Tea is a wonderful beverage, but did you know it can be medicine too? Whether you are drinking traditional teas made from Camellia sinensis, or enjoying an herbal tea, these beverages can improve your health, promote wellness, and help heal you when you’re sick.
Teas made from Camellia sinensis, include green, black, white, and oolong tea. All of these teas have moderate therapeutic value, mainly due to antioxidant potential. The majority of research has focused on the therapeutic value of green tea. The main difference in these types of teas is how the leaves of the plant are processed. They are usually prepared by steeping ½ to 1 teaspoon of the tea in 1 cup of water for 2-3 minutes (green), or 4-5 minutes (black and oolong). White teas can be steeped for as long or short as you like. These teas are caffeinated so they are not recommended for evening consumption. Black and oolong teas are higher in tannins and caffeine than green and white tea, and may aggravate some people’s digestive tracts.
Herbal teas are prepared a number of different ways, including hot or cold infusions and decoctions, depending on the part of the plant and whether you want to enjoy it as a sipping tea or as medicine. A good rule of thumb is to prepare a sipping tea by combining 1 tsp. for each cup of water and to prepare a therapeutic tea by combining 1 Tbs. for each cup of water.
Hot infusions are the most common preparation. These are prepared by pouring almost boiling water over the herb and allowing to steep. If you are preparing a hot infusion for sipping, it can steep for as little as 5 minutes. If you are preparing a hot infusion for therapeutic use, steep for 10-15 minutes. Some herbs need to be covered when they are steeped to maintain the therapeutic properties. Mint leaves (Mentha x piperita) and chamomile flowers (Matricaria recutita) are good examples of herbs that need to be covered when steeping.
Cold infusions are excellent for preparing a mineral rich brew, or if you want the mucilaginous properties of a plant. Red clover flowers (Trifolium pratense), nettle leaves (Urticaria dioica), and red raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus) are all wonderfully mineral rich plants that do well with a cold infusion. Slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra) and marshmallow root (Althea officinalis) are very mucilaginous and do best when prepared with a cold infusion. To prepare a cold infusion, simply combine herbs with cold water and steep for 12-24 hours, preferably in the refrigerator.
Decoctions are used with harder to extract plant parts, such as roots and bark. To prepare a decoction, bring your water to a boil, and add the herb to it. Turn down the heat, cover the pot, and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes. You may need to add a little extra water when you start it become some will boil off. Also, make sure to let cool before straining and drinking because the water will be very hot! This is very potent medicine, and often you’ll need a little honey to help with the flavor. Examples of herbs that can be prepared this way include ginger root (Zingiber officinalis), astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus) and cherry bark (Prunus serotina).
I hope you enjoyed this introductory discussion on teas! As usual, this information is for provided for general knowledge purposes, and is not a personal medical or health recommendation. Please see your local herbalist or naturopathic physician or a personal medical or health recommendation.
Dr. Tremblay graduated from high school with an associate’s degree in horticulture and worked as a gardener for 10 years before returning to higher education and the healer’s path. Dr. Tremblay studied native plant ecology and ethnomedicine at The Evergreen State College, and earned her doctorate degree in Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University. Read more >>