace milk and sugar with whisky and honey and it was Mom’s medicine for a hacking cough. Over ice with lemon and the pool was open.

In college I traded my Lipton brand loyalty for herbal blends sipped with clove cigarettes while discussing whether mankind is inherently good or evil. Or nothing at all.

With today’s global culture, my tea consciousness is expanding. And, fortunately, as the prices go up for the best of this treasured herb I’m learning to treat it right.ruhani

Read on for eight tips from Ruhani Sandhu, a young woman from India whose tea romance started at engineering school in the United States. Ruhani’s Chinese roommate took her to tea ceremonies across New York. By the time she moved back to India, she was dreaming about tea. Ruhani  owns Rangsaa Tea and blogs at Love For Tea.

  1. First Things First: The first tea out of the pot is the weakest in flavour. It is thus advisable to start by pouring a little into each of the tea cups and then topping them up. This will ensure each cup is consistent in strength and will boost the tea drinking experience for everyone.
  2. Make it Big: The larger leaf teas require more time to brew as compared to small ones. That’s because the bigger surface area takes longer for the hot water to extract the contents. So use large leaves when you have time to relax, take it slow and soak in the goodness of tea.
  3. Avoid Hard Water: The best water for brewing tea is ‘soft’ water, which is also low on calcium. Soft water does a better job of bringing out the aromas and flavors of the tea.
  4. Tippy Teas are Healthy: Drink tippy teas that are abundant in ‘silver tips’ or ‘golden tips’. These teas have a higher concentration of vitamins, minerals and, thus, flavour
  5. rangsaa-2Steep it Up: Re-steep your tea. Using a succession of short steeps helps bring the most out of your tea. With time, you will get the art of steeping right, adding more character to your cup.
  6. Have it Fresh: Always drink freshly brewed tea. When it stands for some time, tea loses its aroma and the oxygen in the air changes its taste and colors.
  7. Reusing is Key: Don’t rush to throw away used tea leaves. Use them as fertilizer and instead discard them on to your pots and in the garden, as they help the plants grow faster. The wonders of tea don’t stop at brewing.
  8. Variety is the Spice: The main categories of tastes when it comes to our senses is sweet, bitter, salty and umami. Tea is a lovely combination drawing on the first three with a variety of aromas. It is this amalgamation that gives tea its wide appeal, offering something for everyone.

Rangsaa Tea is Ruhani’s signature tea brand. Love for Tea aims at making a difference by educating people about tea, how it’s good for us, and connecting with the vast tea community globally. 


Baby It’s Cold Outside …

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Did you bring herbs into your house for winter? How do they look? It may be discouraging if you’re in Northeast Ohio like I am. But, leggy or slowly fading herbs aren’t your fault.  And, there may be hope. Operative word: “May.”

The indoor herb garden requires extra effort in colder climates, according to Karen Kennedy, education coordinator for The Herb Society of America. By extra effort, she means supplemental light and attentive watering.

Briscoe White, co-founder and head grower at The Growers Exchange, an all-natural, online garden center that specializes in rare and traditional herb plants for culinary, aromatic and medicinal use, says,   “Most herbs require six to eight hours of sunlight per day. We recommend an unobstructed, southwest or east-facing window.”

And, that’s more likely in areas further south.  In growing zones six and seven, winter sunshine can be elusive. In fact, if sun powers the plant’s energy production, imagine reducing that power 78 percent, from nine hours per day in July to roughly two hours per day in January. Not only do days get shorter in Northeast Ohio, actual sun siting dwindles.  Less sunlight means reduced photosynthesis and sun-loving herb plants starve.

rosemary-winterSo, what might look like success in October and November, could fail in January and February. That’s fine, if you have Kennedy’s expectations. “My goal is to keep some herbs alive through the holidays, when I use it most,” she says of rosemary.

Post-holiday success is when modern light sources become important. That’s because traditional incandescent lighting is too hot and lacks the blue rays that plants need to move electrons and produce their own food. Grow lights, most often fluorescent, can supply the right waves.  But, even then the precious light must be within inches of the green, and so the bulbs must be elevated gradually as the plant grows taller.

Over the years I’ve found that bay trees are the most likely herb to survive a Northeast Ohio winter indoors without a grow light, while basil, a hot weather annual, is least likely. Still, with careful coaxing by grow light, Kennedy has nurtured enough basil for a caprese salad in February.

Skeptical of the effort, White suggests buying this gift of summer from a grocer during the snowy, cold winter days. And, Kennedy says it’s unlikely to take root in a pot from the living plug sold at the store. So, keep your expectations low if you decide to try.

White offers tips to help your indoor herb garden succeed

  1. Find a permanent location, somewhere away from hustle and bustle of socializing, kids, and pets. Moving plants often can unsettle their soil and root structure, and weaken them.

  2. Locate away from cold drafts or hot air vents. Avoid dry air by either misting plants regularly or by filling the drainage tray with pebbles and adding water.

  3. Move plants into a brighter window if top growth gets leggy and thin. If you can’t, then pinch the ends to encourage bushier growth.

  4. Turn herb plants regularly so that all sides are evenly exposed to light.

  5. Clean tops and bottoms of leaves with a damp cloth to remove unwanted dust buildup or insect eggs that may hinder health.

  6. Remove pests with a mild soap solution. For a difficult infestation, try an all-natural pesticide or fungicide.

  7. Water with a weak but regular application of soluble fertilizer, but not if dormant. Too much fertilizer will decrease oil production. That means less flavor and aroma.

Don’t restrict yourself to nurturing last year’s plants to keep summer alive throughout the year. You can treat yourself to a pot from the Grower’s Exchange and enjoy it while it lasts. Many herbs can be started indoors in winter and transplanted outdoors in spring. Get seed catalogs and start dreaming.

Visit HSA Garden Shop for Holiday Deals


By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

shop-notecards-anne-dowden-lg-2Again this year, The Herb Society of America is offering “The 12 Days of Christmas Countdown-to-Savings”, a sale offering daily great deals on herb-themed and HSA branded items from our online Garden Shop! Beginning at 9 a.m. EST from December 1 to December 12, these once-a-year discounts will be offered on one featured item each day at our HSA Garden Shop.

The daily special price for each item will expire at midnight, so keep checking back and happy shopping! These herb-inspired items make great holiday gifts for yourself and others.

Get started with Thursday’s deal: a box set of herb-themed Notecards marked down 33 percent! Adapted from the work  of botanical artist Anne Ophelia Dowden (1907–2007), images on these 20 museum-quality note cards are themed fragrant, cooking, dyers and medicinal. The herbs pictured are listed on the back of the card. Cards are printed on eco-friendly paper with soy-based inks.

The New York Times says:

Ms. Dowden was recognized for the anatomical accuracy and beauty of her paintings. She worked mainly in watercolor, producing elegantly detailed images of flowers, insects, herbs and birds. She used only living specimens for models and kept extensive collections of preserved flowers and insects as reference material.

sprout-pencilConsider gifting the notecards with a collection of sprout colored pencils which can be planted when finished. Find these and more in the Garden Shop. Visit daily through December 12 for a deal.

Limited Edition Herb Chocolates Selling Fast


chocolatesBy Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Beth O’Neil-Mansfield, owner of O’Neil’s in Cleveland, has created a limited-edition collection of herbal chocolates for the 2016 Holiday Season. The eight-piece box of handmade artisan candies includes ..

  • Pink Peppercorn Rose Raspberry
    Raspberry Rose Ganache infused with peppercorns and dipped in white chocolate

  • Hot Honey
    Habanera Pepper in semisweet chocolate with orange blossom honey
  • Pistachio Cinnamon
    Layer of Ceylon Cinnamon over pistachio praline, dipped in dark chocolate
  • Cardamom Lime
    White chocolate infused with cardamom with a lime garnish
  • Pomegranate Mint
    Coriander-semisweet chocolate ganache infused with mint and coriander
  • Earl Grey
    Earl Grey tea infused in semisweet chocolate
  • Lavender Caramel
    Heart-shaped dark chocolate with lavender infused caramel 
  • Indigo
    Masala in milk chocolate ganache with toasted coconut garnish

 Get yours for $24, plus shipping and handling, at the Garden Shop

Beth comes by her inspirations for these carefully sculpted chocolates like a true artist. “You start looking around at what your ingredients area, what inspires you,” she says. “You look at what would make a delicious chocolate, what would go well with a particular herb.”

She then asks herself which chocolate – dark, milk white. She considers combinations both classic and new. Then, she thinks about the finished product.

“I think about what the finished product would look like,” she says. “Would it be dipped or molded? Would I use an edible transfer or handpaint it?”

Only then does Beth make a classic ganache with cream, butter and a high quality Belgian chocolate.  Herbs are always infused in cream; spices will be infused, but sometimes also added at the finish to deepen the strength of the flavor, as in the Acorn which is Ceylon Cinnamon, a very delicate flavor.

“I use fresh herbs whenever possible,” she says. “I have two bunches of sage and a bunch of thyme on the counter. I have a bunch of rosemary and another of mint in the refrigerator. I buy them at the local farmer’s market. The things I can’t get that way I get from a local supplier, and as a last resort, from a company in California.”

After making the ganache, her challenge becomes shape and coating. “I create each piece to reflect what’s inside,” she says. For example, Pink Peppercorn Rose Raspberry has bits of Pink Peppercorns for crunch on top, and the Hot Honey (really not that hot, by the way) has a red hot button on top of a stylized bee hive.”

Not just anyone can get the herb collection. Beth created this exclusively for members and friends of The Herb Society of America. You can find these and other chocolates at OneilsChocolate.com. She is also on Facebook and Instagram.




Support Herb Society Teacher Grant on #GivingTuesday

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

giving-tuesdayWho do you support with donations of time and money? Health issues? Education? Church? Literacy? The Arts? Public radio/television? I choose activities that involve my children and the environment. And, of course, The Herb Society of America.

One year, I was so busy, I found myself donating to the Ohio Environmental Council over the phone by credit card at 3 p.m.  New Year’s Eve. With the creation of #GivingTuesday I’m reminded to take care of charity business a bit earlier in the year.

Founded in 2012 #Giving Tuesday is celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.). It comes after Black Friday and Cyber Monday and kicks off the year-end charitable season.

The Herb Society of America is participating in #GivingTuesday, November 29, 2016. “We support The Samull Classroom Herb Garden Program,” says Katrinka Morgan, executive director. “This year we’re inviting HSA members, family and friends to help us with that outreach.”

Donald Samull was an elementary school teacher who used herbs in his classroom to teach math, science, English, and social studies.  Through a gift from his estate, The Herb Society of America established The Samull Classroom Herb Garden Grant. Annually, ten schools receive $200 in “seed” money to start gardens at their school and share a variety of lessons. Collaboration, sustainability, and outcomes are encouraged in the grant applications.

kidsgardeningInterest in the grant has grown dramatically. In 2010, the first year of the Samull Grant, the Society received three applications. In 2016, more than 200 applications arrived from school in almost every state. Over the past six years, the Samull grant has been awarded to 40-plus schools.

Your donations to Samull Grant support classrooms like Christine’s. She received the Samull Classroom Herb Garden Grant in 2012-13. “Mr. Samull was my teacher in the third grade and the reason I became a teacher. I use herbs in my classroom because of what he taught me. He influenced my life just as I hope to influence the lives of my students.”

Donate here.

Herb Society Overhauls Website

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

When Internet Service Providers finally found speed in the 1990s, I spent plenty of time surfing the web for information. In fact, websites replaced sitcoms for me.  I immersed myself in information. Then, overwhelmed, I cut the cord. I use the web now to find information as needed.  It’s like a library at my fingertips.

website-brentThe Herb Society of America’s new, improved website is taking me back in time. I can’t stop surfing the information-rich pages. It’s encyclopedic in breadth and comprehensive in depth.  And, the public thinks so too.

“We’ve gotten a MAJOR increase in visitors to our site,” says editor Brent DeWitt, who led the task of updating and improving the website. The changes to the old site proved so substantial that it required rebuilding the site from the ground up to take advantage of new internet capabilities and to better display HSA’s robust content.

Brent worked with the executive director Katrinka Morgan and the website committee – headed by Rie Sluder – in partnership Meg Higgins at Firespring.org, the website developers who built the architecture of the site.

“We have 200-plus pages contain news, trends, plant quick facts, downloadable webinars, searchable recipes, research and member-only content,” says Brent. “and content is growing every day.”

“We’ve had 30 percent more exposure general searches (like Googling),” says Brent.  “We’ve had interest rise 1000 percent for grant and scholarship opportunities. And recipes viewers have grown 265 percent.”

“People are finding our new site and staying for the information,” he says. “We’re proud of the final product and hope viewers find it useful.”

A click on the first tab – LEARN – addresses readers most frequent and basic questions.

  1. What is an herb?
  2. Herb gardening basics
  3. 10 favorite herbs
  4. HSA plant profile fact sheets
  5. HSA plants in depth guides
  6. Recipes
  7. Herbal wellness
  8. Sustainable gardening practices
  9. Herb cutting guide
  10. Composting


Herbs Build Skin Care Products

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

facial-cream-dd-1-sqr-fbMary Wank had had enough. At 45. she still had the skin of a teenager. And, that wasn’t a good thing. It meant acne and skin issues.

“I just couldn’t purchase another personal care product or take another prescription medication that promised me a solution only to disappoint,” she says. “I began to realize that the root cause of my problems had to be coming from the foods I was consuming, and that the topical products were just aggravating the condition. Her search for a skin care solution led her to a building a business Natural Skincare Revival. “The best part of this business is providing real solutions for problem skin that are formulated with botanical ingredients and raising awareness on the health issues associated with skin disorders,” she says.

Her palette for creating Goat’s Milk Soaps, shampoo cleansing bars and conditioners, facial cleansing, toning and moisturizing products, deodorants, and specialty creams, lotions and body butters, includes oils, extracts and hydrosols. Hydrosols — floral waters or distillates– are products from steam distilling plant materials.  They are like essential oils but less of a concentration.

rosemary-mint-soap“My favorite ingredient is a carrier oil called Jojoba.  Jojoba is a mild oil that mimics the sebum that we produce so it penetrates fast and mixes with the sebum to hydrate and keep the skin moist,” she explains. “Because it penetrates deep into the skin, I like to infuse it with a variety of dried herb combinations that bring additional benefits to whatever product I am formulating.”

Herbs are, of course, the stars. “Each herb has a host of benefits for the skin.  Plant
products interact with our bodies, influencing the whole system with their chemical components.  The benefit of using botanicals in natural skin care is that you derive the healing benefit of each individual plant,” she says.

“As a formulator, it is important to understand how beneficial the plant will be for each specific skin type and/or skin disorder. Personal care products that are formulated with herbal oils, extracts and hydrosols are effective and gentle to the skin, scalp and hair.  Moisturizing products made with botanical ingredients absorb quickly, repair, heal and protect.  Likewise, personal cleansing and toning products soothe, refine or reduce pore size so that bacterial can’t get in.  They reduce redness, brighten and tone skin, restoring the natural pH balance, and nourish it.”

Among the most common herbs she works with are chamomile, lavender, rosemary, calendula and mint.

You can find Mary’s products at www.naturalskinrevival.com.  Sign up for her newsletter to receive weekly announcements and promotions.  And, like Natural Skin Revival on Facebook or Instagram for daily access to natural skin care information.