Herbalism, Tea
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Fresh, Dried and from the Garden: Intuitive Herbal Tea Making

Teas tell a story, especially hand-harvested teas. Finding the penultimate Rose, camping with friends and harvesting fresh Skullcap as the last think to pack into the car, cutting Passionflower for a trailing bouquet with dahlias and sunflowers, magenta sunsets, petting kitties in the waning moonlight.

One thing I greatly appreciate about Western herbalism is the use of fresh herbs. Whether straight from the cultivated garden, dug from the woods or pulled from the sidewalk cracks, fresh herbs make lively teas. Sometimes the taste of fresh herbs is milder than dried herbs, and sometimes it’s the other way around, it just depends on the herb. I find that herbs like Chamomile, Melissa, Mint, Skullcap, Tulsi often have a marked relaxing effect while fresh, while the dried version of the same herbs are more bitter and active on the digestion.

I always chuckle to myself when I hear Chinese medicine practitioners say that the dried herbs used to making tea are “raw herbs”. I don’t know why they do this. At first I thought it was because so many of the herbs are prepared in the Pao Zhi tradition, but herbs are still called “raw” when they have been prepared. Maybe it is because it is “raw” compared to the granule or pill preparations?

This summer I combined a base of dried herbs for digestion with tasty, soothing and relaxing fresh herbs. Calendula, Ginger, Dandelion Root, Milky Oats, Chamomile, St. John’s Wort and Meadowsweet often made it in my dried herb base. These herbs serve as a guide to the gut, to gently promote digestion and ground the formula. Interesting that they are mostly all yellow?!

Rose petals are almost always in my teas nowadays. The more fragrant the better. Fresh, dried or recently dried, it doesn’t matter. Rose is cooling and relaxing, entering the Heart with an affinity to the vasculature, making it a perfect addition to teas on an irritatingly hot day. In Chinese medicine, Rose enters the Liver as well and moves stagnate Liver Qi in a gentle way, especially useful for PMS symptoms like breast tenderness, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and so on.

The Rose above is my #1 favorite rose. I wrote an entry all about it here. Yes, I love it that much. The same Rose dried is below, the yellow highlights pronounced. The medicine in this particular plant is in its beauty; simply looking at this photo makes me feel calm and opens my heart.

The Western Skullcap is quite lovely, too. This sprig was from my dear friend Jackie’s garden. Her plant was going crazy when this was picked. It was the perfect time, right before flowering while the energy is still rising to the top of the plant, which I think is important for a 6th chakra herb like Skullcap. The drying process brought out color in the Skullcap as it did the Rose. It’s purpleness looks a little like another Mint family member, Perilla.


Everyday I feel this unreal, appreciative feeling when I see the weeds growing in Portland. Mint, Lemon Balm, Calendula, California Poppy, Borage. These are the weeds here!

Mint particularly is everywhere, and it ends up in my teas all the time. Fresh Mint teas are quite elating. I feel a tingling in and around my upper body when I drink fresh mint tea that I don’t feel when I drink dried mint tea. Perhaps sensations like this are how the physicians of ancient China determined which channels the herbs entered?

Lemon Balm, Thyme, Oregano and Monarda/Bee Balm are other worthy additions, adding their fresh, green, alive, invigorating yet calming nature to the centering base of the slightly bitter dried herbs.

My favorite thing about making these teas (or most any tea) is the intuitive, creative process. I choose a Middle Jiao (Digestive supporting) herb from my dried stash, because I want the fresh herbs to be digested easily and balanced in action and flavor. Then I go out in the courtyard and pick and pick, moving from plant to plant like a bee, lingering on plants that attract my attention. These teas can be steeped and resteeped many times through the day, or the next day if you are feeling frisky.

/    /    What sorts of herbs end up in your teas these days?    /    /




  1. Meredith says

    What a delightfully beautiful post! Recently I’ve been leaning on dried lemon balm, nettle, milky oats, and rose petals a lot for teas…partially to use up some aging herbs in my stash! But in June, I made an intuitive fresh tea on during a very stressful day-long farm event that was just divine: if I’m remembering correctly, it included fresh lavender, elderflower, tulsi, lemon balm, skullcap, and yarrow. I threw it all in a Mason jar full of cool water as I headed down to the garden to give tours. It was heady, sweet, and cooling…just the medicine I needed that day!

  2. I’ve been drinking a lot of rooisbos tea lately – does that count as an herb? My favorite is the rooibos mixed with lemon grass and a little bit of green tea.

    I love this line: “The medicine in this particular plant is in its beauty; simply looking at this photo makes me feel calm and opens my heart.” That has me thinking of medicine in a completely different way – similar actually to how people say that laughter is medicine. Medicine can be more broadly definited to encompass whatever healing feelings we experience from something – like a calmness or opening or peace.

    So considering that idea – your blog would definitely count as medicine for me!

  3. What a lovely post. And I love bearing witness to your intuitive thought patterns around the plants. having that layer of the TCM philosophy really brings such an elegance. Rose is a favourite of mine also, and it always seems to call cardamon and cinnamon to its side. I also love star anise, dried barberries and orange peel added to chai like blends, sends the taste buds on a ride!

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