ashley englishsmall measures

small measures: herbal sun teas & simple syrups

by Ashley

As a child, summer at my maternal grandmother’s house meant several things. It meant ever-so-gently, and silently, approaching the pond beside her house and then jumping out spastically so as to watch the colossal toads hiding on the banks splash into the water. It meant digging potatoes right out of the ground, crunching on her homemade bread-and-butter pickles, and picking juicy, giant blueberries from the bushes of her pick-your-own blueberry farm. And it meant sun tea. Without fail, every few days Nanny would toss a handful of Lipton or Luzianne orange pekoe tea bags into a glass gallon jar, fill it up with warm water and sugar, top it off with a screw-top lid, and set her tea to do its brewing thing in the hot southern Virginia sun.

(Peppermint and Bee Balm Sun Tea)

In honor of her efforts at quenching summertime thirst in a low-fi manner (and as a tribute to her in general, as she turns 85-!!!-in late August and is still as spry and sassy as ever!), today’s small measure celebrates sun tea and it’s companion flavor enhancer, herabl simple syrups. I’m electing to focus specifically on herbal sun teas, as the wealth of seasonal herbs currently on parade in kitchen gardens, balconies, and farmer’s markets is staggering and truly deserving of it’s own literal moment in the sun, sans caffeine (of course, if you need some fuel, feel free to toss a few bags of black or green tea in with your herbs and spices).

(Pineapple Sage & Fresh Ginger Sun Tea)

Making herbal sun tea couldn’t possibly be easier. Depending on what you’ve got on hand, or what moves you (do you like the refreshing chill of mint? the spice and heat of cardamom? the floral bouquet of lavender?), simply combine a handful of fresh herbs with water and set it out in the sun. I typically use about 1/4 c. of fresh herb per cup. So, for a half gallon of tea (which is 8 cups), use 2 cups of fresh herbs to 8 cups water, or 4 cups fresh herbs to 16 cups water for a full gallon. Place the herbs in first, top off with water (and sweetener, if using), cover with a secure lid, give the contents a good shake, and leave in full sun for 5-8 hours, depending on how intense of a flavor you wish to achieve.

CLICK HERE for the rest of the post and a great simple syrup recipe!

(Simple Rosemary Sun Tea)

A glass container is ideal, as the sun’s rays can best penetrate and warm such a vessel. Toss in citrus peel or fresh fruits, if you’re so inclined. The following list details a number of edible flowers, herbs, spices, and fruits and vegetables that would be perfect candidates for rendering into sun teas (be sure to avoid use of any plant matter that has been sprayed with a pesticide or herbicide; also, avoid consuming any matter found growing alongside busy roadways, as such plants will have accumulated a number of noxious substances in their roots and tissues):

Herbs for sun tea: Anise hyssop, apple mint, basil, calendula, chamomile, chives, dill, lemon balm (melissa), lemongrass, lemon verbena, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, sage (pineapple sage is fabulous as a sun tea!), spearmint, and thyme (especially lemon).

Flowers for sun tea: Bee balm, borage, carnations, dianthus, fennel fronds, hibiscus, hollyhock, honeysuckle flowers (steer clear of the poisonous berries), jasmine flowers, Johnny-jump-ups, lavender buds, lilac, nasturtiums, pansies, roses, scented geraniums, sunflowers, and violets.

Spices for sun tea: Allspice berries, cardamom pods, whole cloves, crystallized ginger pieces, fennel seeds, juniper berries, star anise, and vanilla bean.

Fruits and vegetables for sun tea: Citrus peel (lemon, limes, grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, tangelos, etc.), cranberries, cucumber slices, fresh berries, melon cubes, and fresh ginger slices.

(Thyme & Lemon Peel Sun Tea)

Incredibly, as I was penning this post today, I got fidgety and took a break, catching up on blog reading. In the process, I came across Willi Galloway’s recent post on the same topic! As the west coast editor of Organic Gardening magazine, Willi certainly knows a thing or two (or eight million!) about using fresh herbs. I wrote to tell her that, even though we’re blazing through summer on separate coasts, we’re clearly on the same herbal wavelength.

Straight-up herbal teas are beyond quenching in and of themselves, but if you’d like a bit of sweetness, feel free to add honey, agave, or a homemade simple syrup to your blend. Herbal and spice simple syrups are phenomenally easy to whip up and pennies cheaper then their prepared, shelf-ready cousins (not to mention considerably richer in flavor, I’ve found). Generally, for cold beverages, a 1:2 ratio of water to sugar is used, rendering a thicker syrup. If you’re intending to use the syrup for a different purpose, however, such as glazing a cake or drizzling over fresh fruit, adjust the ratio to 1:1; otherwise you’ll be working with a sturdy syrup that won’t fully penetrate whatever it’s topping.

Here’s how to make an Herbal simple syrup:

The Goods:

-1 part water

-2 parts granulated sugar

-Herbs, spices, or other flavoring agents (such as citrus peel, etc.) of choice*

*The amount of flavoring agent you’ll be using depends on how much simple syrup you’re making. A good rule of thumb is to use 1 Tbsp. dried or 1/4 c. fresh herb for each cup of water you use.

The Deal:

-Combine water and sugar in a medium-size pot.

-Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.

-Once the sugar is completely dissolved, remove pot from heat.

-Add flavoring agent(s) and stir.

-Allow to cool completely at room temperature.

-Strain off solids and store herbal simple syrup in a lidded container in the refrigerator.

-Use within 2-3 weeks.

What about you? Have any favorite sun tea infusions? Go-to herbal simple syrups? I’d love to hear about them. In the meantime, the sun’s shining and my porch railing is begging for a pitcher of sun tea to come rest on it. Happy weekending, and sun tea-imbibing, everyone! –ashley

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  • Thanks for this great post. I’ve been infusing vinegar and vodka recently. This seems like a better every day application (seeing as I’m only hitting the vodka up on the weekends!). I think I am going to try something with fennel fronds. They are so wonderfully fragrant.

    Thanks again,

  • I wouldn’t say our West Coast summer has been exactly blazing, but maybe I’ve been negligent in my sun-tea science projects. Never in a million years would have thought to make sage tea — will try it out this very weekend. Cheers!

  • I’ve been making sun tea all summer from plain old tea (liptons and tazo’s green ginger have been my go-to’s). I’m excited to branch out and try some of these infusions to put all the herbs I’ve been growing to good use.

    Hooray, btw, for the shout-out to Willi. She is so, so awesome, and so is her blog!!

  • This is great. Thanks so much. I normally just do ice black tea so i’m very excited to try this. However, a simple question for a novice. How long can you keep this after they have been sitting in the sun for 5-8 hours. Are they to be consumed on the same day or do they last a few?

  • Peppermint sun tea is my drink of choice. I drink this stuff all day long.

    I’ve also had a delicious basil vodka lemonade that’s worth mentioning. It’s super easy to make yourself.

  • mmm…i might have to try this tomorrow. what a great way to refresh after a long day of patio work. Thanks for the post! Will be trying!

  • Do you have elderflowers around? This is my Nana’y recipe: 30-40 flower umbels (is this really the right word? my dictionary says so …), 2.5kg of sugar, 3 liters of water, 50g of citric acid (or a corresponding amount of lemon juice) and 3 lemons, sliced. Throw it all into a container, keep cool for 3 days and stir once in a while. Strain, fill in (well cleaned!) plastic bottles (no glass, the syrup tends to ferment just a bit). Makes about 4.5 liters. Measure carefully and add lemon, as it is supersweet. But the amount of sugar acts as a preservative, it keeps for about a year. This is the single most delicious syrup – or beverage in general – I know :-)

  • Thanks so much for the link, Ashley! I love the idea of using spices in sun tea. I totally hadn’t thought of that. Happy weekend.

  • Can I ask why it’s necessary to use the herbal simple syrup within 3 weeks? Will it go bad?

  • The middle coast is exactly blazing. It’s been so humid that my doors no longer fit in their frames. This tea sounds so good; thanks for the idea.

  • I, too, drank sun tea that was made on our porch in Virginia while growing up. I love this post, also the shout-out to Willi. Cheers to all things lo-fi and summery.

  • We’ve had a profusion of mint this summer, so I’ve been enjoying a mint/sugar/water syrup, enhancing my regular sun tea. Delicious.

  • i’m wondering the same on the simple syrup on the ‘use by’ date…i’ve been considering doing a lavender SS but not if i have to use it so quickly so am curious what they are doing in the stores to sell us SS to preserve it a bit longer (is there a natural way…?)

    as usual, great post chica!

  • I love sun tea, my mother & grandmother used to make this, in the hot Arizona sun, we always had a pitcher cooling off in the refrigerator. I’ll have to try it with the syrup. Thank you for posting the recipe!

  • I’m from AZ as well and was raised on sun tea. Love the mint sun tea. Great post!

  • sorry for the delayed replies everyone! i’m in florida, on vacation with my family, and am only just now getting around to responding.

    carolina-once you’ve left your tea out in the sun, strain off the solids and place the beverage in a container in the fridge. sun teas can then be enjoyed anytime over the next few days, much like iced tea.

    amanda and ecogrrl (aimee!)-i’ve found that anytime longer than 3 weeks and the syrups start to “turn” and ferment a bit. if you worry you won’t use that much in that amount of time, just make half, or even one quarter, of the amount called for in the recipe. the syrups available on shelf stores have been preserved, in much the same manner as home canning, to make them impervious to oxygen. you can certainly water bath can your syrups to extend their shelf life, as well. i’d preserve them in half or pint-sized jars for 10 and 15 minutes respectively.

    elizabeth-for chamomile, i’d stick with just the flowers buds.

  • For what it’s worth, I searched for one single recorded case of a person who has died in history from sun tea, among the millions of gallons that people have consumed for decades and decades and decades, and could not find one. I found warnings, but not even a case of someone getting sick.

    Personally, I think it is actually far more dangerous to be overly cautious of bacteria, and a great deal of research supports that belief. Children who grow up in homes that are scrubbed free of bacteria have much weaker immune systems:

    Of course, how you want to make your sun tea, with or without, is a personal choice ;)

  • What a great post…and good idea..I have so many herbs growing and wasn’t sure what to do with them all! Now its time for sun tea :) Thanks Grace!

  • Sun tea is amazing and as hot as it is here in Savannah (hello heat index of 120!), this is the perfect time of year to brew it up. I love that you are doing something you remember your grandmother doing in a new way, too. Grandma knows best!

  • The “iced tea” wars! Ok, not wars, but mini battles. My folks in NJ have been making sun tea for years, though I’m not sure they can tell you why the sun part is important. I make iced tea with cold water, tea bags (of any sort I’m in the mood for) and just put it in the fridge. Then I know some folks who insist you need the hot of boiling water to extract the flavor (is that what the sun does as well?) In any event, I’m going to try these infused herbal ideas. Love them.

  • I love this idea. I can’t wait to try this with the combination of mint and lemon grass.

    For anyone interested in making simple syrup without cooking the sugar over the stove, you can use what bar-tenders use: superfine sugar- they dissolve instantly in cold water and is the simple syrup they use for making cocktails.

  • Grew up in the southwest in the 70s/80s, thus grew up on sun tea. But now we live in the Michigan where it’s not so sunny, so we make our tea on the counter or in the fridge. (My current fav is Celestial Seeasonings blueberry herbal tea.) I don’t think you actually need the sun’s rays or the heat for this to work – it’s just steeping. Maybe the heat or direct sunlight speeds it up a bit? But then again, sun tea is not a rushed product.

    I came here (from craftzine.com) hoping for some herb combo ideas – I’ve been getting lots of mint from my CSA but am not all that keen on strictly mint tea so haven’t tried it yet. Maybe this week…

    Oh, and about simple syrup in the fridge: it can get moldy after awhile. BTDT!

  • Aww! I was just thinking about sun tea! It reminds me of my childhood when my mom used to make it. Although, my family is from SoCal, so it’s not just a southern thing! Either way, I can’t wait to try it with herbs =)

  • Sun Tea! Oh my gosh….my grandma still makes sun tea on a regular basis. She sets it out on her veranda in the morning, with a couple of black tea bags and a handful of mint. No sweet stuff. She’s 89 this year. :^)

    It’s something I’ve always done too, subsequently. My opinion on the bacteria-factor: I would agree with those that state that a focus on the dangers of bacteria is more dangerous than actual bacteria. Yes, don’t leave your potato salad sitting out in the sun all day. There is a reason people don’t make Sun Potato Salad! But tea? Really? We are eating bacteria all day long, people! You are eating it right now! Anyhow, I digress….

    While on the Tea subject: Anyone tried Moon Tea? It’s delightful!

    While the energy of Sun Tea is decidedly warm, and comforting while cooling you down….Moon Tea has its own energy properties. Good for ladies. You make it the same way, with handfuls of your favourite herbs, but put your jar out under the light of the full moon. It’s cooling in another way; douses anger & makes things more clear. Try it!

    My favourite recipe: Handfuls of lemon balm, linden blossoms, and a bit of mint, with a curl of lemon under the moon for one night. Unsweetened of course. *wink*


  • this is so inspiring- i had a neighbor bring me some chamomile lavender sun tea- i loved the moontea comment by Heidi…..thanks for all the ideas!


  • i love this idea but i’m confused. are the photographs of sun tea? don’t the leaves turn brown?

  • We’ve been making “tea soda” with a Soda Stream CO2 spritzer thingyjobby. Spritzing the tea directly doesn’t work well, so I make the tea strong, knowing I’ll cut it by 1/2.) We’ve enjoyed lemon verbena/stevia, and lemon balm/orange peel/ginger.
    *Question for others who might know: has anyone tried freezing sun tea (NOT carbonated!) for use in winter? We have lots of luck with tomatoes, but haven’t herbal tea.