Making herbal teas seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? Herbs. Hot water. And that’s it, right? Well it may surprise you to learn there are several different types of herbal teas and that we steep different herbs for different lengths of time based on what chemical constituent we’re trying to extract.
Most people interested in natural remedies or herbal preparations begin with a tea. Herbal teas are a gentle, easy way to experiment with herbal medicines. In fact, the relationship between humans and herbal teas goes back millennia, and herbal teas are the most widely used herbal preparation around the world.
In addition to tea, as we commonly refer to it, coffee is technically an herbal tea as well that millions of people drink every morning for a caffeine pick-me-up.
Basics of Herbal Medicine
Without getting too bogged down in details, it’s important we cover a few basic topics before we can dive into making herbal teas.
Herbs contain chemical constituents that act medicinally on our bodies. Some of these can be extracted simply by our digestive systems. Some need to be extracted using solvents to make them available for our bodies to use.
There are 18 primary herbal actions that herbal chemical constituents have on our bodies that we may be aiming to extract. For a complete list, check out my post on herbal actions.
For more information on herbal medicine of all kinds, check out my eBook: Beginner’s Guide to Herbal Medicine!
When to Use Herbal Tea
While water, alcohol, glycerin, honey and vinegars can all be used as herbal solvents, water extracts only water-soluble constituents.
However, simply putting herbs into water isn’t enough. Some herbs do better in cold water, while some do better in hot or even boiling water.
Herbal teas made from cold or warm water are called infusions and are better for extracting acids, flavonoids, glycosides, gums, minerals, mucilage, polysaccharides, and for a short term, volatile oils. These teas also make great “sun teas” or teas that are simply left in the sun to infuse.
Some herbs that do well in cold water infusions are:
- buckthorn bark
- chamomile flower
- marshmallow leaf or root
- peppermint leaf
- sassafras bark
- slippery elm bark
- sumac berry
- wild cherry bark
- witch hazel bark
Decoctions are herbal teas where the plant material has been simmered for a number of minutes. Hot water extracts all of the chemical constituents above, but as the heat continues to break down the cell walls in the plants, it extracts alkaloids, bitter compounds, and tannins.
Some plants that do well in simmering water are:
- angelica root
- burdock root
- calendula flower
- dandelion leaf and root
- lemon balm
- raspberry leaf
- red clover
Herbal teas can be made from both dried and fresh plant materials, but dried herbs do not have the water content of fresh and are considered more concentrated. As a general rule, double or triple the amount of herbs if you’re using fresh versus dried.
How to Make Herbal Teas
Herbal tea can be used in a number of ways: purely for pleasure, as a preventative medicine or in response to an acute illness.
Recommended dosages and concentrations will vary based on herb, but generally speaking the strength or concentration of the tea will increase as you go from pleasure, to preventative, to treatment.
A general rule is 1 Tbsp dried herb or 2-3 Tbsp fresh herb per one cup of water (8 oz). Or 1/4 cup dried herb or 1/2-3/4 cup fresh herb per quart.
For dosing information for individual herbs, I highly recommend this book by Colleen Codekas:
When administering teas to children, be sure that the herbs you use are child-safe. For a list of child-safe herbs, check out my post.
Continuing Your Herbal Education
Knowing how to make herbal teas is only the beginning. I also recommend starting a Materia Medica – a personal study guide for learning the medicinal benefits of herbs. Check out my entire post on what a Materia Medica is and why you should make one here.
Then, once you’ve mastered herbal teas, learn how to make herbal tinctures with this post.
And for the absolute best herbal resource, I can’t recommend Herbal Academy more! I’ve taken all of their courses and can’t express how much detail they go into and how they’ve taken me from an amateur to a confident herbalist. Click on the banner below for a full list of their courses:
As an added BONUS, if you end up enrolling in Herbal Academy’s course, forward me the receipt to hillsborough.homestead[AT]gmail.com and I’ll send you a complimentary copy of my Herbal Remedies eBook!