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How to use herbs in infusions

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The action of any infusion depends on how it is used.  This article will provide some practical information on how to prepare and direct the energy of herbal infusions.  An herb is a plant that is used for medicinal purposes.  When you put an herb in water and let it sit for a while, it is called an infusion. Tea and coffee are types of infusions.  If an infusion has no tea or coffee, it is called a tisane.  Sun tea is a warm infusion, and you make a cold infusion by soaking herbs in cool water overnight. 

How much tea should I use?

There is no “right amount” of tea for a given cup. It all depends on your personal preference.  I generally start out with a teaspoon of tea per 12 oz. cup. Ayurveda recommends a ratio of 1 part herbs to 8 parts water for infusions.  These are not rules; they are more like guidelines.  As you get to know an herb or a blend, you will develop a feel for how much of it is right for you.

How long should it steep?

As a general rule of thumb, a hot infusion is ready when it is cool enough to drink without burning the tongue.  If you make a habit of drinking anything before it is cool enough, you will not get a chance to truly taste your drink and you also increase your risk factor for throat cancer.  It takes some herbs longer to release their essence than others. 

As you get ready to brew your tea, take a close look at it.  Plants have seven types of tissue: leaf, root, stem(rhizome), gum, bark, flower, and seed. What is your tea made of?  Steeping time depends largely on the answer to this question. 

Leaves & Flowers

Leaves and flowers do not take long to steep. All true tea (black, green, white, and oolong) comes from one plant: the tea tree (camellia sinensis). Its leaves seldom steep longer than 5 minutes.  Tea leaves become bitter if they steep too long. Most other herbs get better the longer they steep.  Some greens and oolongs do not reach their full flavor until their second steep, so remember to save your leaves for later.  

Mint, eucalyptus, thyme, rosemary, stevia, and other leaves generally do not need to steep longer than 5 minutes. Flowers such as chamomile (calming, good for digestion), St. John's Wort (helps mild to moderate depression), and jasmine (calming) are the same way. Pitta tea is a cooling blend of leaves and flowers: peppermint leaf, chamomile flower, jasmine flower, sage leaf (natural coolant), rosemary leaf (sends blood to the brain).  Pitta tea doesn't need to steep longer than five minutes, but it will only become stronger the longer it steeps.  Like most leaves and flowers, pitta tea works well in cold infusions. 

There is one exception to the rule of the swift steep for leaves and flowers.  That is hibiscus, known in Spanish as Jamaica.  Hibiscus is a thick, red flower that tastes like lemon and is rich with vitamin C.  If you have a hibiscus blend like Hibiscus Mint, Street Yoga Tea, or Redbush African Spice, let it steep for 7 or 8 minutes. A red cloud of nectar will form at the bottom of your cup. If you leave that nectar at the bottom, your tea will become more intriguing with every sip.

Roots, rhizomes, seeds, and bark

The tougher tissues of a plant release their essence more slowly than leaves and flowers. Kapha tea is a warming blend that breaks up blockages in the digestive and respiratory tracts. It contains a lot of sassafras root bark (cleansing), cinnamon bark (digestion, circulation, mental awareness, diabetes), ginger root(warming & good for digestion), and black pepper (promotes circulation, digestion), which is a seed. Because its ingredients are so dense, Kapha tea does not take its true form until it is steeped for at least 8 or 9 minutes, or prepared as a decoction.

Decoctions

Decoctions are highly concentrated infusions. To make one, use a ratio of 1 teaspoon herb to 1 cup of water in a tea-kettle.  Leave it on low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until roughly half the water has evaporated.  You can drink a decoction warm, or save it for later.  Decoctions are an especially good way to prepare blends like Kapha, which is mostly composed of tough plant tissues.  If you refrigerate a decoction, it can keep for more than a week.  If you want to know whether it is still useful, give it a sniff. The nose knows.

How to direct the effects of infusions

If you need your infusion to support digestion, sip it 15 minutes before a meal. Warm water is a medicine, too.  It supports the digestive process by relaxing the muscles of the stomach, small intestine, and colon.   Cold water impedes digestion by causing those tissues to contract. Contraction of tissues in the body impedes absorption of food.  Contraction of the mind impedes absorption of knowledge and love.  If you want an infusion to work on the heart or lungs, sip it 15 minutes after a meal so that it remains close to those organs while your meal digests. If you want your infusion to go to the liver, take it in between meals when the liver is not busy processing food.

Some herbs, like ginger, have immediate effects on the body.  Others, such as gingko leaf (supports memory) and astragalus root (boosts immune function), are best used on a longer-term basis.  If you are taking an herb for medicinal purposes, drink 2 or 3 cups a day. 

Before using any herb on a medicinal basis, consult with your physician for potential side effects and drug interactions.  None of the statements in this note are intended to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure any disease.

 

Questions?  Comments?  Curious about Sip to Live teas?  Visit our website at www.SipToLive.com send us a facebook message.

 

Want to know more about the health benefits and potential side effects of a specific herb?  Click on the link below:

 

http://nccam.nih.gov/health/herbsataglance.htm


 

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