Making a Cup of Tea

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Cold-infuse a tea with herbs for a cool summer drink.
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“Healing Herbal Teas” by Sarah Farr walks you through how to use herbs to make and customize tea for your health and enjoyment.

Herbal Healing Teas, by Sarah Farr, (Storey Publishing, 2016) serves up 101 tea recipes that are healthy for you and taste great. It can be easy and fun to create and customize teas for your enjoyment and health. This section from “The Tea-making Process” explains how to prepare and infuse your tea.

You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Healing Herbal Teas

I like to drink several cups of tea each day in the fall and winter, and often drop down to just one cup a day as the weather warms up. During periods of increased stress, I have a successful protocol in which I drink a robust tea in the morning and restorative teas in the afternoon and evening. I try to be flexible, letting my body tell me what it needs and choosing teas based on how I feel. There are times when I consistently feel run down and crave a mushroom and root tonic every day for months. At some point I start to notice that I really need to take a break, and I switch to more simple blends.

I believe that seasonal teas are the way to go for long-term vitality, so at least once a day I try to drink the same teas I make for Bird’s Eye Tea, my monthly tea subscription service. These teas are designed to highlight seasonal ingredients and mediate seasonal stress.

If you are not experiencing a specific imbalance, let your body guide you toward the right teas for you, or choose teas that support your seasonal needs, health, stress levels, and energy. If you want to get the most out of a specific medicinal tea, drink one cup, two or three times daily. This is considered an effective dose for chronic or acute conditions. Drinking two or three cups throughout your day allows your body to slowly absorb the active constituents over a long period of time. In the case of acute infection, prepare and consume a strong tea as often as you can drink it.

Teas are made by infusion or decoction, depending on what plant parts you are using and what constituents you wish to extract from them. The following information will help you understand why and how different methods are used.

The term infusion comes from the Latin word infundere meaning “to pour in.” Technically, an infusion is a method of maceration (the preparation of an extract by solvent extraction that uses water as the menstruum/solvent) in which water is poured over herbs to extract the active constituents. The ratio most often used in this book is 1 to 2 tablespoons of herb to 1.5 cups of water, though this will naturally depend on how strong you prefer your tea.

Infusions are usually made with aerial plant parts such as leaves, flowers, and soft berries, which require relatively little time in hot water to extract the desired constituents. If you do boil the delicate leaves and flowers, you risk losing some of their potency to excessive heat and evaporation. Barks and stems are oddballs and can be used either in infusions or in decoctions.

To prepare an infusion, you can use a vessel such as a teapot, French press, mason jar, or teacup with a lid. It is super important that your vessel has a lid to limit the amount of volatile essential oils that evaporate with the water. Infusions can be prepared hot or cold and can be stored for up to 24 hours after preparation.

Preparing a Hot Infusion

Pour 1 1/2 cups hot water over 1 to 2 tablespoons tea. Cover the vessel and allow to steep.

For most herbal teas, allow 15 to 20 minutes to steep. That probably seems like a long time, but it really does take that long to get a full extraction. Try to be patient. You can also just steep for 5 to 10 minutes and re-steep your tea a little later. For blends with black or green tea in them, steep for only 5 minutes if you want to avoid the bitter tannins. You can re-steep black and green teas multiple times.

Preparing a Cold Infusion

Combine about 1 tablespoon tea per cup of cold water in a lidded jar. Shake the jar for a few seconds, then place it in a cool space for at least 2 hours. I usually just stick the jar in the fridge for a few hours.

Cold infusions are important if you are trying to extract delicate vitamins, flavonoids, mucilaginous carbohydrates, and enzymes from herbs. Slippery elm, fruits, raspberry leaf, and marshmallow root are just a few examples of herbs that do well in cold extractions.


Decoction is from the Latin word decoquere, meaning “to boil down or away.” A decoction is a method in which rough plant parts, such as roots, bark, stems, and seeds, are placed in a pot with cold water, covered, and slowly brought to a boil. Placing the plants in cold water is essential because tougher plant parts are high in albumin, a protein, which needs to be extracted out of the cells slowly as the water temperature increases. If you put these plants in hot water, the albuminous matter in the plant cells coagulate and can prevent other constituents from leaving the plant cells, potentially limiting the extract.

Preparing a Decoction

Combine a tablespoon of tea per cup of cold water in a lidded saucepan. You can let the herbs macerate for a few hours in the cool water to loosen up the dry plant material if you have time. Bring the herbs to a boil and reduce the heat. Let the herbs simmer for 20 to 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain the herbs.

Using Fresh Herbs

Most of the teas in this book are designed for dry herbs (unless otherwise stated). If you have a garden or like to forage, however, you can make tea with fresh herbs as well as dry. I was once told that extraction is more efficient with dried herbs because their cell structures have been made brittle through the drying process. But honestly, fresh herbs are ideal for making delicately flavored teas because they tend to be improvised and ephemeral. All the excitement and affection you feel as you go out and harvest herbs for a fresh tea gets incorporated into the infusion. I find that fresh teas taste quite different from the same blend made with dried herbs: fresh tea just tastes alive.

When harvesting plants, I tend to think about where the strongest energy is in a plant. In the spring the plant is spending a massive amount of energy on leaf growth, so that is when I harvest the leaves (long before the plant has even flowered). Harvest flowers when they are in bud or just before their peak. Choose mature fruits. Gather seeds when they are just about to fall off the plant. Harvest roots in the fall, when the energy of the plant has retreated there, or in the early spring after winter dormancy. This rule of thumb will get you far, but there are plenty of exceptions. For example, there are many annual plants for which I might harvest the whole plant at once. Regardless, it is important to know what part of the plant has the nutrition or medicine you are seeking.

Preparing a Fresh-Herb Hot Infusion

When you work with dried herbs, they are often cut and sifted for you. With fresh herbs, you need to gently tear the herbs or finely chop them with a knife. Because fresh herbs have a high water content, you will need to fully pack the jar (or other vessel) with fresh herbs if you desire a strong tea.

Pour hot water over the herbs, cover with a lid, and allow the herbs to steep until the tea is cool enough to drink.

Preparing a Fresh-Herb Cold Infusion

Fill the vessel with cold water and herbs. Make sure the herbs are fully submerged. Cover and shake the vessel for several seconds and then place it in a cool spot. Let the tea steep for several hours or overnight. For centuries, fresh herbs have been added to cold drinking water to kill pathogens and add refreshing flavor, vitamins, and minerals. 

Preparing Sun Tea

Fill a jar with herbs and spices and cold water. Put the lid on and shake for several seconds. Make sure the herbs are fully submerged, and place the jar in a sunny window­sill or in a sunny spot in your yard for a few hours. Sun teas feel fresh and alive, really lending themselves to the wildness of homegrown herbs. I drink a lot of water when I am farming or wildcrafting, so I always have a jug of sun tea ready to replenish my body in the afternoon.

More From Healing Herbal Teas:

Respite Nervine Tea
• Athlete’s Tea

Excerpted from Healing Herbal Teas, © by Sarah Farr, photography by © Charity Burggraaf, used with permission from Storey PublishingBuy this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Healing Herbal Teas

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