What's the secret to brewing medicinal teas?
Ready to move beyond the tea bag and brew herbal teas for their incredible medicinal qualities? Here's some "herbal tea brewing 101" advice, from a clinical herbalist.
The secret to effective medicinal herb teas is to use the optimal method and brew time, by preparing either an infusion for delicate plant parts (leaves, flowers) or a decoction for tougher plant parts (barks, roots, fungi).
How to make INFUSIONS – An infusion is a water extract used for delicate herbs; boiling water (or sometimes cold)* is poured over the herb and the herbs then steep, covered. It is typically used for the delicate plant parts like leaves and flowers - think, mints, rose, nettles; but there are exceptions. Herbal legend Michael Moore compiled this list as guidance.
Standard Ratio: 1-3 Tbs. herb to 8 oz. water, or for a larger batch: 1/4 cup-3/4 cup herb to 1 quart water. (If the plant parts are small/compact then less herb is needed; if they are fluffy then more herb is needed; a scale can also be used if you know how many grams/oz are suggested for the herb you are brewing.)
Boil water in a pot or use the instant hot water if you have it at your office or in your kitchen.
For a single serving: Place dried herbs into a tea strainer that fits your favorite ceramic, glass or stainless steel mug. (Tea balls are usually too small to accommodate the amount of herbs needed for a medicinal tea). If you need a strainer or infuser, lovely ones can be found at FORLIFE or look locally at your food coop, grocery store, kitchen shop or herb store. For a quart batch: Place dried herbs in a quart mason jar, or in a french press (ideally one that is dedicated to herbs and not used for coffee).
Pour recommended amount of boiling water over the herbs and cover.
Steep, covered for 10-30 minutes, depending on the herb.
Remove herbs (this is important – keeping them in too long can affect flavor and bring out undesirable compounds) - use a strainer or press if using a french press.
Add additional water to return tea to original volume.
*Certain herbs are better prepared as a cold infusion, like marshmallow root and comfrey root. Check out another helpful list from, Michael Moore.
How to make DECOCTIONS – A decoction is used for the tougher plant parts. Herbs are simmered in boiling water for 10 -20 minutes. A decoction is typically used for barks, roots and seeds, like Wild Cherry Bark or Licorice root, but again, there are exceptions. (here’s a great table of herbs that are best decocted) and another useful list from the generous Michael Moore is here.
Standard Ratio: 1 tsp - 1 Tbs herb (depending on desired strength) to 8 oz water, or for a large batch: 3 tsp - 4 Tbs. per quart of water
Place herbs in pot and cover with cold water.
Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer, then cover.
Simmer, covered for 10-20 minutes.
Remove from heat and strain out herbs.
Add enough water to return to original water volume.
Now you know the inside scoop on how to properly brew a batch of medicinal tea.
Enjoy and be well, Tara
Tara Thomas, MS Herbal Medicine, is a Clinical Herbalist in Seattle, WA.