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Herbalism

Herbal Teas, Infusions, & Decoctions

Welcome to week one of the herbal medicine making series! You can find the intro to this series here.

Tea

  1. a hot drink made by infusing the dried, crushed leaves of the tea plant (​Camillia sinensis​) in boiling water. Only white, green, oolong, and black are true tea. All from the same plant~just different levels of oxidation and processing.
  2. the evergreen shrub or small tree that produces tea leaves, native to South andeastern Asia and grown as a major cash crop.

Tisane
an blend of herbs, spices, and/or fruits prepared as a tea, consumed especially for its medicinal properties.

Infusion
a large amount of herb brewed for a long time. Or the act of steeping plant material in water (hot or cold).

Decoction
hardy plant material (roots, barks, berries) prepared by boiling the plant material and reduce liquid by 1⁄2.

Did you know that when you are saying that you are drinking ‘tea’, and there isn’t actually tea leaves in the blend, you are actually drinking a tisane? For the sake of simplicity; however, we tend to refer to all herbal beverages as teas. For our purposes, teas are steeped or brewed for short periods of time (3-15 minutes), and infusions are steeped for a minimum of 45 minutes up to 8 hours.

Drinking herbal teas (tisanes!) are a great way to relax, enjoy the moment, and benefit from antioxidants, vitamins, flavonoids, minerals, and other healing properties of the herbs. A big part of drinking tea is the process. It is a practice in being mindful, slowing your pace, and acting with intention.

When you are stressed, it is quite easy to grab a skullcap tincture, take a few droppers and move along with your day. Which is great! But sometimes, you need to stop. Breathe. Go into the kitchen. Fill your kettle with fresh filtered water. Turn on the heat, and let it boil. While the water is heating up, measure out a few tablespoons into your cup, jar, tea bag, or infuser. The kettle whistles. Pour the boiling water over your herbs.

Stir in a teaspoon of honey, maple syrup, lemon, sugar, cream-whatever you like to add to your tea. Wait just a few minutes, and strain out the leaves. Hold you tea in both hands, breathe in the earthy aroma, and take that first sip. Ahhhh. The process is important. Build a ritual around it. Make drinking teas a part of your healthy lifestyle habits. Start your children YOUNG, so they don’t eschew them until they are adults.

Herbal infusions, on the other hand, are a nutritional powerhouse. You can replace your daily multivitamins with daily herbal infusions. A longer steeping time really extracts the maximum potential from the plants. Take nettles for example. A cup of nettle tea steeped for 5 minutes has about 35 mg of calcium. An infusion steeped for 4 hours-350 mg.

How to brew an infusion: Place one ounce of your herb in a clean quart sized canning jar. Fill up with boiling water and cap tightly. Let steep for 4-8 hours. Strain. Compost! Sip on your infusion throughout the day. Refrigerate what is left and finish within 24-36 hours.

A few notes about infusions: Bitter herbs do NOT work in infusions. Chamomile, lavender, yarrow, mints, etc. will produce an extremely bitter flavor if steeped for more than a few minutes. Some great choices are: Stinging nettles, oatstraw (my personal favorite), comfrey, mullein, linden flower, burdock root, red raspberry leaf, red clover, elderberry, rose hips, elder flower, marshmallow root, chickweed, and violet leaf.

Susun Weed advises to infuse herbs singularly. You know what you are consuming (especially if there is a reaction) and you develop a more intimate relationship with the plant. For daily use, I like this idea. However, if I’m feeling under the weather, I will mix it up a bit. My favorite infusion for having a cold is nettles, oatstraw, elderberries, rosehips, and mullein. Lots of vitamins, minerals, immunity, and respiratory support.

Simples vs. Formulas


~Simples-Specificity, Quality, Intimacy. Especially when you are just beginning to build a relationship with herbs and herbal medicine, it is suggested and encouraged to start with one herb at a time. Make a cup of chamomile tea. Make an oat straw infusion. Make a burdock root decoction. Work with that singular herb for a period of time. Really get to know it.
~Formulas-Subtlety and Synergy. After you’ve build a small knowledge base of various single plants, you can begin to move towards creating simple formulas.

Synergy Triangle for Blending Herbal Teas

So, you are wanting to make a blend to support a healthy body function, like say, digestion. After you’ve worked with a few herbs by themselves you want to try out a few together and see how that works. Your first thought might be to take all the herbs that you know that are good for digestion and mix them together. That is just overkill-they aren’t working together that way. So, as you may have guessed, there are 3 parts to the Synergy Triangle. 1) the active ingredient. For digestion let’s pick dandelion leaf. 2) the supportive ingredient. Marshmallow root is a good one. It’s nice and soothing for your digestive system. 3) the catalyst. This will provide you with some flavor and makes the tea more potent. Here we can go with either ginger, fennel, or peppermint.

Once you have your herbs chosen, you have to make sure that you have the correct ratios. A general guideline is 3:2:1. You can then make adjustments based on your personal needs.

**Note, during these medicine making lessons, we aren’t going to go into specific herbal profiles just yet. This is just a nice overview about the HOW to create your medicines. I will begin to add a monthly herbal profile to the website and you can also take a look at various herbal books and websites in the meantime to research properties of herbs that you wish to work with.

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