With the cooler days of winter upon us, are you remembering to stay hydrated?

I admit, I often forget to drink enough in cool weather. The sad fact is, by the time we humans feel thirsty, we are already at least mildly dehydrated, often severely so. And it is amazing how much better a well hydrated body will work.

Can't remember where you put the car keys? Get a drink of water, your brain will work better. Want to lose weight? You absolutely must stay hydrated. Headache? Hydrate!

Don't want to drink chilly water on a chilly day? Don't like the flavor, or lack of flavor of water? There are alternatives. I don't mean coffee, tea, soda pop, or even juice. These are not a good way to hydrate, as the caffeine and / or sugars can dehydrate you further, plus artificial sweeteners can stress the organs that control hydration, the kidneys

Instead of caffeine or sugar laden beverages, hydrate with any number of delicious and delightful teas made from herbs. The absolutely best part of this is that you can easily grow many tasty tea herbs right on your own back porch.

Grow the following herbs in containers in a well-drained potting soil (or in the ground). They will do best if kept moist, but not soaking wet. No need to fertilize the annuals, but perennials appreciate some fertilizer three times a year, on Easter, Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Harvest these herbs anytime. All can be used either fresh or dried. To dry herbs for tea, select healthy leaves and stems, rinse well, blot dry, and toss them in a big clay saucer somewhere where there is air movement but no sunlight. Three to four days should do it. The clay helps pull the moisture out, and our arid air does the rest. You can also make bundles and hang them from the ceiling, but not everyone appreciates that style of decor.

Mint. Grow mint in a container, because you don't want it getting loose in the yard. Peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, pineapple mint, chocolate mint, even horse mint and field mint all make lovely tea. (Good for mint julep in summer, too). Buy a small plant, or get a cutting from a friend. The common Spanish name is yerba buena.

Chamomile. Ideally plant the tasty blue or German chamomile (Matricaria recutita). An annual plant from cooler northern Europe, best planted in our cool season, like October or right now. The Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis, formerly called Chamaemelum nobile), is not quite so flavorful. Also, although it is a perennial, it is hard to keep through the summer. Both are known in Spanish as manzanilla or "little apple," referring to the apple-like fragrance of the leaves. Incidentally, this is the tea that Peter Rabbit's mom gave him to soothe his stomach and help him sleep after his exciting adventures. Works for humans, too.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a delightfully lemony flavored member of the mint family. A few leaves crushed in a mug with hot water and honey — yum! A wonderful way to relax after a long day. As a matter of fact, one such mug is beside me now, which is where the inspiration for this article came from.

Anise (Pimpinella anisum) is wonderful for everyone who likes the flavor of black jelly beans. A member of the carrot family, start from seed in October or from sets now, and harvest whatever is left in April before the summer heat kills it.

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) has an intense minty aroma, but a musky-minty taste, reminiscent of Earl Grey tea. Good for a dessert tea. Generally used to flavor liqueur, hyssop is part of the official formulation of chartreuse. Native to Europe, it is a member of the mint family.

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a North American native found from arctic Canada to Colorado. While it looks like hyssop, it has a delightfully minty-anise taste. Very calming to the stomach after a rich meal. I grow mine in a clay pot so the roots stay cool in summer, and move it from full winter sun to noontime shade in summer.

There are just a few of the many delightful herbal teas you can easily grow in Tucson. Some you can start this weekend if you want.

Registrations now being accepted for spring gardening classes, including "Design Your Own Landscape," "Winter Vegetables," and many more. Visit: oasisnet.org/Cities/TucsonAZ/Classes, and scroll down through the Wednesday classes, or call Oasis at 322-5627 for a catalog.

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