A Gift From The Garden; Native Groundcover Makes a Perfect Drink

Soothing and refreshing, all at the same time, a cup of tea centers me and gives a pleasant pause. The heady scent, of mint in particular, brings both comfort and focus. Sipping something warm and fragrant provides a meditative moment that can warm the body and soothe the soul.

 

satureja douglasii steep for tea

A cup of hot “tea” warms, relaxes and restores the spirit.

 

Technically a flavorful herb or leaf that is steeped in liquid is a tisane. Only the leaves of Camellia sinensis are properly referred to as “tea”.  Although I am experimenting with growing genuine tea in my garden, my current rant refers to the tisanes that can be made from plants easily grown in a low-water, California garden. It’s such a treat to step outside and snip a few leaves for brewing or to harvest more for drying and to gift to friends.

 

 

clinopodium douglasii bright and close

Yerba Buena is currently classified as Clinopodium douglasii but can also be known as Satureja or Micromeria douglasii.

 

There are many herbs and leaves that make a delicious infusion or beverage but members of the mint family are some of the best known and appreciated. Classic spearmint and peppermint, although lovely, need lots of moisture to be happy. In California, we have a versatile native plant that can be abundant in forests and chaparral and is an easy addition to pots or shady places in a garden design as well.

 

under oak canopy

In California, Yerba Buena often grows as a rambling groundcover under the shade of oaks.

 

Yerba Buena is the common name of one of my favorite tisane-making plants. Yerba Buena, or “good herb” in Spanish, can also refer to many plants in the mint family, depending on where you live. The latin name of this little plant can be somewhat confusing as well, as there are several synonyms and older names by which it is still sometimes known. So, to be clear, I am talking about Clinopodium douglasii, aka Micromeria douglasii aka Satureja douglasii, which is native to the West Coast of North America.

 

with acorns

The slender stems ramble along the carpet of oak leaves and withstand water-less summers by toughening up the little leaves and going semi-dormant.

 

In the garden; Yerba Buena is generally a well-behaved groundcover that does particularly well in the dry-shade of oak trees. It’s slender stems with small, paired leaves gently rest on the thick duff of fallen oak leaves and can wait out water-less periods for amazing amounts of time. It stays very low and sends out long runners that can root at the nodes when they have a little moisture and accommodating soil.

 

new roots on clinopodium

The stems send out roots at the leaf nodes when moisture is available. The undersides of the leaves can blush lavender, especially in low-light or water-stress.

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picking satureja

To use in the kitchen, pinch the tips to encourage side branching and the plant will be fuller as a result.

 

The plants look very nice as additions to pots where the long runners can cascade down the sides. Dry periods tend to make the leaves a little darker and sparse, but quite fragrant, while more moisture or tip pruning keeps them brighter and fuller and generally more lush-looking.

 

yerba buena in red pot

Long strands of paired leaves cascade down a complimentary glazed pot.

 

In the kitchen. Yerba Buena can be used the way you would use any mint. But I think the best way to appreciate it’s bright citrus-woodsy mint flavor is a simple infusion. Snip some leaves and gently rinse them in cool water, then simply add to a cup and pour good, heated water over the leaves, steep for 1-2 minutes and drink the result. You can brew the drink in a tea pot or glass jar as well. For extra flavor the leaves can be bruised or lightly crushed to release extra amounts of the fragrant oil. The resulting beverage is delicious plain or sweetened, hot or iced.

 

yerba buena tea cup

For a delicious drink, steep the leaves of yerba buena in hot water for a couple of minutes. Sweeten if desired.

 

If you’re ready for something with an extra kick, use Yerba Buena as the mint component for a mint julep. Yes, that classic drink is generally used to cool down in a hot southern summer but for a wintry day serve the whole thing warm and think of it as a Cali-Julep or “January Julep”…talk about soothing…

 

yerba buena julip

Create a Cali version of the South’s Julep, using Yerba Buena instead of regular mint. To really up the terroir, use a locally made spirit. I love the Reserve Brandy made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, by Napa Valley Distillery.

 

If you want to store it or gift it, let the leaves of Yerba Buena air dry, with or without the stems. Then use the dried leaves whole or crushed as you would fresh, or choose a beautiful container to give as a gift. The slender but sturdy stems have a good consistency for tying or knotting, so you can embellish or wrap the container with a strand of the plant itself.

 

tie a yerba gift

The slender stems are the perfect texture to tie into embellishments. Wrap a container for a gift of yerba buena with a strand of yerba buena.

 

More inspiration; Judith Larner Lowry notes in her book “California Foraging”, that “Spanish senoritas in Old California used to drape the hems of their ball gowns with swags of Yerba Buena..” to create a lovely fragrance for an evening of dancing. What a delightful image.

 

Yerba buena bracelet

Tales of the uses for Yerba Buena in Old California create inspiration for using the slender, flexible stems.

 

This got me thinking that the flexible stems might make a nice, but temporary, bracelet. Wrap a wrist with a single strand or add to a stack of bangles, they will give off their scent as they lightly bruise against the wrist. Make them for little take home favors at your next tea party, they can make sweet little sachets as well. Either way, enjoy the gentle release of that refreshing fragrance, with the dancing being optional.

 

making native bracelet

Tie the stems with twine, ribbon or slender wire to create rings, wraps and bracelets.

 

yerba bracelet

Make a yerba buena bracelet to release it’s fragrance as it gently bruises against a wrist.

 

Yerba Buena; Grow it, use it, share it, gift it.

 

 

yerba all landscape

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Categories: Native Plants, Things to Grow

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