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credit: Victoria Caruso

Looking for a way to savor your garden year-round? Consider growing a tea garden — a botanical sanctuary that offers enchanting blooms during the warmer months and soothing refreshments long after the growing season fades away. 

Kirsten Kesicki, co-founder of Yard Crop, is no stranger to the art of tea gardening. Over the last three years, Kesicki has helped build, plant and maintain dozens of custom home gardens across the North Fork, many of which have incorporated a variety of herbs commonly used for tea. 

“Tea gardens are a great way to grow something edible and useful for yourself with low maintenance,” said Kesicki. “There’s certainly a variety of different types of annuals and perennial herbs that people can grow. A few of them are native plants, which is great for our local North Fork environment.” 

Beyond their aromatic allure and stunning aesthetics, many of these herbs harbor medicinal properties. Amy Anthony, a certified aromatherapist and founder of NYC Aromatica, is a client of Kesicki’s who has transformed her yard into a vibrant garden brimming with herbs that support health and wellness. 

Photos by Victoria Caruso

Whether you have a sprawling garden or a modest balcony adorned with a few pots, Kesicki and Anthony shared tips on how to cultivate your very own tea garden. 

What to plant

While there are thousands of plants to choose from, here is a starter guide to some of the varieties that can be grown on the North Fork:


A member of the daisy family, yarrow is a hardy perennial with a strong licorice-like aroma. It has a mild, sweet taste with a bitter finish and is often used in tea for its potential health benefits — promoting hormonal balance and alleviating digestive issues. “The leaves can also be chewed up and then used as a poultice on top of wounds to help stop bleeding,” added Kirsten Kesicki.

Lemon Balm

As the name suggests, lemon balm has a mild lemon aroma and a subtle, citrusy flavor. A member of the mint family, the leaves of this anti-inflammatory, perennial herb can be made into tea to promote sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, improve appetite and aid in digestion.


Calendula, an herb that can be either annual or perennial, is characterized by its slightly spicy and bitter flavor. It’s renowned for its potential to ward off infections and promote healing. Calendula also possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, making it a potential ally in fighting cancer, shielding against heart disease, and alleviating muscle fatigue. Drinking calendula tea has also been reported to help break fevers by creating a sweat.


Also known as purple coneflower, Echinacea is a popular native perennial that features a strong floral scent and taste. Often paired with lemon balm and chamomile in tea, it’s reported to improve one’s immune system and fend off infections. It’s also used to soothe a sore throat and minimize aches and pains caused by the common cold and flu. Echinacea tea can be made with either dried or fresh plant material, and the entire plant can be used, as its roots are also rich in nutrients.


This common herb would be a tasty addition to any tea garden. With the ability to help increase alertness, it’s a good caffeine-free alternative to a cup of coffee in the morning and offers other potential health benefits such as relieving indigestion. There are over 600 varieties of mint with the most common being peppermint and spearmint. These perennial herbs grow best when planted in a sunny but sheltered spot, ideally in a pot that can contain its rapidly growing and wide-stretching roots.


Lavender is a beautiful, fragrant perennial that can liven up any tea with its distinctive floral and slightly herbal taste. Not all varieties taste good, however, so be sure to get a variety like English Lavender, a popular culinary lavender. The dried flower buds, steeped in water, are used by many to increase sleep quality, reduce anxiety, relieve menstrual pain, and boost mood.

Lemon Verbena

Tough and dependable, Lemon verbena is a dynamic herb that packs a punch of flavor and health benefits. When made into tea, it adds a refreshing herbal taste with a hint of lemon. Packed with antioxidants, it supports overall health and has anti-inflammatory properties, making it ideal for athletes who need to recover their muscles. It grows well in locations with full sun and well-draining soil.

German Chamomile

 German Chamomile, a charming annual herb resembling mini daisies, is known for its potential to promote better sleep and alleviate stress. It’s often described as having a honey-like sweetness to it with herbal and grassy notes. While German Chamomile thrives in full sun, it is also adaptable enough to be grown in partial shade, offering flexibility for gardeners.

Tulsi Basil

Also referred to as “holy basil,” this remarkable herb not only offers a pleasing taste but also boasts impressive medicinal properties. While commonly grown as an annual in most parts of the US, it has the potential to thrive as a perennial in warmer climates. This attractive flower flourishes in full sun. Tulsi basil is known to support the immune system, lower stress levels, reduce fever, alleviate anxiety, regulate blood glucose levels, and all while providing a delightfully sweet flavor.

How to harvest and use your herbs: 

When it comes to harvesting your herbs, timing is of the essence. Aim to gather floral herbs right before they reach their full bloom and leafy varieties before they flower. Choose a sunny day for harvesting to ensure that the plants are dry and free from moisture that could affect their quality. Anthony recommends harvesting herbs in the late morning after the dew has dried. Brush off any dirt, but avoid washing the herbs to prevent molding.

When it comes to drying your herbs, there are a couple of methods that you can employ. One option is to form small bunches and hang them upside down in a spot that’s dry and out of direct sunlight. Another option is to use drying racks — Anthony and her husband make their own using a wooden frame and some mesh screen.

Once your herbs are harvested, Kesicki advises mixing and matching your herbs according to your taste preference and health needs. One of her favorite methods is to create sun tea by combining fresh lemon verbena and mint. “Just put fresh leaves in a pitcher of water, cover it and sit in the sun for a few hours,” she said. “Then put it over a glass of ice and you have this nice herbal-infused water.”

Anthony, on the other hand, prefers to prepare her tea using cold infusion. “A lot of the teas that we drink are really aromatic based. Aromatics can be really upset by the heat and the steam,” she explained. “Boiling water and heat also brings out bitterness, which is good for digestion, but we don’t always want to taste that when we want more of a pleasure tea.” 

Resources on the North Fork

There are several resources on the North Fork that can help you to start your own tea garden.

Herricks Lane Farm, a certified organic medicinal plant farm and apothecary in Jamesport, offers a variety of high-quality dried herbs and plants. Though the farm is currently closed for the season, customers can reach out to shop by appointment.

For consulting, Kesicki also recommends reaching out to herbalists like April Alexander of Blooming Curiosity, holistic landscaper Katherine Wilcenski of Solstice Garden Co., and Dr. Emily McDonald, a private holistic MD.