The leaves are turning. The weather is cold and rainy. I want to snuggle under a blanket and read a good book. It must be fall.
So many good things happen in the fall.
- Cozy sweaters
- Warm socks
- Hot showers
- Ginger, Cinnamon, Curry, Clove
- Steamy mugs of tea
I remember my mom always having a cup of tea, regular tea, not herbal tea. If my mom was in the kitchen, which was a lot, you can bet there was a mug of tea on the counter.
I never really was a fan of tea. And, although I like the smell of coffee, it makes me want to come out of my skin, so not a coffee drinker either.
When I started learning about herbs, I started shifting my view about tea. It didn’t happen overnight, it was a more gradual thing and over the years I’ve become an herbal tea drinker. I still don’t like regular tea, the taste, or the caffeine hit, but I’ve come to love the smell and feel of a hot cup of herbal tea.
“If you ask Zen people they will say tea is not something that you pour with unawareness and drink like any other drink. It is not a drink, it is meditation; it is prayer. So they listen to the kettle creating a melody, and in that listening, they become more silent, more alert.”
It’s that time of year, although any time of year is right, for having a steaming mug of hot herbal tea. Making tea is one of the simplest ways to take herbs. I mean seriously, it can be as uncomplicated as a teabag and some hot water.
But, if you want your tea to have medicinal benefits, even if you’re using a teabag, there is a little more to it than dunking a teabag in water.
Water is one way to extract medicinal properties from plants. It extracts things like minerals, mucilage (polysaccharides that make it slippery), volatile oils, and other constituents but not all of the plant properties.
And, depending on your purpose, there are a few different hot water extractions to get the most medicinal benefit of the plant.
Teas, and infusions, and decoctions, oh my!
Let’s break it down.
Though simple, tea forms the basis of herbal medicine. It is an ancient practice and involves fire and water and plants. There is more to a cup of tea than you think.
Tea can be made from fresh or dried herbs. Teas made from fresh herbs are nice but weaker than tea made from dried herbs. If you are drinking tea just for pleasure then by all means use fresh plants but if you want a tea that’s medicinal, use dried herbs.
Using dried herbs is best because drying the herb breaks down the cell wall and allows the nutrients to transfer into the water more easily.
Teas aren’t as potent as tinctures or necessarily as effective for acute issues but they are great for long-term, chronic stuff. Drinking tea consistently is a more slow and steady way to get results.
If you’re making tea for medicinal purposes it needs to be steeped longer than a few seconds. It depends on the herbs, but by steeping longer, say 2-10 minutes you’ll get more medicinal value and effectiveness out of your cup of tea.
Also, covering your mug will ensure all the essential oils will stay in the cup and you’ll fully extract the herbs for maximum potency.
You can always make your own herbal teas using loose herbs that you’ve harvested or purchased. Sometimes I just want easy street, so I always have a few premade boxes of tea on hand.
My favorite tea brands:
- Organic India
- Traditional Medicinals
You could argue that making a cup of tea the right way is an infusion and you’d be correct but there are subtle differences between a cup of tea and an infusion.
Infusions are all about getting vitamins, minerals, and nutrients out of the plant.
An infusion uses the more fragile parts of the plant like leaves and flowers and requires a longer steeping time from 10-20 minutes to 4 hours or even overnight, covered of course.
I use between 2-4 tablespoons of herb or herb mixture per quart of water depending on the herb. Some herbalists recommend an ounce of herb to a quart of water, but for me, that’s too much, try it for yourself and see what amount of herb(s) is your personal sweet spot.
I started making herbal infusions in my French press but you can just as easily use a pot with a tight fitting lid or canning jar. Be careful if you’re using a jar cause sometimes they can break. I’ve never had this happen but just know it’s possible.
I recommend drinking at least 2 cups a day or a quart to get the maximum nourishment and health benefits. The tea will stay fresh at room temperature for about 6-8 hours. Just refrigerate what you don’t drink, and warm it up the next day. Tea should keep for about 3 days in the frig. Making your tea in larger quantities is way more convenient than making it every day especially if you are using it for a specific health issue and want to drink a lot of it.
Herbs to try as an herbal infusion:
- Hawthorn Leaf and Flower
- Red Clover
- Red Raspberry
Decoctions are basically simmered teas generally made with roots, bark, mushrooms, nuts, and non-aromatic seeds.
I think the most common way to make a decoction is to put the herbs into cold water and bring them to a gentle boil. Put a lid on the pot and simmer for 20-40 minutes. Take off the heat, strain, and drink.
Again, the amount of herb you use varies but usually, the standard is 1 teaspoon dried herb per cup of water. If you’re using homegrown dried herbs where the herbs are fluffier use 2-3 teaspoons per 8 ounces of water.
If you’re using fresh herbs double the amount of herbs because fresh herbs have a high water content and could dilute your decoction.
Each herb has its own dosage depending on the medicinal strength and flavor. 1 cup up to four times a day might be a typical dose.
Some herbs to try as an herbal decoction:
- Yellow Dock
Combined Infusions and Decoctions
What if you have herbs that are both leaves and flowers and roots?
It requires a 2 step process but is just as easy.
First, make your decoction by simmering your herbs for 20 minutes then turn off the heat and add the rest of the herbs, cover again, and let them sit for 20 more minutes as they all infuse together.
Herbal infusions and decoctions are some of the easiest, most accessible, and most economical ways to enjoy and get the benefits of nutritive and medicinal herbs.
These water-based herbal extractions also happen to be incredibly versatile and shouldn’t be overlooked as less desirable compared with any other form of herbal medicine.