How to Make Herbal Tea
First of all, What is Tea?
As someone who spends a great deal of time preparing, drinking, blending, and talking about herbal tea, I always go back and forth debating if I should even be using the word “Tea” to describe this vast and varied category of plant based brews.
Technically, “tea” is reserved for 1 specific plant species that finds its way in endless varieties of the most consumed beverage on Earth (next to water) Camellia sinensis. This is the one tea plant responsible for black tea, green tea, white tea, and endless other varieties of tea.
This plant has started wars and has been one of the most widely traded ingestible substances in humanities history. It was deeply infused in trade routes and found its way throughout the world. It trickled into other cultures, each with its own variations and expectations.
It had become a fundamental (and often prestigious) thing, not just a plant or a beverage, but a social norm just like breakfast and lunch. It became a time of day. A time to sit and eat biscuits and tarts and socialize. Be with others or yourself for a moment in time. A time to take a deep breath or connect deeper with those around you. Our American society has no counterpart, we have no siesta, no pause, no break from our work or home life (which, lets face it, is often just more work.)
So I suggest, whatever plant you may be consuming be it true “tea” or some other plant brew or concoction, that we take the TIME for TEA.
As an herbalist, I know that an herbal tea is really a water based plant infusion or a simmered decoction, and sometimes it is both. It is steeped and soaked for much longer than true Tea, which typically has a 3-5 minute steep time.
However, as herbal remedies are quickly gaining popularity with mainstream society, it is much easier to simply call it “tea.” The word decoction doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
So call it what you will, that is not of the most importance. What is incredibly important is to understand the difference of a variety of preparation methods necessary to access different healing benefits within the plants.
So let’s plant tea gardens, and collect tea cups, and wear big hats if you want. Let’s take time for healing, time for ourselves. But let’s also understand what we are doing when making medicinal preparations that may be intended to offer healing benefits as well as conserve the preciousness of the plants we are using, by not wasting the plants through inadequate preparation.
It is beyond difficult to try to pin down “proper” tea preparation when it comes to herbal water extractions. They are all so different, and in this era of herbal revival, we have access to virtually any variety of plant we would choose to work with.
Some plants are incredibly gentle, but some are not. Although most of the plants that are commonly used for tea are not typically dangerous, as far as toxicity goes, some herbs do have stronger actions within the body and they may elicit a reaction within the body or have an imbalancing effect on the overall system.
There are certainly circumstances where this is entirely appropriate and sometimes necessary, especially in acute conditions. Yet, when trying to reduce long standing symptoms from chronic disorders, More Is Not Always Better.
What is better, is for these healing botanicals to be integrated and assimilated into our lifestyles, on an ongoing basis. It is a process of gaining a relationship with a plant or herbal remedy or a healing food and being able to call on that remedy when you are having certain symptoms or to prevent those symptoms from happening.
This is especially true of the herbs many of us are using to better adapt to the modern stressors in our lives, the gentle nervous system restoratives, adaptogens, tonics, and gut soothing plants are best integrated into our lifestyle to consistently, to cope with the vast assaults on our digestive, nervous, detoxification, and endocrine systems.
This is certainly not the case for every disorder, and there are of course times when higher doses or concentrations are necessary. Yet, with the current state of uncertainty of the health of the Earth and the often unsustainably practices of wildcrafting we should only use what we truly need.
When you begin to grow plants or connect with them in the wild, there is usually more of a realization of the importance of each leaf and flower grown by the forces of the Earth. That should be respected and conserved. If you have every grown and harvested chamomile, you will look at it a little differently than if you are able to order pounds at a time.
So to not waste our precious plant matter we should only use what we truly need as well as extract all possible constituents that is practical and efficient. Heads up, that Echinacea Root Tea sold in a tea bag with a recommendation of steeping 5-10 minutes is a highly ineffective preparation of an at risk plant that has almost been decimated by overharvesting. This is just one example of the often misuse of herbs in the commercial herb and supplement industry.
A note on Teabags… Although there are some high quality companies out there making really good herbal tea products packaged conveniently in tea bags, this is not generally the most effective way to prepare and consume medicinal preparations. Tea bags are generally made with powdered or very finely chopped herbs. If these are consumed fresh, this does not pose a problem, but in the time after the product is made, packaged, shipped, stored, and then sold the herbs tend to oxidise and often lacking their vitality. (Not to mention the bleaching agents and sometimes toxic glues used in the production of many commercial tea bags.)
There are endless opinions on how to make herbal infusions, decoctions, and water based herbal extracts. There are many more skilled herbalists than I, that may see things differently. Yet, these are the methods I have stuck with over the years, as they seem to be the most practical & efficient, as well as offering effective options that are easily made at home.
You can make strong tea and drink less, a light tea tea and drink more, or what I usually do is find a happy place somewhere in the middle. What is important to remember, with whichever strength is chosen, is that an adequate steep time is used to extract as much of the medicinal components as possible.Don’t forget to cover your tea with a lid while it is steeping! Don’t let precious aromatic compounds escape in the steam!
General Health & Wellness Herbal Infusion
This is your basic everyday tea that can be prepared with a variety of herbs or herbal tea blends. This type of preparation is common with leaf & flower plant parts that are more permeable and generally have softer cellular structures.
Light Strength Infusion
This is a good place to start if you are new to herbs, or when you are trying a new herbs and you are unsure of how it will affect you. This would be the general amount that is used for most “beverage” type teas and is nice if you would like to conserve your herbs or would like to be drinking larger amounts throughout the day.
1-2 Tablespoons of herbs to 1 Quart of Water…
Heavy Strength Infusion
This is a much stronger preparation that can be used when targeting specific symptoms that need a consistent dosage of herbs for stronger effects. Use a little caution here and experimentation. Some even very safe herbs, such as Thyme & Oregano, can be intense at these dosages, and may have unintended effects. Balanced formulas are important when using stronger medicine.
4-6 Tablespoons of herbs to 1 Quart of Water...
(Historically, a medicinal preparation would be much stronger than this...somewhere around 1 oz of herbs per 1 pint (2 c.) of water. This is entirely valid, but not always necessary.
Experiment! Learn about the plants you are using and make sure there are no safety concerns when using strong medicinal preparations.)
I like to make my infusions in a quart jar or a French Press. If you don’t mind spending 20 bucks and want the easiest way possible, the French Press is the way to go. I also like to use a jar because I can just take it with me for the day, and drink it later at work. (You will need a strainer to do this.) You can also use the French Press for the infusing, and transfer it into a jar to take with you for the day, or to store in the fridge for later.
To make, simply boil water on the stove or in an electric kettle. Measure out herbs or tea blend into a jar, French Press, or you can use the pot you are boiling water in. Once the water has boiled, I wait about 30 seconds or so and pour over the herbs (or add them to the pot) Now here is the important part, give it a little stir, (I use a chopstick) and COVER with some form of a lid. The lid keeps in aromatic components that would otherwise escape into the air. (If you live in a cold climate, you may want to warm the jar a bit before pouring hot water in, to avoid the jar from breaking.)
Let Steep for at Least 20-30 Minutes. (I often let mine steep for several hours.) Strain and enjoy!!!
What if I just want 1 cup?
These preparations can all, of course, be altered to make just one cup at a time. This is great before bed, or for general health and wellness benefits, but if you are using these teas for specific symptoms, larger amounts may be necessary for many individuals.
The act and the art of making tea can also be a meditative, stress reducing habit in itself. For this I absolutely love to use a 1 cup size French press, but there are many other convenient options to choose from. 1 cup of tea can be easily prepared with a mesh tea ball that can be rinsed and reused over and over, or simply pour water directly over herbs and use a bombilla. (A special straw with tiny holes at the bottom to filter while drinking, used in South America extensively. There are many cups, mugs, and little teapots that have a mesh basket for your herbs to sit in when making a cup or two of loose leaf tea. Any of these methods will be effective, just don’t forget to cover while steeping, and let steep for at least 20-30 minutes, depending on the herbs being used.
1, 2, or 3 tsp per cup may be appropriate, depending on which herbs are being used. Typically 1 Tablespoon per cup is an effective dose for most people if using for specific medicinal purposes.
This is a simmered tea. It is often used with roots, barks, mushrooms, and berries that either have denser cellular structures or simply need more heat/time to access their medicinal benefits.
There is a long history filled with different methods of how to prepare a decoction. Often these preparations use a reduction method of low simmering the preparation for long periods of time to reduce the water content and increase the medicinal concentration. I do this rarely, unless I am going to make a syrup, but it is a useful preparation method that creates a more concentrated end result.
Light Strength Brew
This is a good place to start if you are new to herbs or when trying out new herbs or blends for the first time, especially root based preparations. Roots can be very strong medicine and concentrated in their actions. Learn about what you are using, and observe how they affect the body.
1-2 Tablespoons of herbs to 1 Quart of Water…
Heavy Strength Brew
This is a much stronger preparation that can be used when targeting specific symptoms that need a consistent dosage of herbs for stronger effects. Use a little caution here and experimentation. Some Roots and Barks have powerful effects. Roots such as Burdock, Chicory, and Dandelion are delicious at strong doses, but may have a strong detoxifying effect in some individuals, so it might be a good idea to start with just one cup and see how it goes from there.
4-6 Tablespoons to 1 Quart of Water…
If you are thinking ahead, it is best to soak roots in cool or room temperature water for a few hours or overnight before simmering them. Herbalist James Green suggests beginning with cold water and then slowly warming them up rather than tossing herbs/roots/barks right into boiling water. This helps to avoid certain plant proteins (specifically albumin) from coagulating, and binding with other medicinal components, which can make the remedy less effective. 
Measure herbs/roots/barks/berries and add to measured cold or cool water. Let soak, or else slowly bring barely to a boil on the stove in a pot with a lid. Reduce heat, and simmer, with a lid on, for 20-30 minutes. (This time can be much longer in some instances, depending on which plant/s you are working with) Let cool for a bit, and strain out the herbs.
To make a stronger concentrate, the solution can be further simmered (with or without the plant material-again depending on the plant or desired result) until it is reduced by half. So if you are starting with 1 quart, you could reduce it to 2 cups or so. This is more common when making a syrup, or when a concentrated dosage is needed.
These are made with gentle, nourishing, food type herbs that can be consumed in large quantities and provide abundant vitamins and minerals. Although the herbs used in this kind of preparation is generally very safe and well tolerated, those with sensitive constitutions may want to begin with smaller amounts. Many nutritive herbs are very drying and cooling, and for some individuals it might be imbalancing to consume large amounts of strong preparations of these herbs. This can also be adjusted to some degree by adding moistening (such as marshmallow leaf) or warming (such as ginger) herbs to the mix.
Add about a whole oz (I usually do less, about 1/2 a cup) to a quart jar or french press. Boil water and pour over herbs. (This can also be done with a cold extraction method) Cover with a lid, and let steep for several hours. (I like to let them sit overnight, or at least most of the morning, about 3-4 hours) Strain and enjoy. These can also be refrigerated and drank cold in warmer months.
This is common with herbs that have particular aromatic components, mucilage, or nutrients that might be destroyed with the high heat of boiling water. This is a very simple method, all it really takes is water, herbs, and time. Simply measure herbs into a jar and pour cold/cool water over them. Add your lid and set the jar in the fridge overnight, or out on the counter is fine in cool climates. I sometimes like these to sit for an entire 24 hours, as it is a slow extraction method.
Using the energy and power of the sun is an effective and delightful way to infuse herbs into water. I love making these with fresh plants and flowers. There is something extremely magical about the blend of all of these components coming together.
Measure herbs into a jar or sun tea pitcher. You can also use a reusable muslin tea bag to avoid having to strain out the herbs before consumption. I usually like to add at least a ½ Tablespoon or 1 Tablespoon per cup, depending on the herbs used.
It also depends on how strong the sun is in your climate. Here in the desert, solar extractions can be quite intense, so less herbs may be needed. It can set out in the sun for a few hours, or even most of the day, and then strained and chilled or poured over ice for a nice refreshing drink.
How Much Do I Drink?
Although there is no one right answer for this question, a general guideline is 2-3 cups per day for heavy infusions/decoctions, and 3-4 cups per day for lighter infusions/decoctions… (This means 8 oz, not a giant coffee mug full!) Again this depends on what herbs are being used and what the goal or intention of the tea is. I typically drink a quart of a light infusion daily, but I am more sensitive to certain herbs, so a few cups is sometimes enough. More is not always better, creating the habit of making and drinking herbal blends will have more benefit over time and you will be able to see how different herbs/blends make you feel.
If you have any questions, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org...