Thursday, 15 May 2014

the OTHER teas

The other teas - there are no other teas, tea can only be made from leaves of the tea bush, called Camellia Sinensis.  So what about herbal teas?  They are not tea at all.  They are infusions.  An infusion is made by pouring boiling water over the dried leaves, flowers and/or stems of herbs and sometimes chopped rhyzone or spices, and allowed to steep (sit for a while). Some herbs can be used fresh from the garden. These infusions, or decoctions are actually called tisanes - but, commonly known as herbal tea.
Herbal tea often looks like real tea. The taste is similar to real tea and easy to drink, hot, cold or iced. Herbal teas can be made from one herb or a blend of herbs for medicinal uses.  Herbal teas contain no caffeine. As many herbs promote relaxation the most common usage of a herbal tea is to de-stress.  Other uses are to aid digestion, cleanse the body, promote energy, strengthen the immune system, provide antioxidants, stimulate certain internal organs, help restful sleep and avoid catching colds, depending on which herb you use.

To get the most out of herbal tea start with fresh cold water - filtered if possible. Boil the water in a stainless steel kettle or saucepan - avoid aluminium - for a clean fresh flavour.  Use glass or a glazed ware teapot and cups. Herbal tea looks very pretty in glass. A tea strainer is necessity.

Use one heaped teaspoon of dried herb, at least twice that if you are using chopped fresh herbs, or a commercial bag, in a teapot or jug. Add boiling water over the herb, cover with a lid and let it steep for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on which herb used and how strong you like it.  I find 5 - 7 minutes is good. The longer you leave it the stronger the taste and some herbs can become bitter. Herb teas must be strained before drinking and what is left in the strainer can go back onto the garden.

Milk is not used in herbal teas but they can be sweetened with honey or Stevia. For other flavouring add a wedge of lemon, lime or orange, slices of ginger or a few fresh leaves of lemon balm or mint. Cinnamon also adds flavour and warms the body.

Ginger tea is made by grating or finely chopping the root and using as above.  Fennel seeds can be crushed and infused in boiling water. Juniper berries must be boiled to make a tea.

Chopped leaf, crushed seeds and chopped roots of herbs and spices can be added to ordinary tea, and strained, if you don't like it straight. 

Warning: Herb teas can be made of any plant material so it is important to know what you are drinking and what effects it may have. People react differently to herbs and some herbs are fine in small amounts but can cause damage in large amounts. All herbs and many plants contain substances that may interact with medications or cause unwanted side effects. If you are not sure, don't use it.

Taking Dandelion can complicate the effects of other medications. St John's Wort should not be taken with med for high blood pressure and, as Lemon Balm stimulates the thyroid, people with thyroid problems should avoid it. Lavender or mint, can cause problems if used alone in a tea, so are best added to other teas to compliment or flavour.   Some herbs, such as Slippery Elm, Raspberry leaf, and Red Clover should not be taken by pregnant or breastfeeding women or children. Look it up first.

We all have poisonous plants in our gardens. Before picking leaves read a few herb books or browse the tea section of a Health Food shop and read the packet instructions. Many herbs can be purchased in tea bags as well as loose leaf or dried root. If you do pick fresh herbs make sure you can identify them properly. Foxglove is very dangerous and looks a lot like comfrey.

If you hope to use herbal infusions for their medicinal properties remember it is folk medicine, that is information passed from person to person - not always tested in a laboratory.  The strength of herbs can be affected by soil type, age of the plant, time of harvest,  remedy preparation.  I feel some herbs will suit one person better that another and you won't know until you test it - but,  it is still worth trying to find a non chemical solution for many of life's problems.

Some common herbs used for infusions are;
Allspice - upset stomach and common cold.
Anise seed - digestion, fresh breath, soothe a cough.
Chamomile - soothing, calming, anti-inflammatory.
Chrysanthemum - reduce fever, good for liver.
Cinnamon - calming, good circulation, digestion.
Fennel - indigestion.
Herb Robert - immune system, tumours, cancer
Hibiscus - (flowers) sore throat, cystitis, gum disease, high blood pressure.
Ginger root - circulation, digestion, nausea, reduce anxiety, lung congestion and arthritis.
Lemongrass -  calming.
Parsley - diuretic, good for kidney function.
Peppermint - stress relief, digestion, fresh breath.
Rosehip - vitamin C for colds and coughs, tonic for liver, kidney and blood.
Rooibos - (South African Red Bush tea) antioxidants
Slippery elm - stomach cramps, gastrointestinal problems. 
St John's Wort - depression

Cold teas can be applied externally.  Many people use cucumber or cold tea bags as a compress for sore puffy eyes. Make your own using a cotton pad soaked in cooled herbal tea - camomile, calendula, parsley and rosewater all make a refreshing treatment. Lie down with the wet pad on closed eyes for 10 mins.  Do not pour the liquid into the eye and be sure to strain it well, as even a tiny piece of leaf can irritate the eye.


CONCOCTION - mixture, brew, preparation, creation, potion, blend.

INFUSION - a drink, remedy, extract prepared by soaking tea leaves or herbs in liquid, introduction of a new element or quality into something.

TEA - a hot drink made by infusing the dried crushed leaves of the tea plant in boiling water or the evergreen shrub or small tree which produces tea leaves, native to southern and eastern Asia and grown as a major cash crop.

HERBAL TEA - a drink made from the infused leaves, fruits, or flowers of plants other than tea, including coffee or cocoa.

HERBAL TINCTURE - herbs dissolved in vinegar or alcohol to be used externally as a wash or taken as a remedy.

REMEDY - treatment, cure, medicine, medication, drug, restorative - a means of counteracting or eliminating something undesirable.


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