There are a lot of reasons to like tea. With no fat, no sugar, no carbs and barely a calorie to speak of, it's as diet-friendly as any beverage you can name. Even better, it's loaded with healthful antioxidants and packs a useful quantity of manganese. What you might not know is that it has a number of uses beyond its usual role as a refreshing hot or cold beverage. Here are a few to spark your imagination.
Don't throw your used tea in the trash. Instead, use those leaves to add organic matter to your compost bin. If you don't compost, just work the leaves right into your beds. Some teabags use a polypropylene mesh that doesn't biodegrade, so tear them open first and discard the bags separately. Chamomile tea has an even more interesting trick up its sleeve. It's a mild but effective fungicide for your seedlings, keeping them healthy until they're ready for transplant. Fill a spray bottle with strong chamomile tea, and spritz them with a gentle chamomile mist.
The same phenolic tannins that give your tea its refreshingly dry, palate-cleansing flavor can also rejuvenate your tired eyes. Let your used teabags cool, and on days when your eyes are puffy and baggy you can use them as cold compresses. Not only does it feel good, the tannins gently tighten the skin and make your eyes look better. Green tea, black tea and even herbal chamomile tea -- equally high in antioxidants, if not tannins -- all work well. You can even keep used teabags in your fridge for a few days, in case of "eye emergencies."
If you want to add a rich, smoky flavor to your barbecue and don't have hardwoods on hand, steal a trick from Asian chefs and use tea. Make up a foil packet containing loose green, black or oolong tea along with other flavoring ingredients such as citrus zest and spices. Poke a few holes in it, and slide it under the grate on your 'cue. You can even do this indoors if you have a good range hood fan, putting the smoke pouch under a wire trivet and the food on top. Use balls of foil to raise the trivet at least 2 inches above the tea. You'll want a pot with a tight-fitting lid, to contain the smoke as much as possible.
If you're a crafter or hobbyist, you can use tea as a mild dye to quickly give paper or pale fabrics a darkened, aged look. For single pages, you can simply "paint" them with a used tea bag. Alternatively, make a quart or two of fresh, hot tea and then either paint it on with a brush, or pour it into a shallow container and dip the pages one or two at a time. Let tea leaves dry onto the pages for a mottled, textured look. For fabrics, use a larger batch of tea and set or "mordant" the color by adding vinegar or alum to it.