The following is an excerpt from Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar (Storey Publishing, 2008). In this inspirational guide to a greener, healthier life though caring for and honoring the body, you’ll find time-tested herbal remedies that are safe, effective and easy to prepare. Gladstar, a renowned herbal teacher and a driving force behind the contemporary herbalist movement, presents teas, tonics, oils, salves, tinctures and other natural therapies for dozens of common maladies and for promoting overall health and wellness at every stage of life. This excerpt is from the Appendix II, “The Art of Making Herbal Remedies.”
Herbal teas remain my favorite way of using herbs medicinally. The mere act of making tea and drinking it involves you in the healing process and, I suspect, awakens an innate ability for self-healing in the body. Though medicinal teas are generally not as potent or as active as tinctures and other concentrated herbal remedies, they are the most effective medicines for chronic, long-term imbalances.
The making of herbal tea is a fine art, but it is also blessedly simple. If you’ve never cooked a thing in your life, trust me, you can make a good cup of medicinal tea. All you really need is a quart jar with a tight-fitting lid, the selected herbs, and water that has reached the boiling point.
Herbal teas can be drunk hot, at room temperature or iced. They can be made into ice cubes with fresh fruit and flowers and used to flavor festive holiday punches. They’re delicious blended with fruit juice and frozen as pops for children.
After brewing, an herbal tea should be stored in the refrigerator. Left at room temperature for several hours, it will go “flat,” get tiny bubbles in it and begin to sour. Stored in the refrigerator, an herbal tea will be good for three to four days.
I seldom direct people to make medicinal teas by the cupful. It is impractical and time-consuming. Instead, make a quart of tea each morning or in the evening after work. The herb-to-water ratio varies depending on the quality of herbs used, whether they are fresh or dried (use twice as much fresh herb in a recipe), and how strong you wish the finished tea to be. I generally use 1 to 3 tablespoons of herb(s) for each cup of water, or 4 to 8 tablespoons of herb per quart of water, depending on the herb.
For a medicinal tea to be effective, it must be administered in small amounts several times daily. For chronic problems, serve the tea three or four times daily. For acute ailments such as colds, fevers and headaches, take several small sips every 30 minutes until the symptoms subside.
How to Make Herbal Infusions
Infusions are made from the more delicate parts of the plant, including the leaves, flowers and aromatic parts. These fragile plant parts must be steeped rather than simmered because they give up their medicinal properties more easily than do the tougher roots and barks.
To make an infusion, simply boil 1 quart of water per ounce of herb (or 1 cup of water to 1 tablespoon of herb). Pour water over the herb(s) and let steep for 30 to 60 minutes. The proportion of water to herb and the required time to infuse varies greatly, depending on the herb. Start out with the above proportions and then experiment. The more herb you use and the longer you let it steep, the stronger the brew. Let your taste buds and your senses guide you.
How to Make Herbal Tinctures
Tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts of herbs. They are very potent and are taken by the dropperful, most often diluted in warm water or juice. Because they are so concentrated, they should be administered carefully and sparingly. (For chronic problems, use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of a tincture three times daily. For acute problems, use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon every 30 to 60 minutes until symptoms subside.)
Most tinctures are made with alcohol as the primary solvent or extractant. Though the amount of alcohol is very small, many people choose not to use alcohol-based tinctures for a variety of sound reasons. Effective tinctures can be made with vegetable glycerin or apple cider vinegar as the solvent. Though they may not be as strong as alcohol-based preparations, they do work and are preferred for children and people who are sensitive to alcohol.
If you use alcohol as your tincture solvent, it should be 80 to 100 proof, such as vodka, gin or brandy. Half of the proof number is the percentage of alcohol in the spirits: 80-proof brandy is 40 percent alcohol; 100-proof vodka is 50 percent alcohol.
There are several methods used to make tinctures, but the traditional or simpler’s method is the one I prefer. Herbs, the menstruum (alcohol, vinegar or glycerin base) and a jar with a tight-fitting lid are all you need. This extremely simple system produces a beautiful tincture every time.
1. Chop your herbs finely. I recommend using fresh herbs whenever possible. High-quality dried herbs will work well also, but one of the advantages of tincturing is the ability to preserve the fresh attributes of the plant. Place the herbs in a clean, dry jar.
2. Pour in enough of the menstruum to cover the herbs, and continue pouring until the liquid rises 2 or 3 inches above the herbs. The herbs need to be completely submersed. Cover with a tight-fitting lid.
Note: If you’re using vegetable glycerin, dilute it with an equal amount of water before pouring it over the herbs. If you’re using vinegar, warm it first.
3. Place the jar in a warm location and let the herbs and liquid soak (macerate) for 4 to 6 weeks — the longer, the better.
4. Shake the bottle daily during the maceration period. This not only prevents the herbs from packing down on the bottom of the jar, but also is an invitation for some of the old magic to come back into medicine making. During the shaking process, you can sing to your tincture jars, stir them in the moonlight or the sunlight, wave feathers over them — whatever your imagination and intuition inspires.
5. Strain the herbs from the menstruum using a large stainless-steel strainer lined with cheesecloth or muslin. Reserve the liquid, which is now a potent tincture, and compost the herbs. Rebottle and label. Store out of the reach of children in a cool, dark location, where the tincture will keep almost indefinitely.
High-C Tonic Tea Recipe
A wonderfully refreshing blend, High-C Tonic Tea provides bioflavonoids and vitamin C in an organic, naturally biochelated base so that all of the nutrients are readily available for absorption. High levels of vitamins supplied in therapeutic dosages, such as commercial vitamins, may be useful to combat illness, but for daily maintenance, a more naturally occurring dose is better, especially for children.
4 parts rose hips
3 parts hibiscus
2 parts lemongrass
1 part cinnamon chips
Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container. To make a tea, prepare as an infusion.
Berry Good Tea Recipe
2 parts elderberries
2 parts dried hawthorn berries
2 parts lycium berries
1 part huckleberries or bilberries
1 part raspberry leaf
Mix together all of the ingredients. Brew as an infusion, using 1 tablespoon of the herb mixture per cup of water, and steeping for 30 to 60 minutes. Sweeten with honey if desired. Drink 1 cup daily.
Pick-Me-Up Tea Recipe
2 parts hawthorn berry, leaf and/or flower
2 parts nettle
1 part ginkgo
1 part licorice
1/4 part cinnamon
1/4 part ginger
Prepare as an infusion, using 1 ounce of herb mixture per quart of water, and allowing it to steep for 45 minutes or longer. Drink 2 to 3 cups daily.