Published March 16, 2022 As an herbalist, my life’s work is learning how to utilize and share the power of plant medicine. And for me, one of the most intimate ways to interact with that precious herbal medicine is through the magic of tea. A moment of tea savored helps you tend to the wounds of the soul.A cup of tea shared created space for deeper connectionThe ritual itself makes room for your own thoughts. Tea is, in fact, one of the first introductions to herbs that most of us experience. A cup of chamomile at a restaurant for digestion, hot tea with lemon and honey for a sore throat from mom. Tea is how we learned to practice our own kitchen medicine, even if we didn’t know it at the time… and I can’t believe the time has almost come where I get to share my beloved kitchen formulas with you. While there are many different ways to brew tea, all of them have one thing in common: they ask you to slow down and actually pay attention to the simple and wholesome task at hand — the same task your ancestors inevitably took part in with their own local plants and traditions. This act engages your hands and your heart while letting your mind clear its clutter, and allows you to arguably receive the maximum benefit from the herbs you’re utilizing. The beauty of tea is that it can be enjoyed simply for the comfort of a warming cup, or carefully prepared with a specific method to extract maximum medicinal compounds and nutrition in order to target physical, mental and emotional imbalance. At its simplest, tea is:1. dried herbs +2. steeped in (usually hot) water……and yet there are far more intricate directions and methods of preparation that help you maximize those compounds mentioned above. Throughout this post, we’ll dive into the basics of the 4 main types of tea preparation: what makes each one different, what plants they’re best suited for, and why some herbs are actually best infused with cold or room temperature instead of hot! But for now, I want to really hammer home why the simple preparation that is tea can actually be so potent for the human body and your health goals. Tea is so much more than just a beverage. It’s actually a powerful extraction of plant medicine that can pack a high punch of milligrams of active compounds, as well as a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that other solvents can’t always grab. Tea is medicine; it can be even more powerful than tinctures or capsules at times, and it’s a great way to take your herbs (especially when you’re looking to deepen your relationship with the plants by physically seeing them, touching them, smelling them and preparing them). Tea nourishes the body and soul, and it’s even beneficial for gut health in a way that other delivery methods aren’t – so let’s break it down! THE POWER OF THE RITUAL Rituals like tea create the space so you can hear. We all have an inner voice within us that’s constantly speaking to us, answering our questions with gut instincts and wisdom that are fleeting from moment to moment. It takes a keen ear and a practice of mindfulness to be able to really tune into your body and hear this voice – and sometimes the noise of the world can make that feel almost impossible. When everything in our external lives feels unpredictable and out of our control, a personal tea practice (whether alone or enjoyed with a loved one) brings that element of presence, intention, and slowness back into our lives. Tea cultivates mindfulness. And mindfulness rituals allow you to collect your thoughts, to create and play in a vision for your future, to dream, to process, to feel the emotions you’ve been holding back. So often today we simply don’t stop to think about our lives, we just live in them and push forward to fill the noise. A cup of tea is so much more than a cup of tea. It’s a gateway to your inner world, it’s a form of protection against going too fast, it’s a doorway of connection to your body and heart space, and it’s one of the most loving acts we can perform for someone we care for. Tea can completely change the mood in a room, soften a difficult conversation, and soothe the waves of tension when passions are high. Tea is medicine, in more ways than one. WATER IS THE UNIVERSAL SOLVENT Water is what herbalists call “the universal solvent.” It extracts a ton of constituents from plants: vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and various other phytochemicals and nutrients. In fact, it has a more robust range when it comes to extracting plant chemicals than any other known liquid. The only place water falls short is that it’s unable to extract *all* alcohol-soluble alkaloids from dense roots and barks, even though it does get some – that’s why a long decoction method for roots is so key Think of it this way: all B vitamins, including B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, and B12 are water-soluble and can be extracted expertly by water. Vitamin C is another one that is soluble in water, with countless other vitamins, minerals and nutrients (like potassium, magnesium, calcium, and so much more). HOT DRINKS SUPPORT YOUR MICROBIOME’S GOOD BUGS?! For centuries, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine have preached the importance of drinking warm to hot liquids (or at the very least, room temperature) in order to protect the digestive fire – or what we’d see today as gut health. In these ancient systems of medicine, it’s believed that cold water reduces digestive fire – the metabolism or breakdown that ‘cooks’ and extracts nutrients from our food – and hot or warm water actually strengthens digestive fire. According to the Ayurvedic text “Ashtānga Hridayam,” warm, hot, or room temperature water “stimulates hunger, promotes digestion, is easily digested, and relieves hiccups, gas, aggravated vata, and aggravated kapha.” (Excess vata = gas and bloating, while excess kapha = stagnation, sluggishness, fatigue). While Ayurveda’s methodology and philosophy began well before modern scientific processes, some interesting studies have popped up in recent years exploring this concept of cold water = altering to the gut/digestive process in a negative way, vs warm water = supporting the gut microbiome/digestive process in a positive way. Most notably, this study explored the benefits of weaning young rabbits on warm water instead of cold water, by monitoring their growth performance and gut microbiome structure. The intro draws from human health studies and states, “Epidemiological investigations have revealed that cold temperature can increase the risk of diarrhea in children, and similar observations have been made in early postweaning livestock. Recent studies have shown that cold temperature alters the gut microbiota, which may be associated with the pathogenesis of various intestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel diseases.”Cold temperatures alter gut microbiota?! Although they’re talking about the weather outside, Ayurveda and TCM believe that both prolonged cold climate exposure and cold foods/drinks can harm the digestive fire and microbiome. And interestingly enough, this study suggests we may be able to combat those cold temperature gut changes and protect the microbiome by drinking warm water – so I wonder if they’d find the opposite as well: that cold temperature drinks have the same altering effect as cold temps outside, like TCM believes. TCM and Ayurveda also state that it’s even more imperative to drink hot and warm drinks during the winter months, which aligns as well. It goes on to describe the study, explaining: “In the present study, using early post weaning rabbits as a model, we analyzed the effects of drinking warm water (WW) on the growth performance and gut microbiota structure of postweaning rabbits during winter. Our results confirmed that drinking warm water improved the growth performance and optimized gut microbiota in early postweaning rabbits during winter.” All the more reason to drink that warm cup of tea for a happy gut! Now, let’s chat about the 4 methods of brewing herbal tea, based on what type of phytochemicals you’re trying to extract (minerals for nourishment or alkaloids for liver support?) and the type of plants you’re using (aromatic nervines or dense, woody adaptogenic roots?) THE 4 TYPES OF MEDICINAL BREWING METHODS 1. Short/Hot Infusion A “short infusion” or good old “hot infusion” is your standard pot of tea. Short infusions are generally made from plants with medicinal components that can be extracted in a relatively short amount of time: think aromatic rich herbs like chamomile, rose, lavender. It doesn’t take too much time or heat to get these beautiful aromatics (and thus, the essential oils within the leaves responsible for their smell and medicine) into your cup, therefore you can steep for a shorter amount of time (5-30 minutes) than the other methods we’ll cover. This is perfect for those who are short on time and want to “set and forget” their tea in a french press during their morning routine, then pour and drink throughout the day! I love adding my tea ritual to part of my daily “systems” of how I self-care. A short infusion in a french press allows me to set my tea to steep, then do my morning stretching and practices while something nourishing for my body is brewing. DIRECTIONS: Add 1-2 tsp of plant material or tea blend to a french pressPour just boiled water over the herbs until the press is about fullLet it steep for anywhere from 5-30 minutes depending on the strength of flavor and medicine you’re looking forStrain and serve! Once strained, it can be stored in the fridge in a closed mason jar or container for 2-3 days. OUR FORMULAS SUITED TO THIS METHOD:THE OPEN HEART, THE RIGHT MIND, THE HEALER, THE DEFENDER & THE PURIFIER 2. Overnight Infusion An overnight infusion is how you make the most restorative, rebuilding kitchen medicine. Also known as a “nourishing infusion” or “long” infusion, this method allows the herbs to soak for a longer period of time to ensure all their goodness infuses into the water. For this method, choose herbs where you’re looking to get nutrients (minerals and vitamins) > over phytochemicals. Think of this tea almost like a salad, but a beautifully warming beverage instead; it’s like drinking leafy greens, rich in plant-sourced, bioavailable magnesium, calcium and so much more. If you’re dealing with mineral-rich herbs like nettle or horsetail and want to get as many nutrients out of them as possible, this is your moment. It’s also perfect for a pregnancy tea with raspberry leaf, red clover, and oatstraw! This preparation style involves steeping a large amount of herbs for a longer period of time (a few hours to overnight), allowing the water + heat + time to work its magic. The longer the water has contact with the herb material, the more minerals it can extract. DIRECTIONS: Place about ½ – 1 cup of herb material into a jar; either one single herb or a mix of mineral rich plant matter as a tea blendFill the rest of the jar with freshly boiled water Tightly close the jar, let it sit on your counter for 8+ hours or overnightStrain and serve. Once strained, can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 days OUR FORMULAS SUITED TO THIS METHOD:THE PURIFIER (if you’re looking to get maximum minerals from the horsetail) 3. Cold Infusion Did you know that two types of herbs are best suited to “cold” infusions with room temperature water, rather than brewing with heat? 1) Delicate herbs that are heat-sensitive such as hibiscus, 2) Herbs that are high in gut-healing, mucous-membrane-soothing mucilage, polysaccharides and starches. In these cases, a cold infusion is a perfect solution to uphold the integrity of the herb, extract the correct compounds (like those mucilaginous polysaccharides), while still brewing a tea packed with loads of flavor and medicinal benefits. BEST HERBS FOR A COLD INFUSION: Marshmallow rootSlippery elmComfrey rootHibiscus DIRECTIONS: Place about ¼ cup of the herb of your choice (or a mix!) into a jar, we used marshmallow rootFill the rest of the jar with room temperature, filtered water – no warming necessaryTightly close the jar, let it sit on your counter or in the fridge for several hours or overnight to really give the tea time to extractStrain and serve, or once strained this can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 days Interestingly, the herbs that lend themselves to cold infusions also happen to be quite cooling and soothing to ‘hot’ and ‘angry’, aggravated, inflamed tissues. For example, a 50/50 marshmallow root/hibiscus cold infusion is lovely for someone who runs hot, carries tension in their shoulders, and is quick tempered – especially by their pain. The method matches the herbs, and both the method + the plants match the needed medicine. OUR FORMULAS SUITED TO THIS METHOD:THE HEALER (if you’re looking to get maximum gut-healing mucilage from the polysaccharides. You can also brew THE HEALER as a regular hot infusion and leave it out on the counter for a few hours as it comes to room temp to mimic the extra cold infusion step for the marshmallow) 4. Decoction Tea doesn’t just have to be dried leaves! A decoction is often made with stronger herbal materials like roots, bark, dried whole berries, & mushrooms. Simmering the herb material/tea over a period of 15 minutes to hours helps extract the phytochemicals to get the most out of your plants. Yes, it’s true that this method takes a bit longer and has a few more steps – simmer, cover, watch… but that’s because we’re working with denser plant material that has some HEAVY DUTY MEDICINE INSIDE. It takes time and patience and the end result is worth it. You’re cooking some serious kitchen herbalist goodness here. This is a long, low simmer method that is indicated for hard plant material such as roots, barks, seeds, and resinous plants. Think anything from rosemary and cinnamon to ginger root and burdock. The long simmering helps to soften and extract the plant’s full spectrum of medicine, and the cover is kept on to keep volatile oils from escaping. The result will be a dark, earthy tea that has texture and richness. DIRECTIONS: Add about 4 cups of water to a pot with 1-2 tsp of roots/herbs or your herbal tea mixBring to a light boil, then let the herbs simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes up to an hour or twoStrain and serve, can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 days Decoctions can be rebrewed 2-3 more times after first brew because there’s so much medicine within them; you can use the same blend of roots + herbs you just simmered. Cover them again with water, repeat this process, and you’ll have a whole extra batch or two. OUR FORMULAS SUITED TO THIS METHOD:THE GUARDIAN, THE CLEANSER, THE DEFENDER & THE PURIFIER (if you want these at maximum strength) While all four of these methods = tea, the differences lie in how long you steep them for, what parts of the herbs you’re using, what types of herbs you’re dealing with, and how much heat (or not) you use! These subtle distinctions make for more accurate, medicine-packed cups with proper extraction of each herb’s unique phytochemicals and nutrients.