The Art of Making Tea
Invite the romance and simple pleasure of tea into your daily life. Vermont winters cry out for cozy evenings snuggled under the covers in your most comfy chair with a cup of hot tea, fragrant steam swirling through the air. The Danish concept of hygge (a kind of coziness and conviviality that breeds contentment) is essential to the enjoyment of winter and tea is a delicious and easy way to create hygge.
The art of making tea can infuse your days with a beautiful ritual that can improve your physical health and mental wellbeing in a variety of ways. Herbal teas also make delightful and thoughtful gifts.
Herbal tea uses water to extract the medicinal and nutritive properties of a plant. This means the tea has essentially done the work of digesting the plant for you. This makes the medicine readily available to your body so you can feel the effect quickly (in the case of herbs that have more immediate physiological effects, like coffee or skullcap). This is especially helpful for individuals who have digestive challenges. You are not what you ingest, you are what you digest.
The right herbal tea can help you: manage stress & anxiety; feel more energetic; improve sleep, digestion and nutrition; manage acute problems like sore throats, coughs, upset tummies, U.T.I.s & constipation.
Water is the perfect menstruum (the substance that extracts the plant chemicals – in a tincture, the menstruum is alcohol). It effectively extracts a wide range of plant chemicals, is cheap or free for most people in the U.S., has no side effects, is a health tonic, & is safe for everyone from babies to elders. When it comes to herbal medicine, tinctures and capsules are more popular than tea because they require no preparation, but many herbalists believe tea is the best way to take herbs most of the time (in a crisis situation, like an acute asthma attack, tinctures often make more sense).
The Case for Plants:
When we think of evolution and the environment that humans evolved in, we usually think of the environment that is outside of the body, consisting of biomes and elements like wind, rain, and flora. But our bodies evolved in a specific interior environment as well - the xenobiome. The xenobiome is created by the chemicals we ingest through eating, drinking, and breathing. Most of these chemicals come from plants. It explains why our livers, nervous and cardiovascular systems, and even our DNA, are affected by plant compounds.
Vermont herbalist and author, Guido Mase, says that most Americans are suffering from Plant Deficiency Syndrome. Without the chemical cocktail that a variety of herbs brings to your diet, it is challenging, if not impossible, for your body to function optimally.
How to Make Herbal Tea:
There are two main types of herbal teas – infusions and decoctions.
Infusions are essentially really strong beverage tea, made with leaves & flowers. There are three main ways to make them.
USE BOILING WATER: Pour boiled water over herbs. Cover. Steep 15 minutes to 8 hours. The longer the steep, the stronger the tea.
USE THE SUN: Sun teas are best with fresh herbs in the summer. Stuff a jar with culinary &/or medicinal herbs. Cover with water & let stand in the sun for 1 hour or more.
USE COLD WATER: For gooey slimy mucilaginous teas that soothe and heal mucous membranes. Cover with cold water and let stand 8 or more hours. Marshmallow, violet, and slippery elm are often prepared this way.
HERBS FOR INFUSIONS: Use a single herb or mix and match to make blends. Research herbs before use, particularly if pregnant/breastfeeding, taking pharmaceutical medications, preparing for surgery, or have kidney or liver disease as some safe and gentle herbs may be harmful in these circumstances.
RELAXING HERBS: Chamomile, passionflower, skullcap, hawthorn leaf, tulsi.
NUTRITIVE HERBS: Nettles, alfalfa, oatstraw.
TO FLAVOR INFUSIONS: Tulsi, lemon balm, hibiscus, lemongrass, lemon verbena, peppermint, spearmint, stevia
DOSAGE: 1 tablespoon of dried herb to 1 cup of water or 2 tablespoons of fresh herb to 1 cup of water. Drink 1-4 cups a day.
Decoctions are prepared with roots, bark, seeds, mushrooms, &/or berries. Simmer for 15 minutes to 8 hours. Strain herbs & serve. Re-use herbs 2-3 times.
COLD/FLU PREVENTION BLEND: 1 part elderberry; 1/8 part fresh ginger, sliced; 1/8 part cinnamon sticks.
LIVER TONIC/ENERGY BOOSTER BLEND: 1 part burdock root; 1 part ashwagandha root; 1/8 part cardamom.
CARDIOVASCULAR & IMMUNE TONIC: 3 parts hawthorn berry; 1 part astragalus
TO FLAVOR DECOCTIONS: Use 1 or more to taste: elderberry, anise, licorice, vanilla, orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, black pepper
DOSAGE: 1-2 teaspoons of dried herb to 1 cup of water or 2-4 teaspoons of fresh herb to 1 cup of water. Drink 1-4 cups a day
This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of the North Star Monthly.
Check out these audio classes on infusions & decoctions: