I love making custom tea blends for people. Whether it’s an herbal sipping tea or a strong medicinal blend, there’s nothing like making a big batch of tea with someone in mind.
One request was for a rose and lavender tea. Seems like simple enough directions, but when I tasted just the two herbs together, I felt like it needed depth and a variance of flavor. Those flowers competed with each other and needed to be tamed a bit.
Triple Rose and Lavender
1 part Lavender flowers
1 part Rosebuds
2 parts Rose Hips
1/2 part hand-harvested Rose Petals
The rose hips added a hint of sweet and tart, and gave the brewed tea a smoky rose color. Rose hips weighed down the floral and fragrant blossoms allowing the taste can linger on your palate, rather than float away to the ethers. I used to use rose hips sparingly, but now I use them in much higher proportions and appreciate the flavor and nourishment they offer as a medicinal food.
I could’ve just used the rosebuds, but the Oregon rose petals impart such a different quality of rose flavor that I had to include them. Hand-harvest rose petals have a spicy, dryer, milder flavor than the standard rosebuds, and I find that they blend extremely well with other herbs while the rosebuds tend to dominate.
There is a general menstruation tea I make with Rose petals, Bai Shao (White Peony root), Yarrow, Raspberry and warming spices. The rose petals blend so nicely herbs that the rose taste is barely noticeable, if at all. Those foraged petals are quite a different animal than the concentrated buds.
The rose petals are varied, coming from different plants at different times. To me, this adds to their appeal all the more. Yellow, peach, mauve, pink, red, pale lavender and any shade in between. Oh, and then there’s the delicately curled pinnate rose leaves. The rose petals impart a wildness, albeit an urban wildness, to a cup of tea.
Herbal medicine is time and space medicine… I guess you could say locally grow food is similar (or herbal sipping teas?). I love knowing where my herbs came from, who harvested them, what the plants looked like when they were picked, and what the clouds looked like in the sky. Is it farfetched to think clouds and wind and the buzz of pollinating bees can be captured in herbs that were harvested that day? And when I sip that tea, does that snapshot of time resonate within my body and spirit?
Who doesn’t love nervines? You know, that relaxing category of herbs, so effective at soothing the mind, emotions and body. Some herbs like lavender and chamomile invoke tranquility through their pleasing scents and flavor. Others like valerian, blue vervain or wood betony may not taste as good, but work well on releasing headaches or pent-up tension in the musculo-skeletal arena; or they may do the trick on liberating worrying thoughts and emotions from those worn to a frazzle, like skullcap, ashwaganda or holy basil.
As much as I love them, nervines are not the end-all-be-all for perfect health, but they can be a good place to start when you don’t know what else to do, or are too stressed to focus on figuring out what you need to do, but you know you have to do SOMEthing. Yes, that is where they come in for me more often than not (hello, chamomile!).
Botanicals are multi-dimensional; a nervine can be a digestive tonic, circulatory tonic, glactagouge, cardio tonic and more. Some are warming, cooling, drying, moistening, sweet, bitter, acrid – basically there’s one out there for everyone’s constitution and needs.
Here are a few quick notes about some of these wonderful nervines. As you can see, they all share the common thread of restoring proper tone (functional, healthy resting baseline) to a body system. Many times, the restoration needed leans in the direction of relaxing a tense state, but sometimes flaccid, lax, boggy or atonic tissue state needs some sort of increase of tone. See the sources below for more detailed information.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) – Soothing diffusive, relaxing, stimulating nervine. Used with nervous irritation, atonic conditions, mental confusion. Use when both relaxing and stimulating effects are needed. Direct action on the smooth muscles, wonderfully anti-spasmodic.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – Stimulating and relaxing. Anxiety, restlessness, fear, hysteria. Bisobolol and chamaezulene are volatile oils that are spasmolytic to smooth muscles and nervous tissue. The bitterness is tonifying and stimulating. Nervous irritability and persistent low grade anxiety.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) – Anti—spasmodic, stimulating and cleansing in the nervous system. Aids relaxation, alertness, clarity from volatile oils. Convulsive disorders, as it regulates, balances, normalizes brain activity.
Melissa (Melissa officinalis) – Tonic and restorative for nervous function. A nerve remedy with a carminitive element. Depression, lethargy, insomnia, agitation, anxiety, headaches, hysteria, ADHD, nervous stomach. Inhalation of volatile oil very effective, sedative properties marked and rapid. Tincture more of a tonic and stimulating (with some bitters and resins). Paracelsus: “the elixir of life”. Culpepper: “…causeth the mind and the heart to become merry…and driveth away all troublesome cares and thoughts out of the mind arising from melancholy”.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – Tonic nervine. Both sedative volatile oils and stimulating bitters, thus balancing. Depression, insomnia, hysteria. Mental exhaustion, hallucinations or delusions. The oil steadies the emotions, balances introverted and extroverted.
Milky Oats (Avena sativa) – Food for the nerves! Promotes myelin sheath integrity and growth. Wonderful for restoring the nerves. Amphoteric to the nervous system, as it is a stimulant (strengthening) and sedative. Nutritious. Epilepsy, nervous depression. Use to calm the mind without drowsiness.
Hops (Humulus lupus) – Hypnotic, permitting a deep sense of relaxation and tranquility, trophorestoritive to cerebrospinal fluid. Nervous digestive upsets, very bitter, strong anti-spasmodic effect on smooth muscle, presumably by mediating the nervous supply to the gut.
Scullcap – (Scutellaria laterifolia) – Calming and relaxing to the nervous system. Excellent nerve tonic where there is chronic anxiety. Nervous weakness, agitation, insomnia, nightmares, restless sleep, over-excitability, twitching.
California Poppy (Eschscholzia California) – Milder and non-addictive. Anxiety, nervous tension, insomnia, hyperactivity, fear, all sorts of pain. Well suited for children.
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) – Energizing effect on the brain. Overcoming stress, fatigue and mental confusion. Mineral rich. Enhances cognitive abilities and increases memory. Calming and adaptogenic, cleanses the blood, promotes healthy connective tissue repair – good for excess scar tissue.
St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) – Depression, raises the spirit and lifts the mood. Amphoteric, tonic to the brain. reportedly as effective as SSRI’s.
Blue Vervain (Verbena officinalis) – Nervine and stomachic, as it is bitter and stimulates appetite, production of digestive enzymes, HCL and more. Blends well in formulas for women’s health. Epilepsy and convulsions. Very balancing.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – Increases cerebral circulation, anti-oxidant rich. Affinity to blood vessels. Normalizes acetylcholine receptors in the hippocampus – the area most affected by Alzheimer’s.
Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis) – Gentle, stimulating tonic for the brain. Hysteria, persistent unwanted thoughts, nervous debility, anxiety, chronic headaches, lack of energy, poor memory, dizziness, disordered thoughts. Bitter digestive tonic, adjusts the autonomic regulation of the digestive system. Anxiety with digestive upsets.
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) – Brain and adrenal tonic. Increases tolerance to emotional, chemical, and other stressors. Anti-depressant effect, libido lifter for exhausted states.
Hoffmann, David. The New Holistic Herbal.
Herbal Therapeutics: Specific Indications
Wood, Matthew. Earth-Wise Herbal: New World Plants, and Old World Plants.
Do you ever let you nose, eyes or hands formulate a tea blend without asking your mind if that “makes sense”?
Sometimes these impromptu, sensual creations may be just what we need.
On New Year’s Day I decided to get to work right away on organizing my dried herbs. I opened one of the three cupboards where bags and jars of herbs are scattered about, pulled out a two bags that occupied me for the rest of the evening. Enough organizing…I’ll have plenty of time to tidy up my herbs later, right? (Note to self: get on the bottle and bags…that’s what I said last New Year’s!)
I found about an ounce each of lavender and safflower. The red and purple looked so vibrant together, especially against the backdrop of an overcast Minnesota winter day. Each of the herbs are essentially the flowers of the plant, similarly tubluar yet delicate in shape. I added another flower, one with a slightly bitter, resinous quality to mellow the taste of the blend; calendula. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t mellow that much, after all calendula is another vibrant flower with it’s own sunny qualities.
After admiring the sunny-red-purpleness in the jar, I steeped my tea blend. With beverage blends, I steep for under an hour, but I was still following my intuition and made a medicinal infusion instead. Four hours later I strained and sipped, the taste was both one entity and separate parts that cascaded through my senses. The gritty-sweet lavender was the high note, which I felt in my head, on my palate, in the back of my neck. The moving yet fullness I felt from the safflower was the middle taste. I didn’t feel it in any place in particular, but simply that it was everywhere uniting my limbs to my body. The sip ended with the a calendula slightly bitter centering I could feel on the bottom of my stomach, up through my side body to the lymph nodes in my armpits where it lingered. I tasted calendula in every part of my mouth; between teeth, across the map of the tongue, in the epithelial cells, on the palate.
The overall feeling of the tea was one of cellular cleansing from the center of my body out and emotional peace without much thoughts. I tried to think about how the tea was making me feel and promptly decided to “stop thinking about how I feel, just feel!”. In a way it cleared my mind, not with clarity of thoughts but a reduction of them. A pretty good state of mind to start the new year with…