I used to have a very generous little lemon balm bush. During the drizzly winter, every time a guest passed through the door, out came the scissors and that tough bush gave me yet another pot of delightfully aromatic herbal tea. The more I cut it, the brighter and fresher it grew, taking only a touch of water here and there and not much more. I was so happy with that little relationship that I got the gist of things pretty quickly and had a wide array of tea herbs exploding with life in my little garden. It wasn't long before I was offering my guests my personal take on the perfect "garden herb tea" mix, which never fails to brighten up the gray days of winter and give that "special treat" feeling. I find that there is a dramatic difference between a home-brewed mix of fresh herbs, whole spices and flowers and the "tea-bagged" variety of tea. It's a bit like a tomato sauce flavored with a generous handful of fresh basil versus one made with the dry herb. They both taste basily, but the fresh version is packed with a vitality of vibrant flavor no amount of dry herb could deliver. The catch is that if you venture out to your corner supermarket with a shopping list of fresh herbal tea ingredients, you might be facing a very cold winter indeed. Instead, a good plant nursery and a spice shop are the places to go. Thankfully, aromatic herbs are some of the toughest plants in cultivation, and like my brave lemon balm bush, grow exceptionally vigorously with very little care. Furthermore, they can also be grown very successfully in any flowerpot that receives a little sunshine and water, making it a great way to bring fresh notes of nature into a city dwelling. The expense is minimal, and the plants will yield openhandedly for years on end. The following are some of my favorite mixes, which I often use as mood helpers (pick-me-up mix, calming mix) or atmosphere amplifiers (warm spice mix, sitting in front of a wood furnace). Each yields 4 servings and should be made with 4 cups of water. PICK-ME-UP MIX This is the perfect energy booster, giving your body a fresh and invigorating shake. 4 1â„2-cm.-thick slices of fresh ginger 6 sprigs mint 6 leaves lemongrass, cut into 5-cm. sections 1 cinnamon stick Squeeze of lemon juice (optional) Honey or sugar to taste AFTER A HEAVY MEAL (calming mix) Sometimes one needs a little bit of comfort and soothing, often due to eating a bit too much. This mix also works wonders when looking for some relaxation and a good sleep. 1 Tbsp. chamomile flowers 2 tsp. fennel seeds 1 tsp. anise seeds 4 whole clove buds 4 cardamom pods, cracked 1 sprig thyme Honey or sugar to taste WARM SPICE TEA This tea has a complex, multilayered taste that keeps the palate well interested. The floral elements balance the spicy aromatics well, creating a wonderful drink to slowly sip while engaged in a long conversation. 4 rose blossoms 1 tsp. hibiscus flowers 1 stick cinnamon 3 star anise pods 1 tsp. dry orange rind 3 slices fresh ginger 1 clove 2 leaves fresh scented leaf geranium 3 sprigs fresh lemon balm Honey or sugar to taste MY FAVORITE EVERYDAY TEA This is a simple, floral tea that I can drink all day when it's cold and I always enjoy the gentle freshness it offers. 5 leaves fresh lemongrass, cut into 5-cm. sections 1 handful fresh lemon balm leaves 1 handful fresh mint leaves 2 sprigs lemon verbena CITRUS-SAGE A dramatic and cleansing tea, built for when you're in the mood for some deep cleaning. Rind of 1 lemon Rind of 1â„2 orange 2 leaves lemongrass 2-3 sage leaves Boil a kettle with 1â„2 a liter of water. Place the orange and lemon rind in a bowl and pour half the boiling water over. Let sit for a minute, drain the hot water and repeat with the other half. Place the rinds, the lemongrass and the sage in a kettle and let steep for 3-4 minutes.