The Art of Tea

Greetings for Part 2 of the Tea Sessions… This might seem like a bit of an odd post- of course everyone knows how to make a cup of tea right?! Wrong! Here are some tips from a herbalist’s perspective:

Ingredients

Quality is key- see my first blog on ‘Herbal Teas – The Basics http://pineapplesage.co.uk/?p=348

Dose

Obviously for certain medicinal herbs the dose is different (especially the stronger herbs dispensed by herbalists). But for the most part, you can follow these guidelines. One thing for sure is that the amount you get in a teabag is not a therapeutic dose! (at least when it comes to Herbal Teas rather than English Breakfast). Sometimes it depends on personal taste as some herbs are stronger so you may want a little more or less. A general guide is 2 heaped teaspoons of a herb tea blend per cup, though for individual herbs (as opposed to a mix of different herbs) sometimes 1 heaped teaspoon is sometimes enough- especially for strong tasting herbs! For a more therapeutic dose you can have as much as 30g of a dried herb blend each day (or 60-75g fresh) in 600 mls of water for 3 cups  or if you just want to make 1 cup add 10g to 200mls water (a basic therapeutic dose for most teas is up to 3 cups a day- 600mls total). If using fresh herbs double the amount because of the higher water content which adds bulk/weight.  If using teabags- use 2-3 bags per cup rather than 1. For a decoction (boiling herbs on the hob- see below) you usually need more water- around 750mls – as it will reduce to around 600mls. Note for acute conditions such as the common cold, you can increase the dose to as much as 6-8 cups a day (for most herbs) though it is best to seek advice from a herbalist or a trusted home herbal book.

Quality water

It’s all in the water… Please use filtered water to make tea. Tap water contains chlorine, pharmaceutical residues and many other toxins- none of which will do you any good when you are drinking it in on a daily basis (and especially if you drink as much tea as I do!). See the ‘Environment’ Section of my website for more info on toxins in our water/food supply. There are some really good water filters on the market but even basic portable filters such as Brita are better than nothing. Also use a stainless steel kettle instead of a plastic kettle if poss.

Brits Love Teapots

Invest in a decent teapot! One that has a tightly fitting lid is best. Why? Because most herbal teas contain essential oils which evaporate easily especially when you add boiling water. If you simply put a teabag in a cup these oils will disappear before you take your first sip. Medicinally speaking, essential oils have lots of therapeutic benefits (especially when it comes to fighting bacteria/viruses and affecting our moods/emotions). So if you are drinking tea for health reasons then keep this in mind (and taste as they also give lots of flavour– just think of the oils in orange, lemon and mint)… This isn’t important for all herbs, just aromatic herbs (ones that smell strongly such as mints, rose, citrus…) You can also make tea directly into a thermos flask for convenience (glass lined is best)- put the lid on straight away and this will keep the oils in. Then you have it ready to drink throughout the day.

Types of Preparation

In Herbal Medicine there are 3 ways of preparing a tea: 1) Hot Infusion 2) Cold Infusion and 3) Decoction. Follow the doses as already mentioned.

Hot Infusions

By this I just mean the usual way of infusing plants in boiled water. Best used for delicate parts of a plant like the flowers or leaves or aromatic plants with lots of essential oils. Examples are Chamomile, Rose, Mint, Ginger, Rosemary, Anise and Fennel… If using fresh herbs chop finely, for tougher seeds or herbs like the Fennel or Rosemary, it helps to bruise them slightly in a mortar & pestle– great therapy in itself! Then cover herb with boiling water and leave to steep in a teapot with lid. Leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes to get the most health benefits from your tea.

Cold Infusions

Another nice option is a cold infusion– where you simply leave a herbs/fruit in a teapot filled with water overnight. Wake up in the morning and voila ready to drink-perfect cooling drink in the summer. The result is a more delicate infusion with just a hint of flavour. I love doing this with slices of lemon, lime or berries– making enough to last the whole day. Cold/Warm infusions (rather than hot) are also better for some mucilaginous herbs such as Marshmallow powder.

Decoctions

A decoction is a term for boiling a plant part in water, rather than just infusing. Reserved for tougher ‘woodier’ parts of a plant such as the roots, bark or some seeds (you may need to break the herb down into smaller pieces if it is whole). Examples are licorice and cinnamon. Put herbs and cold water in a pan (specialized glass, ceramic or enamelled cast iron pans are best as they are the least reactive- never use aluminium pans). Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, up to 1 hour for some. For powdered herbs 10 minutes is usually enough (or you can just infuse powders). Take off the heat and leave for another 10 minutes with the lid on. Strain and drink warm- or cool and drink throughout the day. For some herbs you can simmer for up to an hour to extract the most benefits but you will need to add more water.

 Such a Thing as ‘Too Much Tea’???

How much tea can you have in a day? Ok you’ll soon get tired of this response, but ‘it depends!’- on the herb, the person and the condition. As a rule for most herbs 3 cups a day is a gentle therapeutic dose for most people, suitable for long term use. You can make your days worth of tea in the morning- pop it into a flask then it is ready to drink throughout the day. For short term treatment of acute conditions (such as a cold/flu) use you can usually increase to 1 cup every 1-2 hours (usually max 8 cups a day). Of course it is hard to generalize here and this does not replace medical advice- always seek a professional opinion if you have a specific health condition or are taking any medications. I always recommend visiting a herbalist as they can put together a customized blend to suit your needs

Children and Herbal Teas?

Many herbal teas are safe for children but the dose needs adjusting. I’ll post some info on this in the near future.

So who would have thought making a cup of tea could be so complicated?! Now you know, make sure your next cup is a PROPER cup of tea! And finally- enjoy! Do like the Japanese and make teatime a ritual– something special and nurturing. Use the time to sit quietly & relax- even if only for 5 stolen minutes each day.

In the next blog I’ll add a few starter recipes for some popular herbal infusions and decoctions.

See you then!

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