There’s a kind of alchemy present during medicinal tea-making, as the elemental forces of fire, water, and plant life come together. You concoct a blend of roots and leaves, flowers and seeds, pour boiling water over the herbs and watch them steam and simmer. You breathe in the sharply scented plant oils and taste the potent brew, trusting it will ease what ails you.When you make -- rather than simply take -- your remedies, the very act is medicinal in itself.
Blending teas is one of the easiest, most satisfying ways to reconnect to the age-old practice of herbal medicine, a healing system that’s been relied on by every culture in the world. Though it may sound like a mysterious art, the blends you’ll create -- for everyday ailments like the common cold, stress, PMS, indigestion, and seasonal allergies -- are quite simple, made with safe, versatile, readily available herbs. In the process you’ll learn underlying principles and techniques for blending and brewing that herbal healers have been using for centuries.
CREATING HERBAL HARMONY
You may have tried peppermint tea for indigestion or ginger for a cold. These single-herb remedies, known to herbalists as “simples,” can be effective medicine. But plants, like people, thrive in community. In nature they seldom grow alone, but rather flourish in close proximity to one another. In medicinal blends, they work synergistically, meaning that each herb enhances the effects of the others. The blend becomes more than the sum of its parts. Knowing which herbs to choose, and in what amounts, is both a science and an art. Teas should follow this reliable three-part method for creating effective blends, based on the work of renowned herbalist William LeSassier.
The main ingredients in medicinal blends are herbs that directly address a specific health concern. Primary herbs make up 70 to 80 percent of a blend. There may be one or several primary herbs in a particular tea; in the Good-Digestion Tea, for instance, peppermint and chamomile -- both stomach soothers -- are primary herbs, while the Women’s Balancing Tea contains vitex, a hormone regulator.
The secondary ingredients in medicinal blends are there to nourish and support the system, often soothing and buffering the effects of the stronger primary herbs. Supportive herbs make up 20 to 30 percent of a blend. Many are high in minerals and a soothing substance called mucilage. Again, one or multiple herbs can occupy this category. In these blends, you’ll often see licorice in the supportive category.
Included in small amounts, 5 to 10 percent of a blend, catalyst herbs have a warming or stimulating effect on the body and serve to “activate” the tea. Ginger, peppermint, and cinnamon are frequently used as catalysts. Most herbs can play more than one role. Peppermint, for instance, is a primary herb in the Common-Cold Tea but a catalyst in the Stress-Soother. Unlike drugs, which generally contain one or two active ingredients with a specific agenda, herbs are made up of thousands of ingredients. Because of their complex chemical nature, most herbs work a number of ways in the body and can be used for different purposes.