Monday, January 9, 2012

Making Herbal Tea

Herbal teas are inexpensive, easy to make and they impose a ceremonial process during their preparation as well as a rest time while drinking them.

Tools To Make Teas
If you have something to cook water in and a canning jar, you have all the tools you need. Some other useful items are a Kettle, Teapot, French Press, and Mug. Be sure your tools are glass, stainless steel or enamel. You don’t want to use a container that might react with the herbs. 

Only make teas with herbs that are safe to drink.

Types of Tea Preparations
Teas are divided into two basic types of tea preparations. The infusion and decoction. Depending on what you want to extract from the herb and how dense the herb is will depend on which type of preparation you use.

When To Choose An Infusion 
Infusions are used for extraction of labile constituents such as vitamins, enzymes and volatile oils. They are also used for delicate and less dense parts of the plant such as flowers and leaves. Some seeds are also infused as well as roots with volatile oils such as elecampane or valerian.

When To Choose A Decoction
Decoctions are used for plant constituents that require more time and heat for extraction, such as mineral salts, bitter constituents and hard, dense plant parts such as barks, roots, and some seeds.


How to Make An Infusion
An infusion is a gentle method to extract constituents from the herb. When making an infusion, the plant material is cut small, torn up or bruised to release its essence. The idea is to get as many parts of the plant in contact with the water as possible. If you have bought "cut & sift" herb from someone else, it is probably already cut up for use in an infusion.

Example of timing and how it changes the ultimate preparation

If you infuse an herb like chamomile the essential oil will be released quickly and taste and smell divine if drank within a few minutes. However, if you want the bitter constituents in chamomile which often we do if using it medicinally, you want to infuse it longer. The longer you infuse it the more bitter it will get.

Directions for one cup of infusion

Three recommended methods:
(a)     Add one cup of boiling water to one heaping tablespoon of dry herb or three heaping tablespoons of fresh herb in an air-tight container like a canning jar. Let it steep for 10-25 minutes.

(b)   Bring one cup of water to boil in a stainless steel or glass kettle. Remove the kettle from the burner and add one heaping tablespoon of the dry herb or three heaping tablespoons of fresh herb to the water. Cover the kettle with a tight fitting lid.  Steep for 10-25 minutes. Remove the lid, strain and drink the liquid. 

(c)  Put one heaping tablespoon of dry herb or three heaping tablespoons of fresh herb in a pint canning jar. Pour one cup of boiling water over the herb and put the lid on the canning jar. Let it sit overnight and drink the next morning. This method is often used for extracting minerals. When I am attempting to extract minerals I put extra herb in my jar. I often put a handful in and fill the quart jar with water. Most mineral rich herbs are food herbs such as oats and drinking strong teas is okay. If you use herbs in large amounts, make sure they are safe herbs to consume in quantities.
(d)  Put one heaping tablespoon of dry herb or three heaping   tablespoons of fresh herb in a pint canning jar. Pour one cup of room temp or cool water over the herb and put the lid on the canning jar. Let it sit overnight and drink the next morning. This will make a very mild infusion and picks up small amounts of volatile oils and energetic essences of the plant. Often this method is used for full moon infusions.

These infusions can be consumed hot or cold, depending on the specific usage. Large quantities can be made and stored in the refrigerator. Do not store tea for longer than 3 days because it may grow mold.

Solar Infusion
This type of infusion relies on the sun to provide heat to draw out constituents.  You put your herb into a canning jar. Then add clean spring water, well water or filtered water using the same amounts as listed above. (1 T per cup water if dry or 3 T per cup water if fresh.) Simply multiple the herb and water depending on how much tea you want to end up with.  You put the herb in the jar. Pour cold water over the herb, tighten the lid on the jar and put the jar in the direct sun. I often make sun tea in gallon canning jars when I have friends visit.

Lunar Infusion
Lunar infusions are wonderful for certain herbs. I place the herb in the jar and pour cold rather than hot water over the herb and place it under the moon at night. Usually I do this when the moon is full. It is especially nice for herbs with volatile oils. I do notice quite a difference when it is hot at night as compared to when it cools down. The heat of course does much of the extraction. When cool out at night, I get just the bare essence of the plant. I have to be sure to retrieve it before the sun is up. It is lovely and somewhat magical with certain plants. I suggest you try this with something like peppermint. Although I have used them medicinally for people, I usually don’t as I generally want the full range of constituents I can get from a hot extraction when I am using a tea medicinally.


How to Make A Decoction
In a kettle, bring one cup of water and one tablespoon of dry herb or three heaping tablespoons of fresh herb to a boil. Cover the kettle with a tight fitting lid, and simmer the ingredients for 15 - 25 minutes. Remove the kettle from the burner and steep ten minutes. Strain and drink.

Examples of when to choose an infusion or decoction

 If you are trying to extract minerals from an herb like nettles you can either use a hot water infusion overnight or you can decoct it for 25 minutes. They will both give you a similar amount of minerals. (I have made both up and sent it to a lab for testing.The decoction gave a tad bit more but not enough to matter.) However, the overnight infused one in my opinion usually tastes better. I am more likely to drink something that tastes good, so guess which one I will make. Usually, leafy herbs like nettles are not decocted and the only time I would decoct them is if I want to extract something like minerals and don't have the time for a 12 hour infusion.

Roots are generally decocted as they are dense and hard. However, if you are decocting a root with volatile oils such as valerian or elecampane you will want to infuse the root so you do not loose the essential oils. To make sure you extract it completely, you can cut up or pulverize the root into small pieces so the water can get into more parts of the root for a better extraction. You don't want a powder, you just want it mashed up or cut small.

Drinking the Tea
Ahhhh, now for the relaxing part.
The amount of tea you ingest will depend on if you are ingesting it for pleasure,  or health. It will also make a difference if using it for health reasons,  why you are using it. It is impossible to give a specific amount to drink, but since I know you want a guideline, I would tell you that  ½ - 1 cup three to five times a day will usually be the range. Some herbs need to be taken in very small amounts to work. For instance if you are using a bitter to stimulate digestion, you only need a few sips of a strong tea for it to help. Acute conditions usually require more of a tea and it is usually taken more often than chronic conditions. Some herbs should only be taken in small amounts as they are can be irritating if taken in large amounts of too often. It is important to always know what you are ingesting before ingesting it.

More On Teas In The Next Blog
There is so much to tell you about teas. What do you do when you want to prepare a formula of 6 different herbs and some need to be decocted and some infused?  How do you make bad tasting teas taste better? What are the advantages and disadvantages of herbal teas. This and more will be awaiting us in a soon to come blog. If you have a question about teas, let me know so you can see the answer in the next tea blog. In fact, if you have any questions about herbs, please speak up so you can get an answer in a future herb blog.