Herbal teas, especially when consumed regularly, are powerful. Most plants have a myriad of medicinal powers, be it settling an upset stomach, quelling a headache or merely battling a cold. What science strongly suggests is that, within herbs, we can find a natural cornucopia of what the body needs to stay healthy.
Many of them also taste pretty nice. The flavors of herbal teas can range from subtle grassy notes to strongly spicy and everything in between. Blends can include fruits, culinary herbs, tree leaves, bark, nuts, flowers, roots, spices, peppers, and on it goes, each component with its own flavor palette and list of effects.
While manufacturers have certainly created a huge selection — the supermarket tea shelf has exploded in recent years — for us to choose from, we also have the option of making our own blends, suited to our particular tastes and health concerns. Frankly, for those with culinary curiosity, it can be downright fun.
As listed above, the options for what can be used in house-blended herbal teas is huge, and to add to the possibilities, we can also think about whether we are after hot or cold beverages. Cold herbal teas are something our iced tea-loving (and soda pop-saturated) nation doesn’t do nearly enough of, and they are a fantastic, healthy alternative to all those processed beverages.
For those working towards growing some of their own food, adding plants for herbal teas to the garden is a great idea, and they often are great for attracting pollinators or repelling and confusing pests. For items that can’t be grown or that a tea-blender would like to sample first, there are great online sources for buying organic herbs in bulk, and these will come at a fraction of the cost (per cup) of already-blended teas.
Blending for Flavor
Most of us who would be interested in making our own herbal teas already have some concept of the flavors we most enjoy. We are familiar with different leaves, flowers, and spices, and we have some idea as to the directions we’d like to move when making our own tea. That’s great. Also, it’s perfectly legitimate to simply work with flavor combinations we see at the store: chai or lemon mint, apple cinnamon or orange ginger.
The big trick with blending for flavor is knowing what you are after. If a sample blend needs a little more sweetness, maybe look into the fruit and berry possibilities. If something needs a bit of spice, think about cinnamon, ginger or even cayenne. Leaves and barks are likely to provide something with an earthier lean, sometimes a tad bitter, whereas flowers — think rose and lavender — can dominate the flavor with, surprise, a floral tilt.
The best way to start is to buy about ten comfortable flavors, hopefully, a couple of each type of flavor option, to mix and match, and once blending pleasant teas with these is under control, start adding more adventurous items, like chicory root or chili flakes.
Blending for Medicine
Using herbal teas for medicine is different than using more potent tinctures and extracts. Herbal teas are much milder, and they often work best when used regularly, unprompted by medicinal needs, as preventatives. Utilizing them as a cure usually requires drinking several cups of tea a day for several days. In other words, using herbal teas for medicinal purposes is much more like adding something positive to a daily diet.
There are certain plants that are particularly well-regarded for general medicinal powers, and these can often be bases from which we begin building medicinal herbal blends. Ginger and turmeric are both amazing options here. Cinnamon and cayenne are two notably beneficial spices. The mint family, which includes basil and oregano, is usually a fantastic spot to begin. Of course, it is hard to go wrong with organic green tea.
The main idea here is to find the right plant for treating what ails you and use it as the starting point, adding other notes, either medicinal or palatable, over it. A simple online search will lead to all sorts of plants traditionally (and effectively) used to treat and prevent just about any health issue.
The Basic Process
To each his or her own, with regards to how they choose to steep the tea, but options include using a French press (normally for coffee), tea ball, or specialty tea kettles that have a holder for loose teas. Some people just boil it all in a pot and strain out the components. Whichever method sounds most appealing, choosing stainless steel over plastic products is advisable, as certain plastics can sometimes leach unwanted toxins into teas.
The general notion is that, for every six-ounce cup of tea, there should be a level teaspoon of loose leaf tea infusing in it. However, this can be difficult to measure when adding a plethora of fresh ingredients or uncooperative shapes: a couple of recently plucked mint leaves here, a chunk of ginger, a shake of cayenne pepper, and some fresh lemon zest. Imperfection is okay, and frankly, fresh versus dried ingredients are very different and require a little experimentation.
Then, it’s just making tea as one normally would. Boil some water, pour it over the tea ingredients, and let it all steep for a few minutes. Hot tea can be enjoyed right away, and cold tea should be cooled, poured into a glass container and refrigerated for later. Making it in bulk will save some energy and allow you to enjoy a hot cup, as well as some cold tea later.
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