Herbal Tease

Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Peppermint... Ooh what you do to me.

We've been drinking teas made of fresh and dried herbs for centuries.  They're such a treat, and so good for us.

By Sharon Houghton

What is the perfect tea?

     The perfect tea is the one that satisfies your needs at the time that you are drinking it.  Herbal teas can be thought of as a taste treat, as well as a healing agent for the body.  Depending on the herbs that you choose, your tea can be relaxing, stimulating, or any number of available properties.

     Getting to know your body and what it needs is a never ending process.  Getting to know which herbs have which properties is a lifelong process as well.  A very good way to understand the properties of herbs is to actually grow them.  Plant at least one different herb in a window pot or in your garden every season.  It's in the nurturing of these plants that we learn from them.  They teach us about their needs, and in doing so, we slow down, and are able to understand our own needs better.  It's all an intuitive process that goes beyond words.

     Our bodies go through constant change and renewal.  Some days we feel more tired than others.  At other times we may feel a need to slow things down.  Other properties that herbs can bring us would be a tea that would relieve pain (an anodyne) or one that destroys or arrests the growth of micro-organisms (an antibiotic), or one that soothes irritated tissue, particularly mucous membrane (demulcent) or even one that has strengthening and toning effects (a tonic).  There are many ways in which herbal teas can help us.

     For our purposes we will discuss herbs for relaxation.  There are many in this category that seem to slow down the clock. 

Chamomile - has long been known as a very good and safe herb for relaxation.  It's taste is slightly sweet with a slight spicey flavor. Chamomile is also good for an upset stomach and is perfect after a meal.  Because the flowers are used, you would not have to steep this selection for very long, maybe 5-10 minutes.  Adding just a touch of milk and honey makes this a lovely choice before bedtime or any time you want to relax.

Passion flower- The flowers and vine are used.  Passion flower relaxes the nervous system and has non-addictive sedative properties. It is an important remedy for anxiety, tension, and insomnia.  It has a lovely sweet herbal flavor.

Skullcap- Use the aerial parts of this herb for nervousness, depression, insomnia and headaches. It is an excellent tonic for the nervous system.

Guelder rose- is also known as "Cramp bark" for it's aid in relieving menstrual cramping.  It is a muscle and nervous relaxant. The stem bark is used, so crush gently before adding to the pot of boiling water.  Steep for 15-20 minutes. CAUTION- The fresh berries are poisonous.

Hops- Long used in beer-making and herb-filled sleep pillows, this herb is the perfect remedy for insomnia and nervous tension.  The scent and taste is mild and blends nicely with other herbs. The dried female strobiles are what are used.  It's also a smooth muscle relaxant and is good for treating irritable bowel syndrome and nervous stomach.

Valerian root- This is probably the strongest of the relaxing herbs.  Because you are using the roots of the plant, you will want to make sure to grind the herb a bit before adding to the pot of boiling water, turn down the heat and let it simmer on low for about 15-20 minutes before drinking.  Valerian is good for many nervous conditions including migraines and insomnia.  It has a bitter taste and smell that you either love or hate, usually the latter for most people.  Add plenty of honey to make this a palatable tea.

          It is always best to get to know herbs in a slow and controlled way.  What works one way for one person can have different effects for someone else.  Therefore you would be best advised to use a very small amount of any herb the first time you use it.  Add a little more as you get to know it's effects.  Read all you can about the herbs that you try.  It's also a good idea to not use any one herb for longer than a week at a time.  Herbs are generally not as fast-acting as un-natural medicines.  But they can be very effective.  They stay in the body and can build up over time.   This is why it is good to monitor how you feel regularly and rotate between the different herbs.

     If you do want to brew your own herbs, you will want to have a mortar and pestle (shown above).  They are very nice for crushing the roots and stems before adding to the water.  Over-crushing will make it more difficult to strain out the herb when pouring into your cup or tea pot. A simple rule of thumb with how long to brew or steep is... the harder the substance (ex.- the roots), the longer the brewing time.  The softer or fragile the substance (ex.- the flowers), the shorter the brewing  time.

     If you don't feel comfortable crushing and blending your own herbal teas, there are many different varieties found at your supermarket, health food store, and even on the Internet.  Boil the water.  Pour the water into your cup or teapot.  Add the tea bag.  Steep for the amount of time necessary to release the properties into the water.  Remove the tea bag and enjoy.  It's an easier way to enjoy a fine cup of tea.  But if you want to delve deeper into herbal alchemy...start with one herb at a time, and see how pleasurable the experience can be.

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Disclaimer - Please note that SharAmbrosia nor the writer of this article cannot be held responsible for any harm done to anyone that experiments or uses herbs in any way.  Even though herbs are a completely natural substance, they can have different effects on each person.  Reactions can vary from individual to individual.  Any health or medical condition that you may have should be evaluated by your doctor or healthcare practitioner.  This article should not be a substitute for medical care.  The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the FDA.

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