Learning about herbalism is great and all, but what use it is if you don’t know how to prepare herbs into easy-to-use medicine?! In attempt to make herbalism more accessible, Dandelion Revolution is featuring Medicine Making Mondays, to highlight the plethora of ways to engage with making medicine.
Let us start with good old fashioned tea. Herbal teas are my *favorite* ways to use herbs. Drinking teas can tell us about the actions and healing nature of herbs because a tea directly engages our senses. With teas you get to see the color, enjoy the aroma, and taste the flavor of the herbs, whether used individually as simples or combined in formula. There are a few different ways to prepare herbal medicine into teas; namely:
- Infusion – Steeping herbs in boiled water. Often used for leaves, flowers, stems, soft seeds or fruits (calendula blossoms, oat straw, fennel seeds, rose hips, linden flowers and bracts, ect…)
- Decoction – Simmering herbs in water for any length of time. Used for some seeds and fruits, barks and roots (dandelion root, oak bark, hawthorn berries, ect…)
- Cold infusion – Steeping herbs in non-boiled water. Sometimes used to extract mucilage-rich herbs (marshmallow, plantain, ect…)
- Lunar/sun tea – Steeping herbs in water while in contact with the moon’s light or sun’s rays. These preparations are used when the particular energy/activation of the the sun or moon is desired (mugwort tea steeped under the full moon for ritual purposes, nettle tea tea steeped each night in a windowsill to connect with the cyclical nature of the moon), or to take advantage of natures’ energy (using heat of the sun to brew peppermint tea rather than heating water)
Today we will talk about infusions. What makes a medicinal “infusion” any different than steeping a tea bag in boiling water? A “beverage” tea is brewed for taste, and is very different (both chemically and physically) then a medicinal tea. Basically, a medicinal tea takes advantage of water as a solvent in extracting medicinally active chemicals (alkaloids, bitter principles, saponins, ect.), macronutrients (carbohydrates, starches, ect.) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, bioflavonoids, ect.). Some people are surprised that a cup of tea can contain medicinal and nutritional components. 4 cups of medicinal nettle tea contains: calcium (2900mg), magnesium (860mg), phosphorus (447mg), potassium (1750mg), and zinc (4.7mg); vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K; protein (10% of total) (Healing Wise, Susun Weed). Speaking of Susun Weed, check out her video about making nettle infusion.
It is useful to steep your medicinal tea in a large container such as a pint or quart canning jar (Mason jar) with a lid, rather than steeping 3 or 4 individual cups through the day. Speaking of, the dosage of your medicinal tea will vary, from 1 to 4 cups per day.
Flavor your teas in any way you choose. You can add a teaspoon of peppermint, fennel, orange peel, a pinch of stevia, a tasty tea bag to your steeping tea, or add honey, molasses, a lemon slice, fruit juice. Medicinal teas don’t have to taste “like medicine”! They should be earthy and natural; even the bitterest herb can be improved with the addition of tasty herbs.
Directions to make 4 cups of an herbal infusion:
- Boil 4 cups of water.
- Measure 3-4 heaping tablespoons of dried herbs and place in the bottom of a quart jar.
- Cover herbs with boiling water, cover promptly to contain the volatile oils that may be evaporated.
- Steep for 4 hours, strain and drink. This can be warmed in a sauce pan or placed in the fridge to your taste. To maintain quality, do not let sit un-refrigerated for more than 12 hours. Drink within 24 hours.
I get a lot of questions about straining the the tea, specifically if you can use tea balls, spoons or baskets. Of the three, I use tea baskets when I am making tea in an 8 or 16 ounce cup, but most always I prefer to have the herbs “float” around in the water it is steeping in, then pour it through a strainer it when it is ready to drink. Tea spoons and balls are simply too small to hold enough tea for an medicinal infusion. One easy way to steep tea is to use a french press: let it steep, press the plunger down and fill your cup.
Another question I get about infusions is about when and why would you choose to make an infusion rather than take a tincture. Herbal medicinal teas are used around the world and throughout time as the most reliable, effective and quickest way to medicine (up until the introduction of alcoholic extractions). Basically, herbal teas can and should be used in most situations. Situations where I do not use teas include:
- Using unpleasant tasting herbs, although they can be combined with yummy herbs to make a tea palatable.
- When combining herbs that should be infused with herbs that should be decocted. For example, yellow dock root and burdock root in a formula with red clover flowers and violet leaf would be better taken as a tincture.
- If you are taking a few different formulas that would be overwhelming to prepare all of them as teas. Let’s say you take daily a nettle infusion, skin formula, digestive support, and an iron tonic; it would be a bit time-consuming to make all of those preparations as teas.
- For some acute symptoms it is easier to take tinctures then to brew tea, especially when you only need a little bit (like 5 drops of goldenseal tincture under the tongue for an infection).
The form of herbal medicine one employs is a matter of personal preference, first and foremost. If someone is new to herbal medicine or views herbs like drugs but natural will often take capsules, pills or standardized extracts. As an herbalist, sometimes you have to meet the person halfway, perhaps to supply them with capsules when you originally recommended a tea.