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Flowers for Tea: A Blending Guide

Infusions have been made from different botanica for thousands of years. The delicate flavors of flower petals are often added to tea (Camellia sinensis) as well as to herbal blends to add beauty, aroma, and flavor. While not all flowers are safe for making tea, here are some that have had a long history of safe use and can be added to your own blends for both their aesthetic value and their health-promoting properties. The best thing about using flowers for tea is that it's fun, smells great, and deepens our connection to the natural world. When using all herbs for internal purposes, be sure that your flowers are grown organically without chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Many flowers grown for the florist market are heavily sprayed with only the beauty of the bloom in mind, so take the extra time to grow your own blooms or ensure that those purchased are organic. Most commonly, flowers used in blends are added to the dry tea, and ideally, they should be freshly dried to ensure bright color and best aroma.

Blue Mallow (Malva sylvestris) is a member of the same family as marshmallow, giving it similar, yet less pronounced, health-promoting properties. High in mucilage, mallow soothes irritated mucus membranes of the digestive system and the respiratory system. Mallow was traditionally used to celebrate May Day and is considered one of the herbs of Venus, meaning that it is thought to be useful in attracting love and beauty. Having no scent, mallow flowers are mild and slightly sweet flavor when brewed and are normally added either for visual appeal or for demulcent properties.

Butterfly Pea Flower (Clitoria ternatea) has been used for centuries as both a tea plant and a dye plant in its native area of Southeast Asia but is only recently being promoted to new cultures. A member of the sweet pea family, the flower maintains its blue color when dried and brews a clear blue infusion. An interesting aspect of this blue infusion is that the color changes with different pH levels. For example, when adding lemon to tea, it turns purple, making it a popular ingredient for specialty cocktails. It is believed to be high in antioxidants, hydrate the skin, and promote hair growth. Studies suggest that it may aid in weight loss and stabilize blood sugar levels. Its flavor is often compared to that of a woody green tea, relatively neutral, making it easy to blend with other herbs like lemongrass or ginger.

Chamomile (Chamomille recutita) is one of the most well-known botanical allies to soothe the nerves, reduce anxiety, and promote sleep. Its delicious apple-like flavor is both comforting on its own and useful in creating tasty blends. Chamomile with honey is a time-tested remedy for adults and children alike to calm the spirits, alleviate stress, and offer a general feeling of well-being. In addition, chamomile is anti-inflammatory, both internally and externally, and is an excellent addition to any blend formulated for a cold, virus, or flu.

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) is a commonly used petal in tea blends to give color and visual interest. Cornflower, also known as Bachelor's Button, comes in a variety of colors, including the traditional blue, as well as pink, purple, white, and red. The blue blossoms were traditionally used as dye plants. The generally neutral flavor of cornflowers, with just hints of sweet and spicy clove, make it a useful flower for enhancing the appearance of a premium blend.

Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) cools the body and aids in eliminating excess fluid. It is both nourishing and soothing to bodily tissues and has mild antimicrobial action. It's often added to tea for the tart, citrus-like flavor, and beautiful pink infusion. Many herbal tisanes use hibiscus as a base to build blends that are either fruity or citrus-like in flavor. A little bit can go a long way, though, so start with small amounts and add until you get the taste your desire.

Jasmine (Jasminum spp) is one of the most beloved flowers for scenting and decorating teas. As a member of Oleaceae (the olive plant family), it has a sweet and aromatic essence that imparts a delicious and exotic element to a tea base. Used in almost all types of tea, jasmine can scent the tea or the flowers can be left in the tea as decoration. In general, it is believed that a finer jasmine tea will not contain any flowers but will have been scented by being layered on screens alternately with green or white tea. The fresh blossoms are allowed to scent the tea until they wilt, and then they are replaced with fresh flowers. Top-quality jasmine teas usually go through this process at least seven times in order to receive a premium designation.

Lavender (Lavendula officinale) is a delightfully aromatic flower that soothes anxiety, promotes relaxation, and alleviates depression. It has been used to offer relief from headache pain and is highly antimicrobial when used both internally and externally. The beloved floral aroma can become a bit soapy when used in tea and food, so use sparingly and increase the amount carefully to get the flavor you want. Growing your own lavender is your best option, as much lavender on the market has lost most of its aromatic and volatile oils. You can tell if the small lavender blossoms look brown that they may be past their prime. Like all flowers used in floral crafts and the floral industry, be careful that any lavender you use for teas is organic.

Rose (Rosa spp) is history's most beloved and fabled flower. Long considered the premier symbol of love and romance, rose petals are among the most often used for creating tea. Rose petals impart a delicate floral rose aroma and flavor and should be used with restraint to keep the blend from becoming too perfumed. In addition to the delightful flavor, rose petals tend to blend well with all styles of tea, whether black, white, oolong, green, or herbal. Be sure to choose organic roses when using the petals for tea or for cooking, as commercial roses are often heavily sprayed with inedible chemicals.

The rose hips, which are the fruit of the rose, also make an excellent, delicious, and nutritious tea. With a tart, citrus-like flavor, they are high in Vitamin C and can impart a bit of fruity sweetness to a blend.

With this wide range of delightful flowers, you can craft teas that are tasty, healthy, and beautiful. Enjoy the process!

Source: Excerpts from "Flowers for Tea", Tea Time Magazine, March/April 2023. Text by Sara Stewart Martinelli.

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