"Herbal teas remain my favorite way of using herbs medicinally. The mere act of making tea and drinking it involves you in the healing process and, I suspect, awakens an innate ability for self-healing in the body. Though medicinal teas are generally not as potent as infusions, tinctures and other concentrated herbal remedies , they are the most effective medicines for chronic, long-term imbalances." -Rosemary Gladstar
I completely agree and there is no way to say it better. The whole idea of drinking herbal teas is to bath your cells at regular intervals (ie. 3x/day) with the healing properties of the plant. What are the healing properties? Well, they include not only the medicinal, active strong properties, but also nourishing properties to build a particular system up (such as minerals, vitamins), and buffer properties to soften the harshness that could cause unpleasant side effects, and catalysts to direct and energize the healing to where you need help. Yes, nature provides, and in an incredibly elegant way with a multitude of forms!
The making of herbal tea is a fine art we humans have enjoyed for thousands of years. It is also, thankfully, incredibly simple. Even if you have never cooked and have no desire, you can do this. All you need is a heat safe quart jar with a tight-fitting lid, the herb(s), and water that has reached the boiling point. Make sure it is a canning jar or reused pickle jar so it doesn't crack with the hot water.
Herbal teas can be drunk hot, at room temperature or iced. They’re delicious blended with a little fruit juice and frozen as pops for children who are sick.
After brewing the 5-10 minute usual time, herbal teas should be stored in the refrigerator. Left at room temperature for several hours, it will go “flat,” get tiny bubbles in it and begin to sour. Stored in the refrigerator, an herbal tea will be good for three to four days.
A cup of herbal tea is one thing. There is pleasure and healing with the 5-10 minutes soak of a tea bag or ball. However, medicinal teas or infusions by the cupful are very impractical and time consuming. What this translates to is one not making their herbal infusions correctly or often enough because it becomes time consuming. Then you stop taking what you need to take and the health issue you were working on deepens. Then your experience with herbal medicine is marred some. I do hear people say "it did nothing" and when we talk about what they actually did, it usually reveals some issues related to consistency and the strength of preparation.
For larger quantities, make a quart of tea each morning or in the evening. The herb-to-water ratio varies depending on the quality of herbs used, whether they are fresh or dried and how strong you wish the finished tea to be.
Herbal infusions as medicine.
Tools: To make an infusion, simply boil 1 quart of water per ounce of herb (or 1 cup of water to 1 tablespoon of herb). Pour water over the herb(s) and let steep for 30 to 60 minutes at least before drinking. I often leave these overnight capped and wrapped with a towel. The brews are stronger and have an innate ability to withstand hours out of the refrigerator because of their strength. The proportion of water to herb and the required time to infuse varies greatly, depending on the herb. Start out with the above proportions and then experiment. The more herb you use and the longer you let it steep, the stronger the brew. Let your taste buds and your senses guide you.
Ratio: I like to use 1 to 3 tablespoons of herb(s) for each cup of water, or 4 to 8 tablespoons of herb per quart of water, depending on the herb. So add your herb to the jar, pour your "just to the boil point" water in and cap. I wrap a dish towel around the jar to keep the heat in. That's just my way and not necessary. I wait at least 30 minutes before I drink any.
Use twice as much herb if your are using fresh plant material. Why? It' all about the water. Fresh plants still have their water in their cells and so take up more space than ones that are dried. That is why dried plants, without their water, can stand in a jar in a dark place and not rot.
Heating: Place your dried herb in your jar and let it stand in the sink while you boil your water. So for a 1 quart jar I add a small handful which is about 4-12 Tb. If your infusion comes out so strong that it's hard for you to drink, that's fine and you're not the first to do this! I once made a high iron brew with a friend of mine as we were pregnant and anemic together in the early part of pregnancy. This is not uncommon as the body works hard to increase blood volume by 50% for baby! So our first sip was hysterical for we had such high expectations after all this hard work.... it tasted like someone had melted down a piece of the Brooklyn bridge! Totally metallic in taste... we both gasped and fell into hysterics. It did make total sense and yes, it was loaded with iron! We added more water and a bit of maple syrup to make is palatable at the drinking phase AND made notes on our recipe. This is how we all learn. By doing. By experiencing. I have a grand story too which is even better for remembering!
So now, pour your boiled water into the jar with herbs and put the lid on. Or just leave in your pot on the stove if that is what you chose to use.
Straining: General rules are wait 1 hour for aromatic seeds and flowers, up to four hours for mixed seeds, flowers and leaf material. Then strain. It is fine to leave it longer but keeping the plants with the water at least this long gives you more of the medicine and nutrients we discussed.
Dose: For a medicinal tea to be effective, it must be administered in small amounts several times daily as stated above. For chronic problems, serve the tea three or four times daily. For acute ailments such as colds, fevers and headaches, take several small sips every 30 minutes until the symptoms subside. A serving is a good size mug for an adult or 6-8 fluid ounces. The dose is reduced or increased based on body size.
So let's think about it all. You have a plant that was full of water, growing, connected to the Earth. You know what part of the plant you need and what season to harvest it in because you have studied a little. So the next thing you do is cut it or dig it up and bring it inside to clean it up and ready it for drying. As it shrivels and wilts, that means the water is evaporating away and leaving the cells. We want this and the faster the better! Ideally you want your herbs to dry in days... not weeks. Taking more than a week encourages mold growth and equals bad medicine. Drying is another topic for another time.
So, you are quite successful drying your plants. You now have this dried plant material labeled and in jars in your dedicated herbal medicine cabinet. Do you have a dedicated medicine cabinet? You can. Make room for this world in your life by making room in the kitchen or in a small free standing cabinet or bookshelf draped creatively with curtains or gorgeous cloth to keep the light away. Light and heat degrade the plants ability to hold it's medicine for you, even when it's dried. It feels great to carve space in your world for this world. When I was in my earlier years, I moved to a new apartment and no one was allowed to have closet space in the common areas as they were dedicated to keeping the medicine safe. Sometimes clients or friends would just stand in my one walk-in closet because "I feel so much better after standing in there and just breathing".
So now you have decided you need an infusion made. Once the dried herb and boiled water meet each other, you have several things happening. The cells that shriveled also received tiny cracks in their cell wall surfaces during the drying process. Inside these cracked cell walls, the medicine is held in the form of chemical compounds, and the nourishment is held in the form of vitamins and minerals, to keep it simple. So, when the heat contained by the water hits the cells in this dry, cracked state, they burst open and mobilize the healing properties you seek into the water. The proper amount of steeping time is necessary more for moving minerals out of the plant material that are so needed for deep tissue repair. Think of moving the minerals out of the plant material much the same as trying to get a rock out of a garden. It takes more time.
Tools: You will need a non-reactive, heavy saucepan. I use an enamel pot. Acupuncturists prefer you use glass instead of metal and I lean this way too most of the time. It is the perfect size for me, as I normally make decoctions 2-3 cups/500-750 ml at a time.
Ratio: Amounts can vary, depending upon your taste and the potency of the herbs. A general rule is 1 to 2 teaspoons of herb mixture to each cup of water is a good starting point. Roots and barks are more concentrated than the lighter leaves and flowers used in infusions, so less is needed. The density granted these plant parts helps increase their medicine holding per square inch... if there is such a measurement!
Heating: Start with cold water over a low heat and slowly bring herb mixture to a simmering boil. It is important to bring the herbs and water up to boiling together. Throwing herbs into boiling water destroys some desired properties. Keep the pot covered and simmer for ten to 20 minutes. Take off heat and leave covered while your decoction cools to drinking temperature.
Straining: I often let the mixture set all day or overnight without straining. I will sometimes wrap a kitchen towel around it to keep the heat in a bit more too but this is not a must. The heavy roots and barks settle to the bottom, and you can pour off the top.
Overnight Method: Use this method when the material you want to extract is a bitter, or mineral salt. The whole herb, roots or seeds, or the bark of a woody plant are soaked in cold water for several hours to over night. Then this is brought to a boil and simmered for 30 minutes, cooled a bit covered, and strained.
I do hope this has helped you understand our oldest for of medicine - water based preparations. Be sure to send any questions along. Be Well, Jen