Liquid Pleasures from the Late Summer Garden. Part One: Keeping Cool with Lemon-Mint Sun Tea…
The dog-days of summer have arrived, and it sure is hot outside today. Gardening is hard work, and it’s easy to over-do it on a sweltering day. Digging, weeding, dividing, lifting, mulching: all physically demanding tasks. In the summer, I always protect my head and skin with a straw hat, light colored clothing to reflect the sun, and regularly applied sunscreen. When temperatures rise and the mid-day sun is strong, even these precautions aren’t enough, and it’s best to take a break in the shade. On hot days, I try to schedule my physical work for early morning and late afternoon hours. And in mid-August, I can usually be found in my office breezeway, designing gardens and researching plants for fall projects. Retreating to the lake is tempting, but I have much work to do this week. So, after hearing the forecast, (humid, with temperatures in the 90’s), I decided to make up a batch sun tea to chill in the ‘fridge for later. I know that this icy-treat will help keep me focused on my client’s designs, paper work and planning later this afternoon.
Early this morning, I gathered fresh peppermint, (Mentha piperita), and lemon balm, (Melissa officinalis), from the herb garden and mixed up a pitcher of my favorite summer-time refreshment, Lemon-Mint Sun Tea. Making sun tea with fresh herbs is one of those simple-pleasures I learned in childhood and have enjoyed every summer since. I have tried many recipes for sun tea, but this one with refreshing mint and lemon has become my favorite. Peppermint and lemon balm are easy to grow perennial herbs, (in fact peppermint can become aggressive in gardens, so be careful where you site it), and they are endlessly useful in the kitchen.
If you have never made sun-tea, you have no idea what you are missing. Give it a try! Â All you need is a sunny day, a clear glass container, (gallon-size is best), fresh water and some tea bags, (black, green or herbal all work fine). Variations on the theme are limited only by your imagination. Sun tea can be flavored with a wide variety of herbs, from lemon verbena and mint to thyme and lavender. Fresh fruit, such as oranges, limes and lemons can all be added to sun tea to enhance the flavor. I often use lemons, since I usually have them on hand and I love their flavor in tea.
To make Lemon- Mint Sun Tea, (recipe below), I crush fresh mint and lemon balm leaves and toss them into a clear pitcher with three or four sliced lemons. I like to use black tea with this recipe and I tie 5 bags from the handle of the container to dangle in the mix. Some people prefer to simply toss the bags in and fish them out later. Either method works fine. Sun tea can be made without sweetener, but I like to add a simple syrup made with honey. Pouring the boiling syrup over the crushed herbs and lemons helps to release their oils into the tea, and the fragrance is wonderful! I muddle the ingredients a bit with a wooden spoon, fill the pitcher with fresh water and set it outside on my stone terrace for a few hours in the full sun. Once the water has turned a deep honey-gold, I remove the tea bags and place the pitcher in my refrigerator for a couple of hours to chill. By mid afternoon, my tea will be ready to pour into a tall glass filled with ice, garnished with a wedge of lemon and a few sprigs of fresh mint.
Enjoy the warm weather and remember to take it a bit easy when gardening on hot days. Try and make the time to enjoy the liquid pleasures of a bountiful herb garden. Relax in the shade with a cool glass of Lemon-Mint Sun Tea.
Lemon-Mint Sun Tea
1/2 c honey
1/2 c water
3/4 c peppermint leaves, lightly crushed
1/2 c lemon balm leaves (melissa officinalis), lightly crushed
3 – 4 Â lemons, sliced
5 bags of black tea, (herbal or green are fine if you prefer)
1 gallon size clear glass pitcher and fresh water to fill
Lightly crush mint and lemon balm leaves and thinly slice three or four lemons. Toss these ingredients into an empty 1 gallon, clear glass pitcher. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 c honey and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat while stirring. Remove saucepan from heat and slowly pour the hot syrup into the pitcher, coating the herbs and lemon. Tie 5 tea bags to dangle into the pitcher, or toss the bags straight in. Slowly fill the pitcher with cold water and stir. Set the pitcher outside in the full sun for 2-4 hours, (I cover mine at the top to keep out insects). Bring the pitcher back inside and remove tea bags and chill in the fridge, (with serving glasses for a frosty experience), until cold. Fill chilled glasses with ice and pour in the sun tea. Garnish with a sprig of mint and/or lemon and serve.
Article and photographs â“’ 2010 Michaela at TGE
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