The perfect cup of tea will probably be different for all of us but from a herbalist’s point of view it should be three things; it has to have a clear intent, it has to be of exceptional quality and it has to do good.
Clear intent is all about what you want from the tea. Do you want a calm-me-down, a pick-me-up or digestif?
Exceptional quality is all about the plant itself; how has it been grown – For us it has to be organic as that is the kindest and most appropriate way of growing herbs. It also has to be brimming in organoleptic vitality- the herbs have to look, feel, smell, taste and even sound right.
And finally is this tea doing good – to the soil it was grown in, the ecosystem it is a part of, and the planet as whole?
Balancing the blend
Essentially making a delicious tea is a bit like cooking a delicious meal; you need to combine a range of textures, tastes and colours to create an experience that is nourishing and delicious.
First decide on what you want to achieve. This might just be something tasty that you can quickly think of like a fresh sprig of lemon balm or rosemary in your cup. For more complex blends you may want to spend some time considering what herb herbs will work well together.
A helpful pattern to think of is having a system of weighting and balancing the blend: a Chief herb, a Guardian herb, a Harmonising herb, something for Digestion and then a Messenger herb to send the formula to somewhere specific in your body. It’s the principle of synergy in action where the sum of the whole is greater than the parts.
Select the lead herb, or herbs, that act like the Chief guiding the tribe. These should be delivering the strongest and most specific results. Then you should support those leading herbs with a Guardian’s help to support the intent of the Chief. These will be included in the largest proportion. Next you might bring in a Harmonising herb that helps to balance any extremes; for example, a sweet herb to balance bitterness or a demulcent herb to balance astringency. Then to help it all to be assimilated add in an aromatic Digestive like fennel or peppermint. Finally, to make sure the herbs go to the right place add in a Messenger. Some species are specific for certain parts of the body; sage for the head, hawthorn for the heart, eyebright for the eyes.
For example if you wanted to make a tea good for a relaxing moment here is an example that you can infuse in 500ml freshly boiled water:
Chief: Chamomile 4g
Guardian: Lemon balm 2g
Harmonsier: Licorice root 1g
Digestive: Fennel seed 1g
Messenger: Lavender flower 1g
Use these ideas as just that, ideas. By learning the basic language of nature, getting to know the herbs and, overtime, developing your insight and intuition you can take these principles and mold them with your new-found expertise.
The art of making herbal tea
Just as selecting top quality herbs is important for a great cup of tea, so are the minute details such as the amount of herbs in each cup, the shape and size of the herbs, the infusion time, the quality of water, the water temperature, the teapot, the cup……the company.
How much you should have, of what and when, is the essential question to ask before you use any herbs? Whilst there are some minimum amounts needed to get a suitable flavour and effect there are also maximum recommended amounts for certain herbs. Please see the specific information on each herb with regards to using any plant safely. Adults won’t go too far wrong with this guide:
As a daily drink: 1-5g up to 3x/day
For a stronger effect : 5-10g up to 3x/day
Amounts for children
There are some important guidelines to help decide how much to give children. Age is one consideration, weight is another, and physical constitution is another. Slight or frailer vata-like children require less. Heavy or robust more kapha-like children can use more. Use your intuition and their weight as guides. Dr. Clark’s Rule is very helpful:
To determine the fraction of an adult dose, divide the weight of the child in kilos by 75. Example: 25Kg child divided by 75 = 1/3. Therefore the child’s dose is 1/3 of the adult dosage.
A Rule of Thumb: 12 year old gets an adult dose; 6 year old gets ½ an adult dose; 3 year old gets a ¼ adult dose; Under three just gets a few sips.
Its important to get the weights of the herbs right. Use a digital scale for smaller weights. Once you have a bit more experience you can use the tried and tested ‘pinch’ method; you can ‘pinch’ the herb estimating in very general weights, depending on what plant it is, the plant part, how finely its been cut and your hand or spoon size. It approximately gives you:
|Plant Form||Teaspoon (5ml)||Pinch||Handful|
Shape and size
Finely cut herbs infuse more quickly, larger cut herbs more slowly. Fresh herbs infuse the quickest and retain a delicious brightness.
Hard herbs, like roots and barks, need to be finely cut if you want them as an infusion. If they are larger pieces you will need to decoct (simmer) them.
Soft herbs, like leaves and flowers, should usually just be infused and only ever be decocted for short periods of time with a covered lid.
Finely cut leaves and flowers loose their potency more quickly and so must be stored in an airtight container.
Delicate aromatic flowers, leaves and seeds generally need less infusion time: 5-10 minutes. Though for stronger nourishing teas with plants like nettle leaf or oatstraw, this may be for 4-8 hours.
Harder fruits, roots and barks need longer infusion times: 10—20 minutes and many will be best decocted.
Water and how you boil it
Water for the best herbal tea should be fresh, pure, clear, odourless and low in minerals. Its also really worth thinking about where you get the energy required for boiling your water. Getting your energy from a renewable energy source is the best way for a positive cup of tea. Getting an energy efficient kettle is another way of ensuring you don’t waste energy.
Ultimately you want to use freshly boiled water that has been left to cool a bit when making delicate teas such as chamomile, mint or green teas. Over-heating can upset the balance between the stronger tanniny compounds with some of the subtle volatile oils and amino acids. Really hot water extracts more bitter and astringent compounds making the tea (especially green tea) taste ‘harsh’, whilst water that is too cool is lacking the power to entice the flavours out of the herbs making it taste ‘weak’. Over-boiling water causes the minerals to come out of solution and collect as a film on the surface and, more importantly, lowers the oxygen content which reduces its ability to convert the delicate aromatic compounds to tasty experiences.
Most herbal teas should be made with freshly boiled water when the water temperature is around 95°C. More delicate herbs like lemon balm and chamomile flowers can be infused at slightly lower temperatures, harder woody roots and barks like licorice and dandelion at higher temperatures. A good herbal trick is to keep a lid on your cup when infusing aromatic herbs to prevent the precious volatile oils from evaporating.
Storing your herbs
The four enemies of all stored herbs are light, moisture, temperature and garlic. Keep them somewhere dark, dry, cool and away from strong smells.