The tea in my cup was bright blue. The friend who gave me a herbal mixture for what she called “Estonian Blue Lagoon Tea” promised lots of color, but I still didn’t expect a shade of aquamarine. The taste was refreshing and minty, perfect as both a cooling summer drink and a morning pick me up. I wondered what the famous devotee of herbal teas, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, would make of it. What was this mysterious blue herb?
Poirot’s detective skills weren’t needed to discover that Estonian tea, or more properly tisane, since it contains no true tea leaves, is made of blue mallow or hollyhock. It’s the same plant that the Roman scholar Pliny recommended for so many ailments that it became known as an omnimorbia, or cure-all, while the feisty Japanese lady-in-waiting Sei Shonagon found its beautiful flowers most unsuitable if worn in frizzled hair. All of this only added to the appeal of my Estonian discovery, which I loved as much for its gorgeous color as its soft floral taste.
During my visit to Estonia, I stocked up on several packages of Blue Lagoon tea made by a local company, Põhjala Teetalu, but upon my return to Brussels, I found blue mallow, malva sylvestris, at most organic food shops and herboristeries. A quick Google search turned up a number of US sites offering this herb such as my all time favorite Mountain Rose Herbs. As in Roman times, mallow remains a popular herb for tisanes and herbal blends. If you want a vivid hue, look for blue mallow specifically.
The flavor of mallow is delicate and floral, and Põhjala Teetalu added a generous dose of mint to give their tisane a bright, crisp taste. When I replicated the recipe, I settled on a proportion of 1 cup of dried blue mallow to 1/4 cup of dried mint. Use about 2 teaspoons of herbal mixture for every 2 cups (500 ml) of water. Crumble the petals into hot water. Infuse the herbal mixture in hot water at 90°c (194°F) to 95°c (203°F) for 2 to 4 minutes. You can add more blue mallow for a richer blue shade.
If you would like to give your Estonian Lagoon tea a Moroccan flavor, add 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water. If you prefer your lagoon to be pink colored, squeeze a few drops of lemon juice and watch the blue change into fuchsia. The mixture can be brewed two or three times–increase steeping time for additional infusions, but the color won’t be as saturated.
I usually avoid caffeinated tea and coffee in the evening, but I love to curl up with a book and a cup of something warm and fragrant after dinner. Which is why I follow Poirot’s example with tisanes. I haven’t ascertained if they indeed improve the functioning of my grey cells, but they taste wonderful, and this is all that matters. So do excuse me as I take a break for “my tisane, if you please.”
Extra: a selection of my other favorite Tisane Recipes
Photography by Bois de Jasmin