Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Making and Using Herbal Tea

Simply said: tea is an ancient concept. We have had tea as long as we've had tools to make it. All herbal medicine systems in the world make some sort of water-plant preparation. Tea can be weak and gentle, and it can be strong and powerful. It is versatile and adaptable, and incredibly effective at getting healing done when it needs to.

Dry herbs are most commonly used for tea, because water can enter the empty cells easily and extract the good stuff inside. For the most part, fresh herbs do not yield as much medicine because their cell walls are already filled with water and therefore allow less water into their cells for extraction. However, some herbs are better fresh, like chickweed. Some herbs must be dry for them to have an effect, like mullein leaves. You can dry your own herbs by hanging them in a dark, dry place, or laying them out on a horizontal screen. Dehydrators with low settings speed up the process and prevent mold. Avoid exposing the herbs to light, heat or water. Smell check them for mold before storing them. Store in immaculately clean and dry jars in the dark (or in amber jars). 

There are two methods for making basic hot tea:

Pour hot water over dry herbs in a mug or teapot, cover and let sit for 20 minutes. Generally, the ratio is 1 tsp of dry herb per cup of tea, but it isn't rocket science. Strain herbs out with a metal tea strainer when ready, or use a french press. This method is most often used for leaves, flowers and other delicate plant parts. Ex: nettles, mint, dandelion leaf, plantain leaf, linden flowers, chamomile.

Cooling Infusion
  1 part dried nettle leaf
  1 part dried peppermint leaf

Lemon Verbena and Tulsi Infusion
The flavors of these two herbs (together or separate) are simply delectable. They make you feel good, and are a great combo when feeling melancholy. 
  1 part lemon verbena leaf
  1 part vana tulsi leaf

This mix will chill you out, ease the nervous anxiety and brighten your day.
  1 part chamomile flowers
  1 part lavendar flowers
  1 part lemon balm leaf
  1 part wild oat tops
  1 part skullcap leaf

Add 1-2 tablespoons of dry herb per quart of cold water to a pot. Slowly heat and bring to a simmer over low heat for 10-20 minutes. The harder and more impenetrable the plant material, the longer to boil it. Decoctions can be made in larger batches and reheated throughout the day. Decoctions are appropriate for harder plant parts like roots, seeds and berries. Examples: Ginger, yellow dock root, dandelion root, licorice root, milk thistle seeds, astragalus, ashwagandha, devil’s club root, Oregon grape root, schizandra berry. Some herbs need to be simmered for them to have maximum benefit; reishi mushrooms, ginseng root and gingko leaf being among them.

Cold and Flu Season Decoction: 
Best for sipping preventatively during wet, dark months. Very earthy flavors that are grounding. Simmer for 30 minutes. Astragalus root and licorice root especially like to be simmered for long periods.
  1 part astragalus root
  1 part licorice root
  1 part Echinacea purpurea root
  1/2 part cinnamon

Decocted Herbal Chai
This is a great flavorful blend that has a lot of good digestive tonic herbs, which makes it appropriate for before and after meals to help with digestion. It is also incredibly warming, stimulating, earthy and tasty. Simmer for 20 minutes, and then add milk and sweetener if wanted. Invest in some good local, raw honey to have in your tea, as it adds huge healing benefits and feel-good properties.
  1 part cardamom
  1 part fennel (or star anise, or aniseseed)
  1 part cinnamon
  1/2 part licorice root
  1/4 part cloves
  1/4 part black pepper (optional- please don't torture yourself with it)
  1 part ginger (dried or sliced)

Add: Stevia, honey and/ or unsweetened hazelnut milk

Decoction of Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
This recipe applies to any hard polypore fungus (artist's conk, red-belted conk, turkey tail, oregon reishi).  Reishi is a great immune tonic, is beneficial to the lungs and helps as a long term treatment for anxiety. Mushrooms as a whole love to be simmered in water for maximum benefit. Raw mushrooms don't do much for us because of the protective coating of chitin the mushrooms cells have that make it indigestible. Heating the mushrooms deconstructs the chitin.

  handful of sliced reishi mushroom fruiting bodies
  1 quart of water

Put the mushroom slices in cold water in a pot and set heat to low with the lid on. Let it simmer for 1-24 hours. You can add more water and boil more if you've drank the tea. Add licorice root if you need something to take off the bitterness.

Preparing herb mixes using recipes like the ones above:
The recipes above use "parts" rather than a static system of measurement so that you can make any quantity. The parts are measured in weight. You could make just enough for one batch, or pre-prepare whole jars of it. The measurement is not an exact science, so don't stress about it too much. Eye-balling works great.  Feel free to adjust the amounts as your tastebuds dictate. Pre-made mixes are good for mixes that you enjoy, or are for something specific you are healing.

Tea used as a medicine:
I imagine tea figuratively as the rainstorm that washes away disease. Tea is great for urinary problems, kidney problems, skin problems, internal infections, respiratory issues (bronchitis, chronic coughs), depression, constipation, any sort of stagnancy, lymphatic and blood cleansing, detoxification etc. You might receive a mix of herbs, or a recipe for a mix from an herbalist for with instructions to drink 3-4 cups every day. 

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