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Making the Most of Your Herbal Tea

The art of brewing tea is a ritual that has been around for centuries and one worth writing about…

Sometimes when a friend visits and I offer them a cup of tea they ask, “What do you have?”  I just laugh and say something like, “This is a house of teas, what do you like – I probably have it?” (Actually one of the spare bedrooms in my house has become so over run with herbs, teas, pots and cups, that my family has dubbed it ‘the tea room’… no space on the bed for guests to actually sleep…)

Obviously I’m a big promoter of herbal tea… for enjoyment as well as for therapeutic benefits and I’m often asked if herbal teas “work” (for their claimed therapeutic benefits that is), so I thought it high time I wrote a post on how to get the most out of your herbal tea.  It can get quite involved really, but don’t let the finer details overwhelm you.  Just make the best cup you can and enjoy it.  But for those who want maximum benefit, I’ve provided a bunch of details below (and I’ll sumarise these at the end of the post for a simpler view).

Disclaimer: I’m actually mostly a black tea drinker myself – a good English breakfast or Early Grey are my main go to-s, French Earl Grey is my favourite… preferably loose leaf.  But sometimes I’m looking for a herbal tea – sometimes for the flavor, more often for a particular therapeutic purpose. So here’s my top tips for getting the most out of your herbal tea – whether it’s for flavor or therapy.

Firstly use loose leaf high quality (preferable organic) herbs.  Like so many things, you get what you pay for.  For the best flavor and benefit you want to buy a good quality herbal tea/blend.  When I started out on my herbal tea blending journey (just a few herbs and blends for clients) I bought a few high quality organic herbs (which of course I still do… just a few more these days).  One of these was peppermint.  And oh my gosh did it taste good!  I’ve never been a huge peppermint tea drinker, but this peppermint tea was full of flavor.  Since then I might be out somewhere and think a peppermint tea would be nice… only to be served something from a supermarket (brand name) tea bag… which I have to say is a great-big-let-down!  That was my first lesson in the distinction between quality herbs and not.

However it goes beyond just the quality of the starting herb.  Tea in bags is usually cut up super fine where the herbs then degrade quickly, losing more of their essential and volatile oils which are responsible for much of the smell and taste (and therapeutic benefit).  And then there’s the bags themselves – most commercial tea bags are made from microplastics which - apart from adding unwanted flavor - also add unwanted nasty health effects. 

And while speaking of quality – the water you use can also make a great difference to the flavour (and in some cases even slow down the infusion), so use the purest water you can.  Filtered water makes the best flavoured tea (not to mention all the other health considerations around this… perhaps a post for another day).  If you can’t afford a good quality filter, then just do the best you can. I use a simple bench top water filter.

Then we come to the best way to brew.  The most common recommendation for brewing is to brew 1 tsp dry herbs per cup, for 3-5 minutes.  Now this is ok if you like a weak brew, however for the best therapeutic dose and maximum flavour, I always recommend brewing 2 tsp per cup for 10 minutes.  The longer you brew the tea, the more you will extract from the herbs.  This is especially important if your blend contains roots and barks. (One little note here – if your blend contains licorice root, then the longer you brew it the stronger/sweeter and more overpowering it will become, so I personally don’t tend to brew my blends with licorice root beyond 10 minutes). 

It’s also important not to overcrowd your herbs.  The more surface area the water can reach, the more herb you will extract.  So don’t overcrowd your infuser (teabags are often overcrowded), Teapots, plungers and infuser bottles are perfect! 

Covering your tea while it’s brewing is also ideal to help trap the beneficial essential oils in your cup… maximising the benefits for you.  Again think teapot, plunger, infuser bottle, covered infuser, or even just popping something over your cup while it brews.

Now I usually just boil my kettle and pour it over my herbs, however some herbs are quite delicate and can be easily damaged by water that is too hot.  Different herbs require different temperatures so a one rule fits all approach here doesn’t quite work; but for simplicity, the best generalised approach is to wait for 30 seconds after your kettle has boiled and then pour your boiling water over your tea… unless you have one of those fancy kettles that shows the temperature (90° is ideal for fresh herbs, leaves and flowers; but then if you’re using roots and bark you want it as hot as possible… which can be tricky as many blends tend to combine flowers, leaves and roots).  So don’t get too bogged down on this one, just keep it simple… you’ll still get a good cup of tea.

If you're drinking your tea for a specific therapeutic purpose, then as well as brewing it strong and long, I recommend drinking 3 cups per day for a more therapeutic dose.

Finally I want to talk about the therapy gained simply from brewing and drinking a cup of tea (herbal or otherwise).  As I read somewhere, the art of making tea is a beautiful ritual that should be savoured.  There’s much benefit to be gained simply from that ritual.  I find beautiful teapots and cups a worthwhile investment. Take the time (even if it’s only 10-15 minutes) to stop, and make it mindful.  My son loves the sound of the water pouring, I enjoy pouring it from my teapot into a delicate cup; smell the tea, find a favourite/peaceful place to sit and savour… and leave your phone behind.

So in summary:

1.       Use good quality (preferably organic) loose leaf herbs.

2.       Measure 2 tsp of herbs per cup loosely into your teapot, plunger, infuser bottle or infuser.

3.       Once the kettle has boiled allow it to sit for 30 seconds before pouring.  Listen to the sound of the water pouring, smell the herbs as they release their essential and volatile oils (briefly before covering).

4.       Allow it to brew for 10 minutes.  This is a good time to disengage from technology and perhaps do some simple breathing exercises or stretches.

5.       Find a favourite place to sit such as in the sun, in nature (added benefits there), or your favourite chair – perhaps by the fire.

6.       Take the time to smell, taste and savour your tea, notice your surrounds - listen to the sounds around you, feel the warmth of the sun or fire or cool breeze (depending on season of course)…

7. For a more therapeutic dose, repeat this 3 times per day.

One final note:  you can also use make an iced version of your favourite tea simply by using the above tips for brewing it ahead of time; then straining into a bottle and popping it in the fridge until you are ready to drink it.

One more final note: while I have referred to herbal brews in this post as ‘tea’, technically tea is made from the plant camelia sinensis (think black, green, white tea).  An infusion of dry herbs used as a beverage is actually called a ‘tisane’.

 

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