Bergamot and Yarrow tea anyone?

It is always risky to recommend a food to others if you don’t research it thoroughly, and it is even riskier these days when so many are discovering they have fallen foul of an allergy or food intolerance.

Take, for instance: herbal teas. What innocuous little things are herbal teas? Lots of big names in the tea market sell herbs blended with common teas, or mixed herbs on their own – which are generally referred to as Tisanes.

Warning about Yarrow


In a recent blog post I shared my experiment with using Yarrow as a tea. And then, investigating other herbs today, I chanced upon a Wikipedia article on the effects of Herbal Teas. For instance: if you rushed out and gathered Yarrow and made tea after reading my blog post you might well have had an allergic reaction. Unfortunately I don’t know what allergic reaction. The article doesn’t state it. But then again people also have allergic reactions to pharmaceuticals that have gone through years of testing.

When the pharmaceutical industry was first starting it used herbs as the basis of all medicines. Herbs WERE medicine; they were simply popular cures dressed up with fancy labels or containers. Later, when scientists were able to identify and extract the active ingredient that cured, the industry developed synthetic substances that mimicked the effect of these herbs. It was about then that the pharmaceutical scientists unhooked their hands from the herbalists.

Now western medicine does not trust anything that hints of herb and generally labels it as quackery. But those same scientists still go back to analysing herbs/plants for the active ingredients that appear to fix the human body.

Bergamot and cholesterol

Take Bergamot for instance: I recently chanced on a report of a double-blind test of the fruit. Testing led by the University Magna Graecia in southern Italy and published in the International Journal of Cardiology, showed that the fruit could significantly help people reduce their cholesterol without taking drugs. What better way to prolong heart life than to eat an orange a day?

So I looked up what was available in the bergamot market and came across the BergaMet Mega website,  which was offering capsules with this amazing juice dried out. The website, bless them, actually tells you the ingredients: “Each bottle contains 60 tablets which each contain 650mg of pure juice Bergamot dehydrated (entitled to 35% in composition of polyphenols) and 50 mg of ascorbic acid”. Of course, like any herbal (dare I say) medicine, there are a lot of get-out clauses and warnings.

I wonder if these warnings would be in such large print if a big pharmaceutical company had created a potion that mimicked the active ingredients in bergamot? Perhaps they have? Perhaps they’re called Statins?

So I trotted out to the fields, and,  indeed got sopping wet and muddy. The challenging part of picking citrus in the rain is that every time you pull down the fruit, you are tipping all the leaves down towards yourself, dumping all their little troughs of collected water right onto  your head.

As for me? I’m off to plant and carefully tend a Bergamot orange, if I can find one in New Zealand.

Heather Sylvawood, author of Searing Heat, a high country tale.

PS: Bergamot is thought to be a hybrid of sour orange and citron or lemon. The tress have been grown in the Mediterranean for several centuries. The tree is small to medium at maturity and thorn-less. The fruit is mostly round, with a little bit of a neck and a nipple, and they’re juicy.

Weed or herb? Yarrow makes a great tea

I have noticed that I am slow at taking up the opportunities that nature offers me in natural herbs. I think about what would be a good cure for something when the herb is no longer blooming or available. Yarrow is a perfect example.

Yarrow makes a good tea for you if you have a bad cold, according to Cynthia Wickham, author of Common Plants as Natural Remedies. Her directions are: “Take 30g dried herb to 600ml of boiling water, drunk warm in wineglassful doses”.


Luckily I do not have a severe cold, but I decided to try Yarrow herbal tea to see what it tastes like.

First, I’m pretty naff at translating measurements so I got the proportions wrong, and I was working with fresh Yarrow, so you’ll need to take my recipe and adjust it to suit.

  • 15g fresh Yarrow flower heads
  • 500 mls boiling water

YarrowTea72dpiInfuse in a teapot for 5 minutes and strain into a cup. The flavour is not strong, but very pleasant. It is slightly coloured.

Now if you are using dried flowers you would probably only need a teaspoon or so to get the same effect because the dried flowers condense down into a smaller amount.

Here’s what the tea looked like in the mug. And as I said, it did taste rather pleasant and I’m still here several hours later.



Gathering and drying

Right now in roadsides and fields Yarrow is blooming in New Zealand. In the northern hemisphere the seasons are different, so gathering the flowers will be about six months away. What I suggest is that you add a reminder to check for Yarrow about this time next year for Southern hemisphere residents and in six months for Northern hemisphere residents.

Dry the herb in a hot cupboard where your water heating cylinder is, or place on a rack over the wood burner. Don’t dry out too quickly or too near a steamy environment. Cover to keep the flowers from being contaminated by flies. Store in glass jars (preferably) but away from light. And label the contents.

What should go in your herb garden?

As part of our move toward being more eco-friendly human beings, I have convinced my partner that we need a herb garden. The final convincing argument about why we should lose lawn and gain herb garden was there was nowhere for the strawberry patch. The prospect of no strawberries was enough to make a herb-cum-strawberry garden seem bearable.

Now my next task was to decide what to put in it? Was the herb garden culinary or medicinal? Would I plant international or native plants?

I opted for medicinal – which sent me into a lot of research. Here is a sskin tonics, ummary of what I discovered:

  • Culinary herbs are often also medicinal. (e.g. sage as a deodorant or mouth wash, thyme to promote sleep, (lemon balm for headaches and tiredness)
  • Many herbs considered as weeds are extremely beneficial. (comfrey, heartsease, yarrow, nasturtium, puha and sorrel)
  • There are so many herbs and vegetables that make effective cosmetics and skin tonics. (e.g. citrus, cucumbers, onion and even strawberries)
  • A herb garden is unlikely to be tidy as you have to let some plants go to seed to harvest and others (like yarrow) are weeds most people would remove immediately. Depending on what I decide to put into the herb garden, this could be the subject of strong discussion between my partner and me.


Sage – not just for taste alone – the tea  taken regularly can reduce body odour


Heirloom Garden seeds come with hints about their medicinal uses

Seed suppliers

I started by looking for suppliers of seed. The more unusual herbs may not show up as plants in your local garden shop. One gem of a website I discovered was Carol’s Heirloom Garden.  Carol produces a wonderful array of seeds, including herbs at very reasonable prices, but she can only supply in New Zealand. She also has some eBooks on sale, including one on Seed Saving at Home. It’s on my ‘must-have’ list.

What I like about Carol’s seeds is that they come in tiny packets which have growing instructions on one side and medicinal or culinary properties on the other. Once these herbs grow into healthy plants I am going to have to decide:

  1. In what part of the herb garden will they grow on best?
  2. How can I water and cultivate them to get best results?
  3. How I will label them so that come harvest time I still remember what they are?

Maybe that’s counting my herbs before they’re grown. I’ll keep you posted.