I can't think of anything as relaxing and indulgent as enjoying a cup of freshly brewed herbal tea from a garden swing with a new book in hand. The birds flitting nearby, filling the air with their happy songs; bubbling fountains, windchimes tuned low and dancing in the breeze... it's all like a deep, cleansing breath for my soul. And the tea? Well, today it's the star of the show in this new Herbalism 101 series. We're diving into the art of blending your own medicinal teas and I hope you'll be inspired to pull out your jars of herbs when you're finished reading! =)
3 FACTORS OF TEA BLENDING
1. Define Your Purpose
Whenever you set out to blend a medicinal tea, it is important to start with a clear intention of what you would like to achieve with your final blend. Are you hoping to create a mix that will be a calming night-time tea to enjoy before bed? Are you wanting to stock your herbal pantry with a soothing tea for upset stomach episodes? Do you want your final blend to be useful for lifting the spirits on melancholy days? Determining what you want your tea to be useful for prior to doing anything else will help you to develop your vision for the final product. I also believe that beginning with the establishment of this sense of intention will energetically contribute to your final blend and help it to be even more effective.
2. Choose Your Herbs
Once you know what purpose your blend will serve, you can start choosing the herbs you know you would like to include in it. This is a good time to start pulling out the herbs that you know are indicated for the purpose you have set for the final blend. For example, you might pull out your Lavender and Chamomile for a sleepy time blend or your Lemon Balm for a tea that will help with anxiety or depression. Consult your favorite herbals if needed.
At this time, I also like to pull out any herbs that I intuitively feel might complement the herbs I know I'll be blending with. They might not have a direct impact on the issue I'm hoping to address, but they may help on an energetic or emotional level by supporting the body/mind in some other way that will work well with my blend.
Always choose safe, non-toxic herbs when blending teas and be sure to check the safety considerations for each herb - some herbs should not be taken internally or should not be used when pregnant, nursing, or taking medications. Choose responsibly.
3. Perfect the Taste
Once you've started playing around with the herbs you've decided to include in your blend, you may find that you need to adjust the ratios of them in order to achieve a pleasant tasting blend. It may also be that some of the herbs you've used tend to be bitter or unpleasant tasting and that you decide to include a softer herb purely to round out the flavor of the other herbs. Peppermint and Spearmint are two herbs that are commonly used in blends to help make an unpleasant blend more palatable.
MAKING THE TEA
There are several ways you can make your medicinal tea. Feel free to experiment to see which you prefer. I generally prefer a traditional infusion (or decoction for roots, barks, nuts, etc.). The accepted ratio when making tea is 1 tsp of dried herb per cup of pure water or 2 tsp of fresh herb for each cup of pure water. This is by no means a hard and fast rule, but it does seem to produce a well balanced, effective tea.
Tip: When making medicinal tea, I suggest preparing one quart of it at a time (you can use a quart sized canning jar). Making only one cup of it tends to be less efficient, especially if you are using the tea to address a more chronic condition. (Read more about this in the Dosage section farther down in this post.)
You can prepare your tea by:
1. Traditional Infusion
Pour your boiling water over your herbs (I prefer to use a tea ball, but you can also use a French Press or a special teapot made for herbal tea preparation.) and steep the mixture, covered, for 10-20 minutes. If you're using herbs that are rich in tannins, which can tend to become bitter with lengthier steeping times, you may only want to steep your tea for 3-4 minutes. (Examples of tannin-rich herbs include Cinnamon, Chamomile, Echinacea, Red Raspberry, and Plantain.)
2. Modified Infusion
An alternative method for preparing a traditional infusion involves bringing your herbs to a boil in the water. Start by adding your herbal blend to your pot of pure water, cover, then apply low heat until the water starts to boil. Once the water reaches a boil, turn the heat off and let the mixture steep for 10-20 minutes. I've found that this method results in a stronger tea, but that it's not necessary to prepare the tea this way in order for the tea to be effective.
3. Solar Infusion
Add your herbs to your pure water and set your jar out in a warm, sunny spot for several hours. The sun will do the work for you and you'll be left with a warm, energetically vibrant tea. Preparing tea this way always reminds me of my Momma's Sun Tea - she used to solar infuse her tea in a large glass pitcher in our backyard in the summertime!
4. Lunar Infusion
Add your herbs to your pure water and let the jar sit outdoors overnight. This method is especially nice during a Full Moon or New Moon and when you're wanting to add a bit of the feminine lunar energy to your blend. (I like it for use with women's tea blends especially.) Traditionally, herbalists recommend leaving the jar uncovered overnight, but if you live in an area where the insects like to dance at night, I would suggest covering the jar either with a lid or with a piece of fine muslin tied tight around the top of the jar.
5. Overnight Infusion
Once in awhile I prefer to prepare my tea for the next day the night before. If you'd like to try this, follow the instructions for a traditional or modified infusion and then leave the herbs to steep, covered, in the water overnight. Strain the tea first thing in the morning.
DECOCTIONS: PREPARING ROOTS, BARKS, NUTS, ETC.
When your blend includes roots, barks, nuts, etc., you will need to prepare your tea via a decoction instead of an infusion. To do this, bring your pure water to a boil, add your herbs, then simmer the mixture over low heat for 15-20 minutes. Strain the herbs out, then enjoy your tea. Alternatively, you can also prepare your decoction at night, remove it from the heat and let it steep overnight before straining the herbs.
If your tea blend includes both herbs that should be prepared via infusion and herbs that need to be decocted, I suggest keeping the respective herbs separated and preparing the decoction first. Simmer the roots and such for 15 minutes or so, then remove them from the heat and add in the herbs that would normally be prepared via infusion. Let the whole mixture steep, covered, for another 10-20 minutes, then strain.
Tip: Herbs that are best prepared via decoction are usually able to be used up to 4 times before they are "spent" and need to be replaced. I suggest adding a tiny bit of fresh herb to each subsequent decoction to add a little boost, but have found that using the first batch of herbs 3 or even 4 times to be just as effective as using a fresh batch each time.
1. Acute Ailments
When dealing with an acute ailment (something that comes on suddenly and would not be classified as a long-term illness, such as a stomach ache), the suggested dosage for herbal tea is 1/4 cup of tea every 30-60 minutes until the symptoms subside. Herbalists generally agree that small, frequent doses tend to be more effective for acute issues than one dose or inconsistent doses.
2. Chronic Ailments
For chronic, or long-term issues, the general recommendation is to drink 3-4 cups of the tea every day for 3-4 months. You'll notice that the tea will work gently and gradually, but will still be effective. Taking one or two days off each week is common practice. Preparing your tea a quart at a time is especially recommended when using tea for chronic issues, as it will save you a lot of time and energy.
Tip: Compost your spent herbs when preparing tea. They'll break down over time and contribute to the well-being of your soil!
I hope you've enjoyed this quick guide to herbal tea! It's the first post in our new Herbalism 101 series. As you know, we promote using herbs in their various forms so we want to take a little time to introduce you to some of the non-essential oil versions of medicinal plants. We hope you're inspired to develop a new blend today! Leave us a comment below to let us know what your favorite tea or tea blend is. =)
(Please note that we don't recommend adding essential oils to herbal teas - adding essential oils to water is not an appropriate or safe method of application.)
For educational purposes only. All photos and graphics are copyright Erin Stewart. May not be distributed, copied, or published without express prior written permission from me.