With the current interest in healthy, plant-based foods and beverages, many consumers are turning to herbal teas as an alternative to sugary beverages. But, if you’re switching to drinking tea for health reasons, you may be wondering, does herbal tea have caffeine?
I’m a huge tea drinker, but not a fan of caffeine. I’m already a morning person, so I don’t need a big jolt to get me going when I wake up. But, I do like to sit with a warm beverage every morning while I read and relax before work, and caffeine-free herbal tea has been my go-to for many years. (Specifically peppermint, if you’re curious.)
Most herbal teas don’t contain caffeine, but there are some exceptions. First, I’ll share information about herbal teas that do have caffeine, then we’ll dive into your caffeine-free alternatives, including the best ones to grow in your garden.
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What Plants Have Caffeine?
Many people drink tea specifically for the caffeine pick me up. If that’s you, then here are the teas you’ll want to seek out at your local grocery store. If you’re trying to cut down on caffeine, leave these off your shopping list.
Plants that naturally contain caffeine include:
- Guarana (Paullinia cupana, P. sorbilis), which is a common ingredient in energy drinks
- Cacao Beans (Theobroma cacao),
- Tea Leaves (Camellia sinensis),
- Kola Nut (Cola acuminata, C. nitida), often used in carbonated soft drinks (cola!)
- Yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis).
Of these, two, camellia sinesis and Yerba Mate, are delicious in teas.
Camellia Sinensis is used in White, Black and Oolong Tea. It’s an herbal shrub, and gardeners grow it in much of the United States, although it’s native to Asia.
Yerba Mate is another caffeinated herb that many tea drinkers love. The Yerba plant is native to the South American rainforest, and it was a popular drink among the indigenous people and Argentinian cowboys.
Tea drinkers brew yerba mate from the plant’s leaves, which have an earthy, sometimes bittersweet flavor. Yerba is very cold-sensitive and can’t tolerate temperatures below 40 degrees, so it’s impossible to grow outdoors in many areas.
Easy Caffeine-free Teas to Grow in Your Garden
If you’re looking for some alternatives to the above teas, here’s a list of some favorites. I’ve included information about growing them in your garden if you want to experiment with making your own home grown tea. Luckily, you can grow delicious herbs outdoors, even in fairly cold climates.
As I shared above, my morning cup of tea is most often peppermint leaves. Mint comes in many different varieties, including chocolate and lemon, and is incredibly easy to grow in almost every climate. The peppermint plant in my zone 5 garden survives the harsh winter and returns each spring.
Warning! Mint is extremely invasive. If left unattended it could take over your entire yard. After building a section of my garden, I bought a mint seedling and put it in a terracotta pot with some soil. I then sunk the pot into my herb spiral in an effort to control some of the spread. It worked, kind of, but I still have to keep my eye on the mint plant because it’s always trying to grow into other areas of the garden.
I’ve enjoyed growing lemongrass in my herb spiral periodically, although I don’t plant it every year. It doesn’t survive the winter in zone 5, so you have to replant it each spring. If you live in a very warm climate like CA or AZ, it will be a perennial and may get huge! Aside from using it for herbal tea, I’ve also frozen lemongrass to use in our favorite coconut Thai soup recipe.
Lemon balm is in the same category as mint – it’s very invasive. I recommend only planting it if you have a plan for keeping it under control. I’ve found lemon balm seedings in my garden and I’ve never planted it. I assume seeds must have blown in on the wind or been transported by birds?
Chamomile is generally considered an annual or a short-lived perennial. I have had it return after winter in my garden, but more likely, it will reseed itself and new seedlings will grow in the spring. It’s daisy-like flowers are a delicate and cheery addition to any garden and the unique taste of the tea may just help lull you to sleep after a long day of planting and harvesting.
Some Unique Herbs to Try: Pineapple Sage and Mountain Mint
Mint and lemongrass teas are delicious and easy to grow in your garden, but two herbs that are often overlooked by tea-makers include Pineapple Sage and Mountain Mint.
Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegant) is a perennial that produces red, spiky blooms in the very late summer and fall. Its red flowers serve as an important food source for migrating hummingbirds.
The plant’s pineapple-scented leaves also make very refreshing iced tea.
I mix these with lemongrass and lemon verbena to make a delightful lemon-scented tea that contains a hint of pineapple. It’s so refreshing that it’s become my favorite go-to drink in hot weather.
Peppermint and spearmint are delicious, but Mountain Mint is also delightful, and it’s native to the East Coast of the United States.
Mountain Mint grows wild, but you can also cultivate it in your garden.
Like Pineapple Sage, Mountain Mint is usually grown as a feeder plant for pollinators, but it’s also enjoyable when brewed as a tea.
Three types of edible Mountain Mints include:
Hoary Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum incanum),
Grows-3-6 feet tall and has clusters of toothed leaves and white or pale lavender flowers. It has has a very strong taste and, when it’s dried, you can use it as a seasoning for meat or stew.
Hoary Mountain Mint works well in teas but, because of its strong, astringent flavor, you might want to combine it with other herbs rather than drinking it alone.
Slender Mountain Mint ((Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)
Grow to a height of 1-3 feet tall and produces small heads of white flowers. Some gardeners prefer Slender Mountain Mint because it doesn’t spread as rapidly as other mints.
Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)
Grows 2-3 feet tall with tiny white flowers that are sometimes spotted with purple. You can use it as a garnish on many foods or brew it in tea.
A fourth type of Mountain Mint, Clustered Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum),sometimes called Short-Toothed Mountain Mint, is toxic. While it’s useful as an insect repellant, you don’t want to eat or drink it.
How to Dry Herbs for Tea
As you can see, it’s easy and fun to grow your own herbs to make tea. You’ll discover that most of these herb plants will produce much more than you can use in one season, so you’ll need to know how to dry herbs for tea.
Before you plant your herb garden, remember that most herbs grow best in well-drained soil. If you live in a wet area, you might want to consider growing in a raised bed or in a herb spiral garden bed. The plants need time to become established, but once they are, you can harvest the leaves at any point during the growing season.
My lazy way of drying herbs is to throw them in a paper bag and hang it somewhere that gets plenty of air circulation. You can also spread them out on a screen to dry in a darker area, not in direct sunlight.
Or, tie them in bundles and hang them up to look pretty in your kitchen!
If you’re impatient and want the herbs to dry within minutes, not days, you can use your oven. Spread the leaves in a single layer on a large baking sheet and place them in a 250-degree oven for about 15 or 20 minutes.
The time required to completely dry the herbs varies depending on the time of the season because young growth herbs are more moist than late season leaves.
It’s also a good idea to avoid harvesting the leaves during or immediately after rain.
When the herbs are dry, brown and slightly crispy, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool. They should be crunchy enough to easily grind with a mortar and pestle or to crumple in your hand.
Once they’re dried, if you want to make iced tea, place the dried, crushed herbs in a small pot, pour two cups of boiling water over them, and allow them to steep for about an hour.
Strain the steeped tea and add water to this concentrate until it’s reached the desired strength. Then pour the tea into the pitcher and, if you’re serving cold, refrigerate until chilled.
If you prefer hot tea and you’re making it by the cup, I usually fill a tea ball with the dried leaves and steep in my tea cup.
Remember, herbal teas can be made to taste, so don’t be afraid to experiment with the measurements and steeping time until you find what works best for you.
Can I Store My Dried Herbs?
When you’re drying herbs you want to make sure to wait until they’re very brittle and dried out before putting them into a container. They should crumble easily and not have any moisture left in the leaves.
Remove any of the stems or other parts of the plant you don’t want and put the rest in an airtight container. I dry a lot of mint, enough for the winter, so I use quart canning jars to store the dried leaves. You can also use pints, half gallons, or any other jar with a tight fitting lid.
Of course, in many hardiness zones some herbs, such as mints and lemon balm, will remain green all winter. So, there’s no need to harvest them in the fall.
Lemon Verbena and Pineapple Sage, however, will die back during the winter unless you live in a tropical climate, so be sure to collect the leaves before the first frost!
Next time you brew a cup of your favorite tea, you won’t have to wonder does herbal tea have caffeine? And if you’re like me, an early bird with plenty of energy, you can be more mindful of choosing caffeine-free herbal teas to keep you relaxed and calm throughout the day.
Additional Resources for Growing Herbs
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