Let’s Create Some Herbal Medicine ~ Teas

tea-blog-headerTea is a time-honored and widespread preparation method used by cultures around the world today – for at least the past 3,000 to 5,000 years, as well. This makes sense because teas utilize the most popular and available liquid substance in the world: water. Water at its boiling point {212 degrees F} will remove, or extract, most if not all of the valuable active chemicals from a herb, concentrating them in a form that {in most cases} is safe and enjoyable to drink hot or cold. Teas are also inexpensive and cost-effective, requiring only water, a stainless steel saucepan, and a source of heat.

balance-herbal-infusionHere are some common questions that are asked when learning how to make teas.

  • Is there a general herb-to-water ratio I should follow when making tea? The answer will vary, depending on how strong you want to make your tea. To make a moderately strong tea with dried herbs, add 1 part of a dried herb {by weight, in ounces} to 10 parts of water {by volume, in ounces}; so you will add 1 ounce of a dried herb to 10 liquid ounces of water. You can make your tea stronger or weaker by adding more or less herb to the same amount of water – in fact, it’s likely that you will want to modify these proportions to suit your own taste. Use this 1:10 ratio as a starting point, modifying it to your liking as you continue making tea. If you are using fresh herbs from your garden, add two to three times as much plant material as you would for dried herbs, meaning you will use 2 to 3 ounces of fresh herbs to 10 liquid ounces of water.
  • Can I use tap water to make tea? Generally, no. When you make a tea, you should always use purified water. Tap water in some areas is fine, but other locations have water that contains unwanted chemicals such as chlorine, as well as minerals and salts that can affect the medicinal qualities of the herbs. We recommend that you have your water tested if you need to use it from the tap so you are aware of any impurities that might be present.
  • How long should I simmer – or boil – my tea?  The answer depends on what part of the plant you are using. If you are extracting flowers, leaves, and small stems {which are thin, comparatively less dense than other plant parts, and have active chemicals that are easily and quickly extracted}, you’ll place them in a cup, cover them with freshly boiled water, and let them steep for 10 to 20 minutes. That’s called an infusion. To strain out the herb, pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer and into your cup. If you are making a tea from roots, bark, hard fruits, or seeds {which are firmer and more dense and require more time and higher heat for the active chemicals to be extracted}, you will cover the herb with water in a saucepan, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, and gently simmer for 20 to 30 minutes {or even longer}. This preparation is called a decoction. To strain out the herb, pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer and into your cup. Any additional tea can be stored in the fridge.
  • What does steeping do to herbs? Steeping herbs in water helps to release the medicinal constituents. In our opinion, hot water is the best substance for releasing the compounds stored in the cells of herbs.
  • What’s the best way to strain herbs from tea? There is no one best way to strain herbs, but here are three options: {1} Place your loose herbs in a cup or mug, pour hot water over them, and after they steep, pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer. {2} Place the herbs in an infuser or strainer, and lift the infuser or strainer out of the mug when it has finished steeping. {3} Use a French press just as you would for brewing coffee, by placing your herbs in the cup of the press, pouring hot water over them, inserting the plunger to about halfway down {or well above the level of the herbs, so that you’re not compressing them}, and pouring the liquid out when it’s finished steeping.
  • Can I refrigerate or store my teas for later use? Yes, you can. While we recommend that tea is consumed fresh for the best medicinal potency, you can certainly store any prepared tea in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. We prefer that you use a glass container {instead of plastic}, and make sure the container is covered.
  • Can I substitute my favorite herbs in these recipes? Certainly! Consider the recipes in each section to be starting points, and feel free to use your imagination and creativity. These are model recipes – simple templates that allow you to substitute other herbs, using the same proportions of herbs and liquid. If one doesn’t seem enticing or tasty to you as you’re making it, consider adding pleasant-tasting herbs such as licorice, anise, or cinnamon to the brew. Orange or grapefruit peel add flavor and are digestive aids. Stevia is a powerful herbal sweetener that helps take the edge off bitter teas, and honey combines well with most herbs. Use all of your senses to craft medicines that you love.

Infusions:

Infusions are the most common way to make teas from fresh or dried leaves, flowers, or flowering tops. Use 10 liquid ounces of freshly boiled water {with the heat just turned off} for every 2 to 3 ounces of fresh herb or 1 ounce of dried herb {or, of course, a combination of fresh or dried herbs}. Pour the freshly boiled water over the herb, either loose in a mug or held in a tea ball or infuser. Let it sit, covered {use a tea mug lid or “hat,” a small saucer, or anything flat and nonporous so the constituents don’t evaporate}, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove your tea ball or infuser or pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the loose herbs; compost the herbs. You can take tea in 1-cup doses at least three times daily, up to 6 cups per day, in most cases. For very light and fluffy herbs, like mullein or chamomile blossoms, you can increase the amount of water to make sure the herb material is completely immersed.

Gentle infusions preserve the maximum amount of volatile components, such as essential oils and other fragile plant substances. They are made by starting with room-temperature water, utilizing a smaller herb-to-water ratio, and steeping for an extended period of time. To make a gentle infusion, place 1 ounce of fresh or dried herb in a container, cover it with 4 to 10 liquid ounces of purified water, and stir to make sure the two are thoroughly combined. {For even greater extract-ability, you can place the herb and water in a blender or food processor and gently whir for 10 to 20 seconds on the lowest setting, and then pour the mixture into the container.} Let the mixture steep, covered, for 8 to 12 hours. Strain, using a fine-mesh strainer, and compost the herb. Drink the infusion in 1-cup doses, three to six times daily. You can experiment with the amount of water you add {between 4 to 10 parts}, depending on the strength of the herb and your taste preference.

A sun tea is a form of gentle infusion that uses the warmth of the sun to enhance the extraction process. Place 2 to 3 parts fresh or dried herb {measured in ounces} in a clean, clear glass jar with a lid. Pour 4 to 10 parts purified room-temperature water {measured in liquid ounces} over it, and stir to make sure that the herb is completely combined with the water. Put the closed jar in a sunny place and leave it until the tea is strong enough to suit your taste {usually 4 to 6 hours}. Strain the herb from the tea and enjoy the drink at room temperature or chilled. You can refrigerate sun tea for up to 3 days.

Basic Infusion:

There is nothing more enjoyable than gathering herbs on a warm summer morning and bringing them indoors for a refreshing cup of healing tea. Here is a sample recipe for making an infusion from the herbs that you have picked fresh from your garden or dried yourself.

2 – 3 ounces fresh or 1 ounce dried herbs

10 liquid ounces purified water

Place the herbs in a tea ball, infuser, or directly in a tea mug or other container. Bring the water to a boil. Immediately pour the water over the herbs and let the mixture steep, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and compost the herbs. Drink the infusion in 1-cup doses at least three times daily, up to 6 cups per day.

Basic Gentle Infusion:

You can  use this recipe with a variety of herbs, such as anise hyssop, catnip, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, oregano, peppermint, spearmint, and thyme. All of these herbs have an abundance of volatile or aromatic compounds that are ideally preserved with this method.

2- 3 ounces fresh or 1 ounce dried herbs

10 liquid ounces purified room-temperature water

Whir the herbs and water in a blender or food processor for 15 to 20 seconds. Place the mixture in a clean, covered container and let it steep for 8 to 12 hours. Strain and compost the herbs. Drink 1 cup three to six times daily.

Basic Sun Tea:

Making a sun tea is a fun and easy way to slowly infuse herbs in the sun’s rays. Use this method in the summertime, when you will have at least 4 to 6 hours of sun to warm your tea to perfection.

2 – 3 parts fresh or 1 part dried herbs, measured in ounces

4 – 10 parts purified room-temperature water, measured in liquid ounces

Place the herbs in a clean, clear glass jar with a lid. Add the water, and stir to thoroughly combine. Close the jar, and place it in a sunny location until the tea is strong enough to suit your taste {usually 4 to 6 hours}. Strain and compost the herbs. Enjoy the drink at room temperature or chilled. You can refrigerate sun tea for up to 3 days.

Decoctions:

Decoctions are made with the hard or woody parts of a herb, such as the bark, roots, and seeds. To extract all of the properties of these denser plant parts, you will need to bring the water to a boil and simmer the mixture. Start with 2 to 3 ounces fresh or 1 ounce dried herb {or a combination of herbs}, and place it in an uncovered saucepan. Add 10 liquid ounces of purified water, stir to thoroughly combine the herbs and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the temperature and gently simmer the herbs for 20 minutes to 1 hour. Many herbalists follow the traditional Chinese decoction method, which simmers down the liquid for a longer time period, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. If you are just getting used to the bolder taste of decoctions, begin by simmering for a shorter time period, about 20 to 30 minutes or longer, increasing the time as you adjust for your taste preferences. You can take 1 cup two or three times daily.

If you would like to make a larger amount and store it, make a quart or two of tea. For 1 quart, start with 5 cups of water and add 8 to 10 ounces fresh or 4 ounces of dried herbs. You will lose 1 cup of water in the boiling process, and the end result will be 4 cups {1 quart}. Prepare as above, bringing the mixture to a boil, reducing the heat, and simmering for your desired time period. Once again, strain the liquid and compost the herbs. You can refrigerate this for up to 3 days.

Light decoctions are appropriate for certain comparatively lighter, more porous roots, barks, and seeds {such as the stiff, thick leaves of comfrey, rosemary, and white sage; the thin roots of valerian; and the light seeds of vitex}. A light decoction is prepared in a covered saucepan, which helps to prevent the escape of volatile constituents like essential oils. Begin by placing 2 to 3 ounces fresh herbs or 1 ounce of dried herbs in a stainless steel saucepan. Pour 10 liquid ounces of purified water over them, stir to thoroughly combine the water and herbs, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. After turning off the heat, you can let the mixture steep for another 10 to 15 minutes if you wish to further extract the active constituents, then strain and use or refrigerate the decoction. Drink 1 cup two or three times daily. Adjust the herb-to-water ratio to suit your taste.

Basic Decoction:

Use this recipe to extract the goodness from hardy roots you have lifted out of the soil and from seeds ripened in the late summer sun. Enjoy the deep earthiness and strength of this medicinal preparation.

2 – 3 ounces fresh or 1 ounce dried root, seed, or bark

10 liquid ounces purified water

Grind the root, seed, or bark in a blender or food processor. Place it in a saucepan and add the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered until the liquid is reduced by about one-third. Strain and compost the herb. Store the liquid in the refrigerator. Drink 1/2 cup three or four times daily.

Basic Light Decoction:

Use this recipe for light roots, seeds, and barks, or for tough leaves with hard-to-extract constituents. This method is perfect for comfrey leaves, rosemary leaves, white sage leaves and twigs, valerian roots, and vitex seeds.

2 – 3 ounces fresh or 1 ounce dried plant material, as described above

10 ounces purified water

Place the herbs in a saucepan; pour the water over them. Stir to thoroughly combine the water and herbs, cover, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. After turning off the heat, let the mixture steep for another 10 to 15 minutes, then strain and compost the herbs. Drink 1 cup two or three times daily, warm or cool. Adjust the herb-to-water ratio to suit your taste.

Herbal Ice:

herbal-ice

If you want to make a larger batch of medicinal tea and keep it beyond the 3-day limit in the refrigerator, let the tea cool, pour it into ice cube trays, and freeze it. Then pop out the cubes and store them in heavy plastic freezer bags, using them as needed.

Our favorite teas for freezing into cubes are echinacea {very effective against sore, inflamed throats during a cold or flu}; lemon balm, lemon verbena, and lemon thyme {for digestive help and summer refreshment}; and ginger and chamomile {for upset stomachs and nausea}.