4 Lesser Known Drinking Herbs to Grow in Your Garden + How to Use Them

A cup of chamomile, peppermint or rose hip tea is a popular and relaxing way to drink herbs. But there are many other edible herbs you can enjoy in a glass. Read on to discover how you can drink these lesser-known herbs in lots of delicious ways.

Borage photo via Zenia /Flickr Creative Commons

1. Borage

Borage (Borago officinalis) is a pretty, self-seeding annual with gorgeous star-like flowers that are edible. This easy-to-grow plant is best started from seeds sown directly in the garden, because borage has a long tap root that makes it hard to transplant. Bees particularly love to flock to borage’s blue-purple flowers.

In earlier times, old herbalists recommended borage to fight against melancholy and give one courage. Today, the flowers' faint cucumber taste adds a nice touch to herbal teas, mineral water and homemade wines. Consider freezing a few borage flowers in ice cube trays to add a pretty touch to punches and sparkling drinks.

Elder flowers can be enjoyed in teas, wines and syrups.

Sambucus nigra photo via douneika /Flickr Creative Commons

2. Elder

Elder (Sambucus nigra) can be grown as an attractive shrub or tree, reaching 20 feet tall. This perennial likes a moist, well-drained soil and prefers sun and partial shade in the garden. (Zones 5 to 7.)

Elder benefits from a hard pruning in the spring, which helps it maintain a manageable size. There are a number of popular varieties, including 'Black Lace,' which is smaller in size and has pink flowers and black foliage.

For centuries, elder has been popular in folklore, and country folk were scared to chop one down for bad luck. The perennial was said to keep away evil influences in earlier times, especially witches.

The elder tree’s creamy white blossoms in summer, and the blue berries that follow, have long been concocted into wines and teas, which were often drank to fight colds and flu. On a cold night, heat elderberry wine gently with orange slices, a bit of sugar and spices. Always cook elder berries before eating them.

See recipes for  elder syrup and elder fritters .

Violets photo via Dendroica cerulea /Flickr Creative Commons

3. Violet

In early spring, the sweet-scented deep purple flowers begin to bloom over the heart-shaped leaves of violets (Viola odorata). Violets like partial sun in warmer climates, and full sun in cooler, coastal locales. The dainty-looking perennials are ideal for woodland gardens, and multiple quickly in good growing conditions. (Zones 3 to 9.)

Since ancient times, violets were used for culinary, cosmetic and medicinal uses. Violets were particularly popular in Victorian England, where violet syrups were given to young children.

You can make a tea with a couple teaspoons of dried violet petals to 2 cups of boiling water. Infuse for 5 minutes, and sweeten with honey.

Violet flowers can be easily frozen in ice cube trays, similar to borage, and is often candied for desserts.

Sweet woodruff photo via Milesizz /Flickr Creative Commons

4. Sweet woodruff

You’ll find sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) growing in moist, shady places in the garden. The perennial is hardy in Zones 4 to 8.

Pretty white flowers appear in the spring, and as the herb dries, the foliage smells like hay. For that reason, fragrant sweet woodruff was kept among the linens in the Middle Ages.

To drink this herb, try brewing dried woodruff leaves in boiled water to prepare a delicious and calming herbal tea. In Germany, May Wine is prepared by steeping woodruff flowers and leaves in white wine and sipping the drink around May Day.

Here is an easy recipe for May Wine with Sweet Woodruff flowers to enjoy this year.

A note on drinking herbs

Use caution when drinking or eating unfamiliar herbs. Always know exactly what you’re ingesting, and never use plants that have been sprayed with pesticides or chemicals. And when you are wild-harvesting plants, always ask for permission before picking them.

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April 16, 2015
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4 Lesser Known Drinking Herbs to Grow in Your Garden + How to Use Them