I like tea.
If you are a regular reader, you may have guessed this already. I mean, I do include what tea I’ve had to drink that day in my weekly musings posts!
To be precise, I like all sorts of teas. I also like all sorts of herbal infusions and decoctions (since tea is an infusion of a particular herb, the tea plant, or Camellia sinensis). Sassafras tea is probably one of my favorites, along with peppermint, or a nice cup of chamomile and lemon balm after a rough day. I like to experiment too–pumpkin with pumpkin pie spices and black tea (it was pretty darn tasty) to cucumber, watermelon, and lemon balm as a cold infusion (great on a hot summer day). And on the days that I don’t want to be be bothered to blend my own, a pot of Constant Comment usually hits the spot.
Whenever possible, I like to grow or forage my own herbs–some are easier than others (particularly since I’m an apartment dweller without a balcony for growing things). When I can’t, I really like Frontier Herbs to order dried herbs (our local grocery store of awesomeness carries a pretty good selection of their herbs too). Richters is a good supplier to order seeds, live plants, etc, if you have a better growing situation than I!
When it comes to concocting tea blends, there are a books I would recommend…over the years, I’ve thrifted or libraried a number of herbal tea books, of which I think these are the most useful while being user friendly…
But really, the real way to make tea is to be a scientist about it! Start with the building blocks–single herbs. Research their magical and medicinal properties, contraindications, etc. Make a pot, or two, or ten and record the flavor and how it makes you feel, emotionally and physically. Everyone is different, and just because X is good for Y doesn’t mean that you and your body will like what X does for you (or maybe you won’t like how X tastes, or maybe you think you need more or less of X to achieve the flavor you like).
Stock your cabinets with the best collection of useful and complimentary herbs that you can afford that suit your daily needs (your daily moods and goals), and test them out in combination for whatever mood or moment you are trying to celebrate, enhance, influence, etc. Don’t forget proper herb storage! And most importantly, don’t forget to record your results!
You may be wondering, “What the heck do I record?” That’s really good question, and it will depend on you. I would suggest (particularly if this is new to you) that you start with a list of herbs you know you can easily get your hands on. Then, I would suggest looking up the basic properties for each herb, and recording them in the front of your handy-dandy notebook (can you tell I’ve seen too much Blue’s Clues?), along with medical contraindications and dosages**, the “taste profile” of each herb*, as you start trying out single herbs. Once you have that, try out combinations that seem likely on paper. Put them next to each other and smell them–if they don’t smell good together, it is unlikely (though not impossible) they will taste good together (and remember, we are talking about enjoyment tea, not medicinal tea). If you like the combination, write it down and try it out…and then record the results. As an example, if I wanted to relax, I would maybe start with equal parts of chamomile, linden, and lemon balm…or if I thought that I was starting to feel a bit cruddy due to winter ick, I’d use some white pine needles, oranges and ginger.
The “standard” for a non-medicinal herbal infusion** is about 3-4 tsp dry herb (or 2-3 tsp fresh) to 2 c of water that has just been boiled, and seep for 10-15 minutes before straining and drinking. I find that using a french press is simplest way to make tea (no bags necessary). If you are mixing herbs, that amount would be divided into “parts”. When I write a tea recipe out in my handy dandy notebook, it looks something like this 2 cham: 1 lav: 1 lem balm, and I just sort of “eyeball” it. But hot tea is not the be all and end all of tea. In the summer, when it has busted 100 degrees F, the last thing I want is hot tea. Cold infusions are fantastic.
If you are looking for ideas of herbs to start with, my “tea cabinet” is always stocked with the following: lemon balm,
linden, cinnamon, elderflower, lavender, hibiscus, sassafrass (forage), damiana, corn silk (which I get from fresh corn in the summer @ the farmers market), rose petals (forage), rose hips (forage), ginger (really, this one is in my freezer), apple (fridge), oranges (fridge), white pine needles (forage), red clover flowers (forage), chamomile, and yarrow. I also supplement from fruits and veggies in the fridge and from my medicinal herbs…and even from commercial blends. One of my favorite combinations is Bigelow’s Plantation Mint with sassafrass and orange slices. Basically, get some herbs and start brewing!
Next time we’ll either talk about the science of infusions, or making them magic…I’m not sure which yet!
*Taste is mostly smell, so the smell of an herb can offer you a lot of information on how an herb will taste. If you are wondering how to record the aroma and taste of each herb, this site which talks about the smells of essential oils and picking combinations that go together, offers a good introduction which is herb-specific. Other sites that might help–this one and this one on the terminology describing food flavors, or this one on the technique of wine tasting, and this one on spices.
**Medicinal teas are really not the same as non-medicinal ones. They are generally stronger, and prepared as a decoction, rather than a simple infusion. Also, some herbs that one might use medicinally aren’t meant to be used very often internally. Medicinal teas should also be prepared by the weight of herb (which is more precise). I do still advocate knowing the medicinal properties for non-medicinal teas, because some medicinal properties correspond to psychology–an herb used to calm the digestive system is often useful in settling nerves as well, as well as for magical properties that might have been overlooked. Also, I advocate keeping track of the medical contraindications (like pregnancy and medications and common allergens) and dosages so that you can make the appropriate decisions regarding how much of a herb (or none) that you should use based on your own medical condition (and that of any one you are serving).