Part 6 of the Series, Methods to Preserve Your Herbal Harvest
I love tea—black tea, Earl Grey tea, chai tea, green tea, sweet iced tea—all kinds of tea. A fresh cup of steaming hot tea on a cold winter’s day is just this side of Nirvana for me. It is also an easy way to get nature’s healing force into my body; something we all need, whether we are healthy or fighting illness. Plants help strengthen the immune system and detoxify. They are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, essential oils, soluble fiber, minerals, enzymes, chlorophyll, and numerous other compounds to boost our health. And that cup of tea wafting its wonderful scents right under my nose just smoothes and calms.
Herbs are plants that are valued for their sweet, medicinal, aromatic, or savory qualities, making tea a tasty part of any daily ritual. A fresh tea made from fresh herbs captures between 50% and 90% of the effective ingredients of the plant. When boiling water is poured over herbs, the plant’s soluble organic compounds are easily broken down. The resulting fragrances are an indication of the herb’s inherent qualities. Because you drink with your eyes and nose as well as your palate, you want your tea to consist of flavors that are appealing and complex, complement each other AND your taste buds.
Don’t be afraid to try out and experiment with combinations. However, do not use any plants that have been sprayed with pesticides, and never harvest anything you find growing along the roadside because car exhausts are poison to your system. Be careful to avoid poisonous greens, such as the leaves of tomato or potato plants. Teas made from your garden are a surprising departure from those brewed with ready-made tea bags. Be prepared for a fresh, vibrant, unfamiliar mix of tastes.
The Three Ways a Tea may be Prepared
Infusions (Typically for Fresh Herbs): An infusion is a very simple process used with botanicals that are volatile and dissolve readily, or release their active ingredients easily in water. The teas made with the infusion methods typically use the leaves, flowers, or berries from the plant. Liquid is boiled (or brought to another appropriate temperature) and then poured over the herb, which is then allowed to steep in the liquid for a period of time. The liquid may then be strained or the herbs otherwise removed from the liquid. A French press is a handy tool if you are an avid tea drinker and looks really cool!.
Quantities of the herb and liquid used will vary according to the herb or how strong the infusion is required to be. A common proportion used is 1 ounce or 1/8 cup (28 g) of herb to 1 pint or 2 cups (0.5 L) of liquid.
Method #1: Steeping Fresh Herbal Tea
- Put a fat handful of the plants (leaves and/ or flowers) you gathered in a big pot or coffee press free of all oils, crushing them with your hands to release the oils.
- Pour boiling water over them. Using a glass pot allows you to see the green beauty of your herbs.
- Let them steep for the length of time you choose from the listing below. ‡
- If you keep them warm on a warmer, you can enjoy your tea all day long. There is usually enough flavor left in the plants for at least one additional steeping.
‡The amount of time the herbs are left in the liquid depends on the purpose for which the infusion is being prepared.
- Steeping for not more than 15 to 30 minutes, or until the mix cools, will create a beverage with optimal flavor.
- Steeping for a longer time typically results in a somewhat bitter-tasting infusion.
- Four (4) hours, however, is a more appropriate length of time for achieving herbal medicinal potency if health benefits are the priority.
Percolation (typically for dried, ground herbs and spices). Percolation (meaning to filter or trickle through) refers to the movement and filtering of fluids through porous materials in which the water passes through the material (as in a coffeemaker). This method is used for dried, ground herbs and spices. Because of the fine powder of the plant material it is necessary to filter the water as it runs through the herbs/spices.
Method #2: Using Percolation to Make Teas
- Set up the container of choice (a cup, bowl, a large Mason jar, or tea pot will work) with a funnel of a size that fits on top of your container.
- Line the funnel with a coffee filter or muslin cloth, molding it to the shape of the funnel. You may need to moisten the filter to get it to stick.
- Add the powdered herb/spice of your choice. A standard preparation is 2 tablespoons per 1 cup of water.
- Slowly moisten the herbs with a small amount of water making the powder evenly damp. Allow this to set up while you boil your water.
- Slowly drip the boiled water through the powder at a measured rate.
- Allow this to drain until the water has completely passed through the plant material. Be patient as this process does take some time. If your liquid stops dripping, use a spoon to clear the bottom of the funnel blocked by the sediment.
Alternate Method: Buy paper or muslin tea bags that you can fill with the powder and use these as an infusion.
Decoctions (typically for whole spices). A decoction (meaning to boil down) is a method of extraction by directly boiling dissolved chemicals from herbal or plant material, which includes stems, roots, bark and rhizomes. Decoction involves first mashing and then boiling in water to extract oils, volatile organic compounds and other chemical substances.
Unlike infusions, decoctions are boiled. Woody roots, non-aromatic seeds, and barks are suited to this method. If you simply infuse roots and barks in hot water, as you do leaves and flowers, you will not extract the full properties of the herb. Because these botanical parts tend to be more woody or thicker, it is necessary to take this extra step to pull out the flavors, scents, and healthy extracts needed to make a good cup of tea.
Method #3: Steeping Spices in a Decoction
- Use approximately ½ ounce of macerated spice per cut of water, adjusting for taste. A mortar and pestle will do a nice job of breaking up your botanical to add to the water.
- Bring to a rolling boil, turn down heat and simmer in covered saucepan for 20 to 30 minutes over low heat.
- Remove from heat and strain out plant material. Sweeten to taste if desired.
Double Decoction: (Based on 3 cups of water reduced to 2 cups). After making the first decoction using 3 cups water reduced to 2 cups, drain off the liquid and reserve; add two more cups of water to the original herbs and simmer down to 1 cup; add the 1 cup to the first 2 cups for a total of 3 cups.
Another Way: 1/2 oz plant material to 2 cups water; soak herbs in water for 10 min then boil and simmer 10 to 15 min; leave to soak another 10 min; keep covered throughout the process; strain, cool and use.
Levels of Decoctions
- First decoction: contains more volatile constituents.
- Double decoction: each further decoction brings out other biochemical constituents with the minerals being the last to be obtained.
Plants That Are Safe to Drink
The rule of thumb here is that if you use it in your cooking, then you can use it in your teas. Any herbs you are unsure of should be researched BEFORE making a tea from them. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does cover a number of herbs you should be able to find in your area.
How to Make Tea Blends
Like a pyramid, wide at the bottom and smaller as it goes up, your tea blend creation will be the same way. You start with a base ingredient which will be largest portion of your blend, and then you add to it with other ingredients in smaller portions to fill out the blend. You will, like making a perfume from essential oils, mix your base notes with your middle notes and add your top notes for your own exclusive blend.
The base of your tea blend will be the tea leaves or primary herb you’re using. Decide what you want as your primary taste. What are you looking for in your tea? Strong and bold like black tea or light and minty like mint? Whatever you decide on will be your base and the largest measurement of herbs.
Not sure what you want or what each of the different teas are really like? You can always buy small amounts of each of the teas, brew them up in different cups, set all the cups in front of you, grab some spoons and start smelling, looking, and tasting each of them to see what you think. Remember to keep notes on each of the teas so when it comes to blending time, you know what each base will be like.
Once you’ve found the tea or herb that will be the base of your blend, it’s time to start adding to it. This can be by adding another, smaller amount of a different tea or herb (a secondary ingredient) or by trying out fruits, flowers, foods, and/or other herbs with it. There’s really no limit to the blends you can create. All it takes is patience in trying things out and seeing if you like them or not. If you dehydrate your fruits and vegetables into powders, try adding them too! You can create any flavor you like, even savory, soup-like teas.
If you want to go with another tea or herb for your secondary ingredient, start by taking one tablespoon of your primary tea or herb and adding in one teaspoon of your secondary tea or herb. Taste it and see what you think. If it’s not what you want, try something else. If it works together, you can either leave it as is or add more ingredients to your blend.
If you’re trying to add fruits, flowers, foods, or other herbs you’re going to have to consider their taste and the way they look, and then you’re going to have to try it out and experiment. Find out what you like together. When you come up with the perfect blend, you can make a big batch, package it for storage, and put it away to enjoy later.
When it comes to blending teas that are enjoyable, it’s going to take some practice and some patience. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Learning what flavors go well with which teas also takes some practice. Think of the flavors you love together. Chocolate and mint? Pumpkin pie spices? Lemon and blueberry? Strawberry and vanilla? Blend the flavors you love and you are sure to find a winning tea blend.
You can also look at the tea blends you have bought to see what ingredients are in them. Sometimes a simple Google search will list the ingredients for you. Then play with the ingredients until you achieve the taste you desire. Have fun with it and enjoy the many combinations you can create.
In future articles I will share some of my own tea blend recipes.
But Don’t Stop Here! Ice it Up!
Just like the ever popular Lipton’s or P&G Tea, you can also chill your herb garden teas. On a hot summer’s day, come in from the garden and drink a cooling glass of ginger, hibiscus, and orange peel tea with just a touch of cinnamon. Within minutes you will be ready for “weed slaying, round 2”.
I have never found an herbal tea that I did not also enjoy over a tall glass of ice. Mint or chamomile or jasmine blossoms with just a hint of licorice root for sweetness…here too, the sky’s the limit.
Need Recipes? Check these out!
Make Natural Decaffeinated “Black” Teas
Methods to Preserve Your Herbal Harvest, an 8 Part Series
To see the other articles in the series, click on the links:
Part 1, Harvesting, Preparing, and Seeding Herbs & Spices
Part 2, Freezing Methods for Herbs & Spices
Part 3, Drying Methods for Herbs & Spices
Part 4, Extracts/Tinctures from Herbs & Spices
Part 5, Preserving Herbs & Spices with Infused Vinegars
Part 7, Herbal Infused Honey
Part 8, Making SAFE Herbal Infused Oils