Herbs are effective and safe alternative medicines when used properly. For the most part, they’re inexpensive compared to the average pharmaceutical, and with internet shopping becoming more common, there’s almost nothing that isn’t available to the home herbalist. But what you may not realize is that simply plunking a tea bag in a mug of hot water might not be the best way to take advantage of an herb’s medicinal values.
To prepare a dried herb, it’s best to make sure it’s ground to a coarse powder. We have a spare coffee grinder here just for herbs and spices. (If you clean it well after every use, you won’t have to worry about flavors from the last batch getting into your latest grinding.) Fresh herbs can be cut into thin slices for roots, cut into small pieces or simply bruised for leaves and flowers.
The water you use should be purified, soft, or distilled. Some people even collect rainwater, which sounds quite lovely to me although I’ve not yet tried it myself. Water should be heated to almost boiling and 1 pint (500 ml) should be placed in a glass, earthenware, or porcelain container. There are infusion pots which work best for preparing herb teas by suspending the herb towards the top of the hot water, but you can also wing it if you don’t have an infusion pot. I use a tea ball which I hang towards the top of the water by holding the tea ball chain in place with the lid of the pot. (Always make sure you cover the tea with a lid.) By keeping the herb towards the top of the teapot, you are causing the water molecules to drag the herb’s properties to the bottom of the pot. More “empty” water molecules rise to the top, taking more herbal properties back to the bottom. It’s all a matter of gravity, and it will pull the most out of your herb.
Here’s the part most people don’t realize: Tea used for medicinal purposes are best left to steep for 20 – 30 minutes, not the usual 3 – 5 minutes as one would for a beverage tea. After your wait is up, remove the herb, squish out all the water, and add more water to the pot to make sure it still equals about 1 pint (500 ml.) It’s okay and even beneficial if there are bits of herb floating in your tea, so don’t strain it unless you’re really bothered by drinking tea with floaties.
The average adult dosage for most herbal teas is one cup three times daily, but the different teas do vary, so check with an herbalist to be certain. You can keep your unused tea for about 24 hours if stored in the fridge, but I wouldn’t go beyond that or you’ll start losing the benefits. (For more information on dosages and safe herbs for babies and children, listen to my recent podcast interview with Herbal Ed.)