Therapeutic Teas

A tea is, without question, the simplest of herbal remedies to prepare — and use. Even the most inept of homemakers can boil water, and that's really all it takes to make a cup of tea.

Herbal teas can be used for several purposes. First, herbal tea is a beverage, good for socializing and relaxing as well as hydrating. It's also useful as a topical herbal preparation for your skin as well as your hair. Tea is an effective vehicle for administering the medicinal components of plants as well.

Teas are aqueous (water) extractions of crude herbs or herbal powders. There are a few methods you can use: infusion, which is best for the delicate aerial parts (leaves and flowers), and decoction, which is used with tougher materials (like bark, seeds, and roots).

What makes tea?

Technically speaking, tea can mean only one thing: Camellia sinensis, either in its natural state or dried and mixed with boiling water to make an infusion of the same name. But many medicinal herbs, including rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) in South Africa and mate (Ilex paraguariensis) in South America, are regularly brewed up as “teas,” to be enjoyed as beverages as well as therapeutic agents.

Making an Infusion

An infusion is what most people think of when they think tea: it's what you get when you soak a bunch of tea leaves in hot water.

To make a tea with loose herbs, put the plant material into a strainer and into a cup, then fill the cup with boiling water. Cover the cup: The medicinal value of many herbs, including peppermint (Mentha x piperita), is contained in the essential oils, so you'll want to keep the steam from escaping. You can also make an infusion using a French coffee press; just don't use the same one you use to make coffee.

When making tea, use about 1 teaspoon of dried herbs per cup of water. Steep for 15 minutes or longer. The more herb you use and the longer you let it steep, the stronger your tea will be.

Making a Decoction

Decoctions are the best way to get the medicinal constituents out of the tougher parts of the plant — like the roots and bark. To make one, put the herbs into a saucepan, add cold water, cover, and increase the heat slowly until it reaches a boil. Simmer the mixture for at least 15 minutes. The longer it simmers, the stronger it will be.

To make a decoction, you'll need about 1 teaspoon of the herbal mixture per cup of water.

Making Sun Tea

Add a bunch of dried herbs (leaves and flowers) to a large, clear glass container (use the same amounts recommended for infusions or extractions, above), cover tightly, and let it sit in the sun for several hours.

You'll know it's done when the water turns the same color it would if you were brewing tea via the infusion or decoction method.

Using Teas

You'll take a cup of most teas three or four times a day, or as needed. If you're treating a chronic condition, drink three or four cups a day for several weeks.

Here are some therapeutic teas to try:

  • Constipation Tea

    Ingredients:

    • 3 parts fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seed
    • 1 part senna (Cassia officinalis, Senna alexandrina) leaf
    • ½ part cascara sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana) root
    • 1 part licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root
    • ½ part cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum, C. aromaticum) bark

    If constipation persists after using this tea, try increasing the cascara sagrada to 1 part and the senna to 1 ½ parts.

    Follow the directions above to make a decoction.

  • Sore Throat Soother

    Ingredients:

    • 2 parts licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root
    • 1 part cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum, C. aromaticum) bark
    • 2 parts fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seeds
    • 2 parts echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) root
    • 1 part marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) root
    • ½ part orange (Citrus sinensis) peel

    If you can't find marshmallow root, you can substitute slipper elm (Ulmus rubra) bark.

    Follow the directions above to make a decoction.

  • Anti-insomnia Tea

    Ingredients:

    • 2 parts chamomile (Matricaria recutita) flowers
    • 2 parts passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) leaves and flowers
    • 2 parts lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) leaf
    • 1 part valerian (Valeriana officinalis) root
    • ½ part rose (Rosa canina R. spp.) hips
    • ¼ part lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) flowers

    Drink in the evening, at least an hour or two before bed (you don't want to wake up because you need to use the bathroom). If you want something stronger, you can make this formula into a tincture take ¼ teaspoon of the tincture at bedtime.

    Follow the directions for an infusion or sun tea, above.

Herbal Hair Tea

Combine equal parts of the following herbs (pick one condition to treat at a time):

  • Equal parts of nettle (Urtica dioica) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinale) if you have an oily scalp.

  • Rosemary and juniper (Juniperus communis) can help clear up dandruff.

  • And nettle (Urtica dioica), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinale), and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) make an effective remedy for hair loss.

All of these can be made as infusions.

To give your hair color a boost, try an infusion of chamomile (Matricaria recutita) or calendula (Calendula officinalis) for blonde or highlighted hair or a decoction of black walnut (Juglans nigra) hulls for darker shades. Follow the directions, above. Apply to your hair after shampooing; don't rinse out.

To boost the effectiveness of the oily hair treatment, add a drop or two of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) essential oil. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil will increase the effect of the dandruff and hair-loss teas.

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