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It is thought that tea has been consumed regularly as a medicinal beverage for over 3000 years, beginning in Southwest China and spreading to Ancient Egypt. (Source.)
“Tea” as we know it today typically refers to “true tea,” from the plant Camellia sinensis. White, yellow, green, black, oolong and pu-ehr teas all come from this plant, with their unique characteristics brought about from differences in harvesting and processing. There is a host of research on the health benefits of true tea and volumes written about its cultural significance and exactly how to enjoy it–but all of that would be a post for another day.
An herbal tea is any concoction of plant matter from any plant other than Camellia sinensis, steeped in water.
Tea enthusiasts call these herbal beverages “tisanes” to differentiate them from true tea.
The plant matter in a tisane can be anything: leaf, root, flower, fruit, seed or bark. The type of plant matter and desired health properties dictate how the tisane is prepared.
There are two common ways to prepare an herbal tea, or tisane: Infusion and Decoction. Typically, delicate plant parts such as leaves and flowers are infused, while hardier parts such as barks, roots and seeds are decocted.
To Prepare an Infusion, just-boiled water is poured over plant material; the vessel is covered, and the herbs are allowed to steep 2-15 minutes before being strained out. A good rule of thumb for herbal infusions is 1-2 teaspoons of dried herb per cup of water.
To Prepare a Decoction, plant matter is mixed with cold water in a covered pot. The entire mixture is brought to a rolling boil, then gently simmered for 15-60 minutes before being strained. Generally, decoctions require 1-2 Tablespoons of dried herb per cup of water. Once the decoction is finished, cold water can be added to dilute the decoction until it is drinkable.
(A cold infusion is less commonly used, and involves pouring cold water over an herb, covering and leaving to sit overnight. This is most common when mucilage is desired, such as from marshmallow root for a sore throat.)
Whereas making true tea is an experience for the nose, tisane preparation should be done in lidded vessels to keep the essential and volatile elements trapped!
Take care to use non-reactive vessels to make these teas: glass jars, ceramic mugs and stainless steel pots are all okay.
A tea is only as good as its water and plants. For the biggest health benefits, use organic herbs from a trusted source such as Mountain Rose Herbs, Starwest Botanicals or Frontier Coop, or fresh herbs from your garden.
Prepackaged herbal tea bags are convenient. We like the blends from Traditional Medicinals and Gaia, both of which you can probably find at your local grocery.
Herbs are potent medicines when properly used. Your naturopathic doctor can help you decide idea herbal combinations for your current health concerns.
For general indulgence and support, here are two of our custom blends:
Lavender Mint: mix 8 parts of dried peppermint leaf, 2 parts of dried lavender, and 1 – 2 parts of dried stevia. Combine 1-2tsp per 8oz of boiled water; steep for 5 minutes. Strain, and enjoy hot or cold.
Tranquili-Tea: mix 1 part chamomile, 1 part lemon balm, 1 part passionflower flowers. Use 2 tsp per cup; steep 3 minutes. Strain and enjoy warm with honey.