Creating Medicinal Teas
Begin by choosing an herb and researching for medicinal qualities and for safety. Then make a simple tea using only that herb for about a week or so - get a feel for its flavor and how you respond to it. Once you've developed a familiarity with a group of herbs, start mixing and matching and creating recipes of your own.
When I finish my first cup, I usually crave more. Luckily, herbs usually have more flavor and nutrients to give even after being brewed once. Simply pour more hot water over the used herbs in the cup or teapot and let it re-seep. The second seeping usually takes about the same amount of time, and often, new 'understory' phyto-nutrients are released and made available.
RECIPE: Sore Throat and Head Cold Tea
¼ cup dried Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis) root pieces
2 tablespoons cup dried Eucalyptus leaf pieces
1 tablespoon dried Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root pieces
1 tablespoon Anise (Pimpinella anisum) seeds, lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
¼ cup dried Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis) leaf pieces
¼ cup dried Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) flowers
About 4 cups of water
Place the first four herbs and water in a medium saucepan. Note: Eucalyptus is a tough leaf so it works best if simmered. Bring water up to a gentle boil. Partially cover, and let simmer about 25 minutes. Strain, and let root liquid cool down about 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, place marsh mallow leaf and dried honeysuckle flowers in a teapot. Pour the root liquid over the herbs. Let seep for about 5 minutes. Marsh mallow leaf and honeysuckle flower are both very delicate and should be infused gently.
RECIPE: Winter Cold Season Tea for Coughs and Congestion
½ cup of dried Elecampane (Inula helenium) root pieces
4 cups of water
Place elecampane and water in a medium saucepan. Soak at least an hour or overnight. Then, bring water up to a gentle boil. Partially cover, and let simmer about 15 minutes, then strain. You can also simmer this tea throughout the day with the cover off infusing the house with medicinal steam - just keep adding water to the pot as it evaporates.
You may also find that you would like to combine root pieces and leaf pieces of herbs. I usually do this in two steps - first making a decoction of the tougher pieces, straining the hot liquid, and then using the decoction liquid to seep the other ingredients.
A decoction, using the tougher pieces of herb such as stems, roots, and seeds, calls for a longer period of brewing and a bit of simmering. To make a decoction, place about ½ cup of herb material in a saucepan, pour about 4 cups of cool water over, and cover. Let soak for at least an hour or overnight. Then, bring the water to a very gentle rolling boil, and let simmer gently for about 15 minutes. Depending on your time and type of herb you're using, you can skip the soaking stage and simply simmer the herbs for 30 minutes to an hour or so.
A Perfect Pot
A larger amount of tea can be made using a teapot. Start by boiling water in a separate pot. Gather about ¼ cup dried herbs or 1 cup of fresh minced herbs and place in a teapot. Once water has started to boil, take off heat for about 30 seconds so the water settles down, then pour over the herbs. Cover and let infuse for about 15-20 minutes. Pour directly into a teacup or through a small strainer.
I prefer glass, ceramic, or pottery teapots. You can't beat an English "Brown Betty" clay teapot, but especially in the summer garden setting, a clear glass teapot is lovely as you can see the herbs infusing. My favorite teapot is a white ceramic with a matching ceramic insert for putting the herbs in to brew, which makes it conveniently self-straining. You can also buy gold mesh insert strainers that fit into most teapots or cloth strainers, which can be washed and reused. I don't mind some leaf pieces floating about in my teacup, so I don't put too much effort into straining my teas. Teapots usually hold 4-6 cups of water.
You can also make herbal tea from fresh herbs. These teas usually have a sparkling lively essence, whereas the dry herbal teas, even made from the same herbs, have a more woodsy, nurturing, comforting flavor.
To make tea from fresh herbs, you'll need more herb matter - try starting with 3 to 4 sprigs, ripped up or minced, and crushed in your hands (should come out to about 1-1/2 tablespoons for a 'traditional' teacup or 3 tablespoons for a 'large.') Place the herbs in the cup, pour water over, and seep. Fresh herbs take a bit longer to brew than dried herbs.
The amount of herb you use and the amount of seep time you allow are really a matter of personal preference. Your tea will develop stronger flavor and stronger medicinal value the more herb you use and the longer you seep. If you find your tea is too strong, you can easily dilute by adding more warm water.
RECIPE: Nourishing Evening Tea
1 teaspoon dried Lemon Balm leaves before flowering (Melissa officinalis)
½ teaspoon dried Tulsi or Holy Basil leaves and flowers (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
½ teaspoon dried Stinging Nettle leaves before flowering (Urtica dioica)
1 large teacup water
Place herbs in teacup, pour hot water over, and seep about 10 minutes. This combination is calming, balancing, and nourishing on the cellular level. A wonderful dosage of nutrients for nighttime healing and replenishing.
Some Favorite Herbs for Tea Making:
Brewing herbs in water to draw out their medicinal qualities and create a warming beverage has been a part of the human experience for thousands of years, and in today's busy and over-stimulated society, a good cup of tea draws one back to a place where inner peace, comfort, and simple joy reside.
RECIPE: Lemon Verbena and
Salad Burnet Tea
8 sprigs of fresh Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora)
15 sprigs of Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
About 10 cups (80 ounces) of cold water
Handful or two of ice cubes
Rinse off herbs, and rip and rub them in your hands, place in a pitcher. Fill with water and top off with ice cubes (the ice cubes create circulation in the water and hold the herbs below the water surface for better infusion.)
Let sit for at least an hour or overnight in the fridge.
The lemon verbena imparts a sweet vanilla-lemon flavor that mixes beautifully with the refreshing cucumber flavor of the salad burnet. If you want sweeter flavor, add a fresh stevia leaf.
Many herbs can make great cold teas, and many delicate herbs create teas with more medicinal quality when seeped in cold water. You can also refrigerate any hot herb tea to make an 'iced' version.
RECIPE: Stomach-Settling Fresh Fennel Frond Tea
About 2 tablespoons of fresh Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) frond
About 1 cup of hot water
Fresh fennel bulbs are usually available in most food stores; choose bulbs with frilly green frond pieces still attached.
Chop the fronds, place in teacup, pour hot water over, and seep about 10 minutes.
This makes an effective stomach-settling tea after a big holiday meal.
A sprig of peppermint, which can still usually be found in the garden throughout most of the winter, would also make a lovely addition to this tea.
More on using and growing Fennel.
Herbal teas are one of the great luxuries in life.
The process and ritual of brewing a medicinal tea both empowers and heals. Even in the depths of winter, the essence of the herb garden can be visited in the swirling steam arising from a teacup.
There are two main forms of medicinal teas - infusions and decoctions.
An infusion is a tea made with the lighter, more delicate parts of herbs like the leaves and flowers, which release phyto-nutrients readily and quickly.
Decoctions are made with the tougher herb parts like roots and seeds.
A perfect cup
To create a wonderful cup of medicinal tea, place a heaping teaspoon of dried herb in a traditional teacup, or about 1 tablespoon of herb in a large teacup.
A 'traditional' teacup holds about 1 cup; a 'large' teacup that holds about 2 cups.
Simply pour hot water (not boiling, as it can damage the phyto-nutrients) over the herbs in the cup. Stir the herbs so all herb pieces are submerged.
Place a saucer over the cup to keep the steam, which holds much of the herbal essence, from escaping.
Let seep about 5 to 10 minutes, and then enjoy.
If you like very hot tea, add a dash of hot water.
If you don't like the herb pieces floating in your cup, you can strain it into a fresh cup.