tea plants

All the tea in china, at home

Lady Bonin, renowned tea expert, gives us some insight into her world

Tea has been my obsessive passion for the past decade. The first thing I learned is that the word ‘tea’ refers to one plant alone: Camellia sinensis. Anything that is not from this plant is not actually tea, even if most of us refer to all sorts by this name. All other ‘hot-leaf juice’ is what we refer to in the industry as a ‘tisane’ or herbal infusion. Many herbal infusions come from a merging of cultures where different plants were added to Camellia sinensis when it was traded during the days of the Silk Road. In Morocco, for example, fresh mint leaves were added to green tea as a way to offset its harsh bitterness. Camellia is a complicated plant to grow and thrives in humid and high-altitude locations, making it unfeasible for home gardens. Try as I might, I have not achieved a single sprout. I have, however, succeeded with growing all manner of herbs, or tea plants, to create some decadent daily tisanes.

Top 5 Tea Plants

Here are my top five plants to grow easily at home for herbal infusion delights.


Mint is fast growing, easy to maintain and makes for a refreshing herbal infusion. A sweet, bushy variety is optimal as the leaf size and growth suits regular brewing. It grows almost anywhere and can suit both indoor and outdoor spaces. Mint is excellent for digestion and acts as a pallet cleanser, while also clearing a foggy head. Making mint ‘tea’: You will need 3 – 5 leaves per 200ml of water. Let it steep for 5 – 8 minutes. It pairs well with green and oolong teas, as well as berries or even hot chocolate!


This is one of the most popular flowers for reducing anxiety and helping with relaxation and sleep. Due to the size of the flowers, you will need a few plants for regular consumption: 4 – 6 chamomile plants should do the trick. It grows low and spreads wide, preferring full sun to shade. Chamomile needs regular watering, but make sure not to saturate the ground and ensure there is good drainage. Making chamomile ‘tea’: You will need a tablespoon of chamomile flowers per 200ml of water. Pick your flowers when they are in full bloom and leave them to dry in the sun for a day. Steep for 5 minutes when drinking it during the day, and 10 minutes when drinking it at night. The difference in steep is the difference in sleep.

Stinging nettle

Nettle grows like a weed (easily and often without help) and it also self-seeds, so it will reoccur season after season. We all know nettle for its stinging effect, but few know of its incredible medicinal properties. Nettle may reduce inflammation, assist allergies, lower blood pressure and even boost the immune system. Be wary if your blood has a tendency to be thin, though. When picking this plant, don’t forget to wear gloves! Making nettle ‘tea’: You can use both the stalks and the leaves, steeping it dried or fresh. I prefer to dry my nettle, stalks and all. Once the nettle has crisped in the sun, chop it into 1 – 2cm pieces. Steep 2 teaspoons in 200ml of boiling water for 5 minutes.


A homegrown, locally lekker favourite! Buchu comes from the Agathosma genus, which contains nearly 140 species. The one used as a tisane is Agathosma betulina. It requires full sun, good winter watering and more moderate summer watering. It is a classified medicine, so do your research before consuming it. Buchu is an excellent diuretic that contains antibacterial, antifungal and antibiotic properties. Making buchu ‘tea’: You can use dried or fresh leaves as well as the flowers, but don’t bother with the stalks. Steep 1 heaped teaspoon in 200ml of water, either hot or cold. If hot, steep for 5 minutes; if cold, leave it immersed for an hour.


Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) is a seasonal bloomer, beginning in late winter and flowering until early autumn. In China, jasmine flowers are placed next to drying Camellia sinensis. Its aroma is so strong that the tea leaves absorb its flavour overnight. Jasmine prefers full sun or partial shade, with well-drained and moist soil. It is a fairly tolerant and hardy plant. Jasmine is well known for its calming and soothing effects. *You can also use J. sambac, or J. polyanthum for tea, but don’t use any of the ‘jasmines’ from outside the Jasminum genus, like star jasmine. Making jasmine ‘tea’: Since jasmine is so potent, you will only need 5 flowers per 200ml of water. Steep it for 3 – 5 minutes. It pairs beautifully with a green tea or rooibos.

If you travel to any country in the world, you will most likely find each culture has its own unique tisane inspired by the great Camellia sinensis. With a climate and soil as rich as ours, there is ample opportunity to play with your garden herbs, flowers and fruit to create your own cascade of flavourful adventures to tantalise your senses. Have fun!

The Gardener