I'm going to do a short series about the books we have put together at The Essential Herbal . Many of you know and receive the magazine, and from that we've combined several books.
The first one is "Blending Herbal Teas" and it is available on the website shop. Inside, you'll find instructions, information, and recipes from many herbalists and herb business owners.
Here is my intro from the booklet:
Tea goes by many names - tisane, infusion, decoction, simple, extraction, elixir, brew... and each word means a slightly different thing. It can get somewhat confusing, almost like learning about wines, but we will simplify the whole thing here and now.
All tea is herbal. Yep. That's right. All teas are made from botanicals steeped in liquid. Generally when we talk about "herbal teas" for which the proper term is tisane, we are excluding teas made from the various forms of Thea sinensis, or Camellia sinensis. Teas from these plants are what we are most familiar with... the grocery store teabags with which we grew up, the iced tea served in restaurants. However, since all plants are herbs, these teas are also herbal teas, and have been included in some of the recipes in the book. It will be referred to as black tea, green tea, oolong tea, or white tea - all from the same plant, but processed differently. These teas will grow bitter if steeped more than 3-5 minutes, while other herbs rarely do. It is the tannins in this plant that cause the bitterness.
Herb leaves and flowers require 5 or more minutes of steeping (infusing), while seeds, roots, and barks can take up to 15 minutes of simmering on the stove (decocting) to get the flavor and medicinal properties properly drawn.
In my first spring and summer of seriously learning about foraging and wild crafting, I made a wonderful tea blend. While wandering through field, stream, woods, and mountainside, I would gather handfuls of different plants. After researching to be sure of their identity and properties, they would be dried on a screen and added to a large glass jar.
Now this particular jar of tea was truly wonderful. There were the usual suspects of course.... peppermint, chamomile, and leaves from strawberry and red raspberry. As the herb garden grew, a few leaves of sage, a sprig or two of thyme, basil, rosemary, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and comfrey found their way into the jar. Violets and their foliage went in, as did the beautiful wild roses, elderflower and honeysuckle blossoms. As the bee balm began to bloom, a few heads were dried for the tea jar. Dried nettles and cleavers and echinacea leaves became part of the tea, and then some spices - star anise, ginger root, cardamom seed, cinnamon barks. Mid summer, raspberries, elderberries and bluberries were added along with gooseberry leaves. In the late part of the summer, I found and added rose hips.
Eventually I wound up with a gallon jar of really gorgeous dried botanicals. Each cup was completely different - in color, flavor, and scent. We had stevia and licorice root sticks on hand for sweetening, and for that winter friends visiting our home would look forward to a cup of that special tea - always a surprise, always delicious.
It was great fun creating that blend, and it was also a time of learning. By the end of that year it was clear that it is very difficult to make a bad cup of herbal tea, and "simple" to make a fabulous blend.
The purpose of telling this story is to encourage you to try making some blends of your own. Making teas with herbs has always been a part of the human culture. The folkloric use of herb teas is easy to find, and in this part of the country is still passed on from parents to children. Peppermint tea for upset stomachs, catnip and fennel to help the nursing mother, valerian root tea for sleeplessness, horehound or mullein for coughs, feverfew for migraines, sage tea for night sweats, ginger tea for morning sickness, slippery elm bark or marshmallow root for any digestive problem from lips to anus, chamomile for just about anything, St. John's wort for the blues, and the list goes on and on. We used these plants for centuries. Now there are warnings and issues of drug interactions and this or that might be a carcinogen. Comfrey is a wonderful healing plant, but it is labeled as dangerous. Ephedra was almost magical in helping people with asthma, but it has now been removed from shelves because some people used it to create an amphetamine-like product. Kava will probably be next. St. John's wort is hanging in there for now, but use is discouraged because it will interact with some pharmaceuticals. So does grapefruit, but the way... and there is such a thing as "water poisoning" from drinking too much water. Our advice? Use all things in moderation.