It’s Decaf!

Since I live in Florida, I have the opportunity to grow various types of plants pretty much year-round. In the past year, I’ve started growing sugarcane, harvested one bunch of lackluster bananas, and started a raised bed vegetable garden that has given me as many as six okras. After all that work, imagine my surprise when I learned that I had shrubs already growing in the yard that I can make tea from! Wow!

The plant in question is a common ornamental yard plant in south Florida called hibiscus. It’s part of the mallow family (along with marshmallow and okra) and produces beautiful flowers that can be bred into almost any color, although most common varieties are red, orange, pink, or white. The plant is an important symbol of many Asian and Pacific countries including South Korea and Malaysia. Most of the plants I’ve seen here are used for show, but it turns out that using the flower’s petals to make a tea is a common drink in other parts of the world. The leaves can also be used to make tea, but I haven’t tried that out yet.

Step 1! Gather the flowers, either from the ground after they have fallen off of the plant, or cut fresh flowers off of the plant directly.

My hibiscus flowers only last for a few days on the plant, at which point they fall off. The flowers also close up at night, presumably to protect the interior of the flower from the elements. This is why they appear closed in the picture; they fall off the plant after closing for the last time. The petals can be opened and separated from the rest of the flower.

Step 2! Separate the petals.

At this point, I either make the tea right away or set the petals out in the house to dry so I can store them for later. This time I made fresh tea though!

Step 3! Put them in a pot.

I boil the water on the grill’s side burner. I’m not sure if this is more energy efficient than the electric stove in the house, but at least if I spill anything outside I don’t have to clean it up. I bring the water to a boil, add a whole bunch of sugar, then turn off the gas and add the petals to steep for about 15 minutes.

Step 4! Remove petals and drink.

The petals lose their color quickly and take on the appearance of boiled cabbage. This is fine! From here I either strain the petals out of the tea or scoop them out of the pot with a wooden spoon. I also like to chill it in the refrigerator for a couple hours (hot beverages haven’t really sat well with me since moving to Florida). I experimented with adding lime as well but didn’t really care for it.

So that’s it! There’s no caffeine in hibiscus, though, but apparently there are some health benefits and it also tastes pretty good. Score! After finding this out I added a few more bushes to my yard to make sure I have a fresh supply of petals at all times.

Photo: a flower on my hibiscus that I definitely plucked from the plant to make this batch of tea.

Carrying the Torch

Whenever I’m working on a project around the house, I try to do it in a way that minimizes cost to me, sometimes to the extreme. For example, I started painting my house a few months ago because the previous owner chose a ghastly color combination for the exterior. Rather than rent a paint sprayer, or buy a bunch of different rollers and pans, I went a different route: painting my whole house with a 2.5″ brush.

It’s probably important to note that my house is around 1000 square feet and is a single story, so this task isn’t exactly herculean. Maybe I saved myself a few hundred dollars on renting a spray gun and compressor, and maybe I saved a few tens of dollars on rollers. But in general, this is how I try to get things done: by buying as few “things” as possible while still effectively completing the task.

In addition to the “cost-savings” approach I normally take, I also like to learn new skills if I can. Recently, I’ve come across a whole set of projects I’d like to do that are a little out of the realm of my meager handyman skills and woodworking abilities. I have a laundry list of projects that need some basic welding to get finished, and since my garage (and probably house) don’t have a big enough electrical service to support an arc welder, I bought myself an oxygen-acetylene welding rig. Needless to say, this was a little more expensive than a paintbrush or two, but it’s the tool I need to get the job done.

Up until I bought these tools, I had never welded anything. I have been around welding, and have spent the past few weeks watching videos of people welding all sorts of things together so I’m not completely clueless. So far my experience has been that it’s much harder in real life than it is on YouTube.

But I plan to keep practicing and getting better, so I can start working on projects that I want to work on, and that I think will improve my life and home in measurable ways. Some of the projects I’d like to do include:

  • Building a mount for some solar panels in the back yard. My existing mounts are made out of pressure-treated lumber, but don’t last long in Florida’s high-humidity environment
  • Setting up a stand for hanging pots in the backyard. There’s an area on the side of the property where virtually no plants will grow because of the extensive roots of my neighbor’s beautiful sabal palmetto. This is a great place to have a hanging garden, though.
  • Building bicycles and bicycle attachments. I like the idea of modifying a bike trailer originally meant for toting children around into a trailer I can use to tote a cooler and tackle box to my fishing spots. I’d also like to build a bicycle sidecar so I can pick up larger loads from Home Depot (like lumber and mulch) and maybe one day will even build something like a tall bike.
  • Fixing my pergola. The 4×4 lumber posts are starting to rot, and I can’t think of anything better than replacing them with steel posts (especially since I live in a hurricane-prone area). This might not require any welding, though.

Once I start practicing more and getting more involved, I will certainly be posting some of my work. Get ready for some great examples of rookie welding mistakes!

Photo credit: This is my current welding setup. Not the most safety-conscious, but until I can weld together a welding table (kind of a catch-22), it’ll have to do. Maybe next time I’ll put on some shoes.