Herbal Tea as Medicine
As we head into the cooler months, a warm cup of tea in our hands can be a real blessing. But aside from being a tasty beverage, herbal teas can also be a great way of getting our medicine. Plants contain all sorts of phytochemicals, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that are good for us in a general sense as well as having more specific actions on certain systems of the body.
History of Herbal Teas
Before the advent of modern manufacturing processes and herbs coming to us in tablets or brown bottles, herbal tea was the major way herbs were delivered as medicines. In many cultures around the world, households kept some basic dried herbs in the cupboard for simple ailments and this ‘folk medicine’ was passed down from generation to generation. Herbalists were often midwives or lay healers and often also in charge of spiritual matters in their communities. During the middle ages however, there was a push from the Church to gain more power and the practice of herbal medicine and healing was forbidden and many herbalists were persecuted and much knowledge was lost. Over the past couple of hundred years, modern medicine has slowly gained power and prestige and despite many modern drugs coming from plants, herbs have lost much of their place and respect in the world of medicine. Despite this, the World Health Organisation (WHO) still classifies herbal medicine as an important, effective and viable medicine for most of the world’s people who have limited access to modern pharmaceutical medicines.
Bringing Back Herbs to the Household!
Many of us use both fresh and dried herbs in our cooking – and this is a simple form of food as medicine. But having a range of simple herbal remedies as teas in the cupboard is still a good way to care for yourself and your family for basic common health complaints. While herbs do not offer a replacement for modern drugs in every condition, having some basic knowledge and remedies on hand can give you other options and alternatives to mainstream approaches for simple complaints such as colds, coughs, digestive disorders, stress and sleep issues. Herbal teas are also great for children as they provide a gentle and safe option that is effective but without the side effects of some modern medicines.
Herbal Tea as Medicine
There are two main methods to make a medicinal tea – using dried or fresh herbs and boiling water. Plants contain different constituents in different parts of the plant – active parts can be found in the roots, the bark, the leaves, the berries, the flowers. Some constituents are easily dissolved in water, while others are not. Thus the preparation method employed in making a herbal medicine is important – and the best method will make it most potent and effective.
An infusion is what we usually think of when we think of making a tea. Simply pouring about 1 cup boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of dried herbs is how to make a basic herbal tea infusion. Infusions are best for leaves and flowers that are more delicate and yield their active constituents easily in boiling water – and ones that contain essential oils are readily captured and not destroyed by simple infusions.
Fresh plant infusions are also possible with fragrant herbs like lemon grass, mint, lemon myrtle, lemon balm and they tend to be milder in taste and concentration. With fresh plant material, we tend to use a bigger volume as it already has a lot of moisture content. Chop or crush a decent handful of fresh herbs per cup of boiling water.
Decoctions are when herbs are simmered over low heat over a period of time (usually for at least 5-10 mins) to extract more of the constituents. Decoctions are best employed with woody stems, barks and roots that need a longer processing time to release their medicinal actives. There are some herbs that teas or decoctions are not suitable for, as the active products are not readily extracted in water. Alcohol is a better solvent in this regard – such as for certain resins and gums.
I have created different herbal blends that I make up from organic high quality herbal teas as well as some single teas. These teas offer tasty and effective medicine or a range of common conditions:
- Lung and Cough Tea
- Relaxation Blend
- Digestive Blend
- Cleansing Tea Blend
- Lactation Tea
- Peppermint or Spearmint
- Raspberry leaf
- Dandelion root or leaf
- Nettle leaf
So next time your in the clinic, go grab a pack of herb tea – you will find it is vastly different from the tea bags you get at the supermarket and it will offer you a simple home remedy too! I can also post teas out to you – details and purchase options can be found here.