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Let’s get right to it. We know we need to stay hydrated, and THE best way is through drinking water and eating fruits and vegetables. Yet sometimes we need a little bit more, sometimes we need to drink herbal tea. A client said we were “drinking flowers” (!) when I prepared a cold infusion tea of German chamomile, Rose petals and Marshmallow leaf & flower to settle the nerves and bring cooling & softening to the body and mind. True we were drinking flowers, but I turned to this herbal preparation to support vitality, promote joyful equanimity and cool us on a hot summer day! With that noted, incorporating botanicals (“herbs”) into our lives, especially when feeling depleted, sick, overwhelmed (and so much more….) may be a beneficial way to promote a sense of vitality. Go over and say hello to your tea kettle: it’s time to highlight hydration and botanical teas.
Tea, Tisane or Infusion?
“Tea” is technically referencing Camellia sinensis, the tea plant who gives us white, green, oolong and black teas. “Tea” is a huge world, so big there are tea sommeliers and educators in the world to help guide and craft tea experiences! Herbal infusions, often called teas, are technically called “tisanes”. I often like to pretend I’m fancy and use the word “tisane” when talking about an “herbal tea,” but I’m laughing inside when using the word because in my head I’m like: “yeah, it’s an herbal tea.” Fancy or not, herbal tea = herbal infusion = tisane. Regardless of what you call it, this is about putting herbs in water, applying gentle heat (or no heat at all depending on the herbs!), waiting, straining and enjoying the benefits of this simple but effective way to work with plants.
Bathing Your Tissues
Years ago, I came across following line while learning about hydrosols and it has stuck with me since: Drinking water “…stimulates elimination and acts like an internal shower waking up the body and preparing it for activity” (Catty, 2001). Oh, my, YES! Bathing my tissues! Waking up my digestive tract! Those words inspired me so much that since then I’ve enjoyed a daily cup of very warm water as a way of starting my day, rehydrating at the cellular level and getting things moving. It is such a part of my routine that I literally wake up and muse to myself how I’m excited to enjoy a cup of water! Remember, hydration is key.
Drink Your Medicine
Medicine and self-care need not be complicated. I’ve learned from great herbalists, such as jim mcdonald, that drinking our medicine (i.e., thought a hot or cold infusion) is a simple, accessible and effective way to deliver herbal medicine to our mind-body-spirit. Herbal teas give the benefit of hydration plus put beneficial botanical components (i.e., secondary metabolites) in direct contact with tissues and receptors where help is often needed such the entire GI tract from the mouth down to the urinary tract. A great example is how Goldenrod and Uva ursi may be helpful for urinary tract infections. Teas also easily interact with the lungs and of course components go into the blood stream and need to be metabolized.
An Herb Trio for Overall Health
Following is a blend I’ve been enjoying the past few days and have made for our guests at Saint George’s (a soup kitchen I volunteer at). Overall, it supports digestive and respiratory health with herbs known for their antimicrobial nature. The beauty of this blend is that most of us have easy access to fresh Ginger and fresh Thyme at near-by food stores. Melissa may be harder to find. It grows in my garden, and I harvest and dry it, so I have a large stash on-hand. Check your local health food stores or the tea section of your favorite grocer for prepared tea bags or check out a website like Frontier Herbs, Starwest botanicals or Mountain Rose Herbs. I often go to Kalustyan’s in NYC when in a pinch!
|Plant/Botanical||Part of Plant||Key Therapeutic Actions||How Much & How to Prepare|
|Ginger||Fresh rhizome||Digestive health (tonic). Stimulates digestive secretions, immune enhancing, promotes blood flow, notable antiviral and antibacterial||15 grams (~1 inch of Ginger), peeled and finely sliced|
|Thyme||Fresh leaves & twigs||Powerful antimicrobial, stimulating, warming, affinities for the respiratory, alimentary and urinary systems *Note: Thyme can be a bit drying on the mucosal tissues.||10 grams Thyme twigs and leaves (10 to 12 sprigs)|
|Melissa (aka “Lemon Balm”)||Dried leaves||Antidepressant, local antiviral, digestive health support. Indicated for when stress is upsetting bodily processes (e.g., digestion). Nervine tonic.||5 grams of dried leaves (~1 cup)|
- Fill a small sauce pan with 1 liter (4 cups) of filtered water.
- Place the cut Ginger into the water and put a lid on the sauce pan.
- Bring the water to a low simmer, do not boil, and keep the Ginger on a low simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and shut off the heat.
- Place the Thyme and Melissa into the pot, stirring to incorporate.
- Cover the pot and steep the herbs for another 10 to 15 minutes.
- Transfer to a container with a lid, straining and pressing the herbs as you do so.
How to Enjoy:
- Drink: 2 to 4 ounces 3x daily; especially when your immunity is depleted.
- Each batch made as described here will last 24 hours in the fridge. You may choose to make a huge batch, portion out servings and freeze. Defrost your portions as needed.
- Enjoy for 5 days then check in to see how you’re feeling—do not over-consume herbal teas.
- Enhance your tea with a lemon wedge and some honey for further health promoting benefits.
Notes and Tips:
- “Medicinal teas” use more botanical material and are steeped longer than the little tea bags that we steep in a cup of water for 3 to 5 minutes.
- A general guideline for most hot infusions is to steep 30 grams of herb in 1 liter of filtered water for 30 minutes.
- Preparing your herbs (e.g., crushed, sliced, etc.) increases surface area, allowing the water to pull out more of the amazing secondary metabolites.
- Prepare your herbs just before enjoying them to decrease exposure to air and oxidation.
- Keep the lid on! Otherwise the aromatic, volatile oils will go into the air instead of getting in-contact with your tissues.
- I prefer COLD infusions for preparing aromatic teas, especially when incorporating delicate plat material such as Chamomile, Rose, Melissa and Linden. (Stay tuned for a short video on that topic!)
I hope you wake up every morning and enjoy a glass of water to “bathe your tissues”, enjoy an herbal when needed and get as excited as I do when creating and serving herbal teas to yourself and others! Stay hydrated and check back for herbal tea blending ideas and inspiration!
Catty, S. (2001). Hydrosols The Next Aromatherapy. Rochester: Healing Arts Press.