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.
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).
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:
-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.
-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