Making Herbal Tea
I have been very keen in herbal remedies ever since 1998 when my mother-in-law was saved by a herb after doctors had given up hope on her when they deemed her renal failure was no longer treatable.
When she recovered after we put her on a course of urena lobata (“Sar Boh Chau”) herbal tea, and she went on to live a healthy life for 22 more years, I started a website, Free2Cure, to put on record her case study (https://www.free2cure.com/chronic-renal-failure/ )and to solicit first-person testimonials of any other successful natural remedy to help anyone in need.
But I am also acutely aware that my brief description of the herbal tea preparation, typically the common advice of “boil 3 cups until 1 cup” is too vague and does not instill confidence for anyone who needs to understand the “how’s and why’s” of the herbal tea preparation.
As such, I scoured the Internet and researched this topic and what follows, I believe, is the definitive guide to making herbal tea. It should provide answers to the “what, when, why and how” of herbal tea preparation. If there’s any gap, error or falsehood in this guide, please post your comment here, and together we’ll continually improve and add to our collective knowledge.
What is “herbal tea”?
Sun and Moon infusion
What type of kettle or pot to use?
What is the recommended dosage?
Mortar and pestle
MY HOT TIP FOR MAKING FRUIT TEA
What is “herbal tea”?
First off, “herbal tea” in its common usage, is a misnomer, since “tea” is actually a beverage prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis.
“Herbal tea” (or more accurately “tisane”) as referred to and described in this article, does not involve the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, but is any beverage made from the infusion (hot tisane) or decoction (boiled tisane) of herbs, spices, or other plant material and usually does not contain caffeine. But, we will call it “Herbal Tea” here as it is commonly referred to.
A herbal tea is often consumed for its physical or medicinal effects, especially for its stimulant, relaxant or sedative properties.
Herbal teas generally have lower antioxidant values than true teas but there are exceptions (eg. Misai Kucing) with antioxidant properties comparable to black teas.
Since the liquid medium is water, herbal tea is only useful to extract water soluble active chemicals from the target herb and to release the volatile essential oils (if present).
To extract non-water-soluble active chemicals, other methods like tincture may be used.
Maceration, tincture, elixir, tonic, syrup, etc. to extract the beneficial constituents of a target herb will be discussed in a separate article.
Infusion is made by bringing freshly drawn water to a light boil and then adding the hot water to the herb in an appropriate container. The container must be covered to retain the volatile essential oils, and the herb is steeped in the hot water for the desired duration.
As such, infusion is used to extract minerals, vitamins and volatile essential oils from the soft parts of the plant such as leaves or flowers (fresh or dried) or citrus peelings or fruits.
Pre-heat the pot and cup by swirling hot water and pouring off. The warmed tea pot will prevent the water from cooling too quickly so that the full flavour of the tea is not lost. Another good reason to do that is avoid cracking your glass tea pot through a sudden drastic change in temperature which may happen if you just dump the full volume of boiling hot water into the pot. After you have pre-heated the pot, add the appropriate amount of herb followed by the lightly boiled water.
Some herbalists recommend not to stir but to just let the herb(s) steep within the confines of the pot or cup. Probably, this is to prevent the loss of the volatile essential oils if you lift the cover to stir.
While tea is normally steeped for only 1-3 minutes to avoid excessive bitter tannins, herbal tea is steeped for at least 5 minutes and usually 10-20 minutes. Some herbalists recommend the use of higher dosage to make a stronger herbal tea rather then a longer steeping time.
While “infusion” generally refers to “hot tea”, you could also use cold water instead of hot water especially for the more delicate herbs that may be adversely affected by heat.
Cold infusion gives a different flavour to the herbal tea as the chemical balance will be different from that imparted by hot infusion. As before, use freshly drawn water (filtered or mineral water) and add the cold water to the herb(s) in the glass/porcelain tea pot and keep covered. Allow it to steep for up to 24 hours. Dosage is similar to that for hot infusions.
But be very careful; the dried or fresh herb must be clean as there is no heat to kill any bacteria that may be present in the herb. In case of doubt about its cleanliness, do a quick rinse of the herb with boiling water, before using for the cold infusion.
Use a pestle and mortar to crush whole herbs to “open” them up before the cold infusion.
Drink the finished tea as is or chilled or sweetened; whatever your taste. Some may prefer to gently warm up the tea to drinking temperature.
Use a bottle or jar instead of a tea pot to make larger quantities.
Sun Infusion (Yang)
Sun infusion supposedly harnesses the sun’s masculine yang energy to stimulate the water and herb(s). Use a big jar and fill it with clean freshly drawn water to keep the herb(s) submerged. Keep the jar open or cover with some fabric like muslin cloth to keep dirt out. Put the jar in a sunny spot to infuse for at least 4 hours. The tea is ready when it is fragrant and the liquid is full of color. Strain and drink throughout the day.
Moon Infusion (Yin)
Moon infusion supposedly harnesses the moon’s feminine yin energy which is more subtle, cool and passive than the sun’s energy.
Apparently, moon infusions under the different phases of the moon will impart different effect on the infused herbal tea although generally it seems like a good idea to do it under a full moon.
Again, keep the jar open or covered with a fabric like muslin cloth to keep dirt out. Moon infusions are generally kept overnight in the moonlight.
The beauty of making lunar infusions is the ability of these to capture the energy of the moon phases and their relative teachings into the tea. A full moon tea will bring more bright, illuminating, and culminating energy to a blend, while a waning moon infusion will invoke a remembrance of rest, calm, and letting go. Herbalists pay close attention to the moon and we use the moon for harvesting. We harvest some flowers and plant tops under the light of the full moon, when the energy of the plant is lifted like the tides into the highest part of the plant. And we harvest roots and tubers under the darkness of the new moon when the energy is calm, the tides are low, and the plants have their intelligent life-force nestled deep into the earth below.
What type of kettle or pot to use?
The guiding principle is that herbal tea is meant for its therapeutic value rather than its flavour, unlike the case of drinking tea.
Therefore, the material of the container must not contaminate the herbs. As such inert material is preferred over clay or cast iron, two of the popular types of tea pots for making tea (not herbal tisane).
The recommended material for the pot for herbal tisane is glass or porcelain. Metallic containers like aluminium and copper may react adversely with some herbs. If you have to use metallic pots, I believe stainless steel is inert and will not react with the herb. Other sources recommend enamel pots but I would not use use them as the enamel can chip off and expose the metal (cast iron or mild steel) which can rust. Traditional Chinese tea is usually infused in clay or ceramic pots. For our herbal tea, stick to glass, porcelain or stainless steel. Glass has the added bonus of a delightful visual sense to add to the enjoyment of the herbal tea. The downside of glass is that glass is a poor heat insulator and tends to cool down quite fast compared to clay (or porcelain).
The longer you infuse the herbs, the stronger and more effective the active constituents will be. But the flavour may alter with different steeping times, so experiment to suit your taste with a minimum steeping time of 10 minutes.
And remember, the pot must have a cover or lid.
Choose the size of the container appropriate for the quantity of herbal tea. Do not use a large pot for a small quantity of herbal tea.
What is the recommended dosage?
Generally, the recommended dosage is about 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of dried herb or 2 tablespoons of fresh herb per 8 oz (240 ml) of water (1 cup). But this is only a guideline as different herbs have different potency.
Add 2 tablespoons of fresh, or 1 tablespoon of dried herb (or crushed seed) to the pot for each cup of water, plus an extra 2 tablespoons of fresh or 1 tablespoon of dried “for the pot.” (For iced tea, increase to 3 tablespoons of fresh and 2 tablespoons of dried herb to allow for watering down by melting ice).
Therefore, if making 2 cups of hot tea, you would use 6 tablespoons of fresh herb or 3 tablespoons of dried herb in a pot.
Alternatively, a very general guideline is to take a cupped handful of fresh herb for a quart (0.88 litre) of water.
From the foregoing, you will notice that if you are using fresh herbs for your tisane, use twice the amount you would use if the herb were dry. This is because the water content in fresh herbs dilutes their flavor. As one herbalist wrote, “Let your hands, eyes, nose and heart guide you”.
Note: 1 g dried herb approx = 1.5 tsp dried herb
The average dosage is usually 3 to 4 cups in a day.
A decoction is used to extract primarily the mineral salts and bitter principles of plants from hard materials such as roots, bark, seeds and wood. These hard materials generally require boiling for at least 10 minutes and then are allowed to steep longer, sometimes for a number of hours. The word “decoct” means to extract the essence from (something) by heating or boiling it. The tea is boiled down and concentrated so that water may need to be added before drinking, in some cases. But a general guideline is to use 3 bowls of water and boiled/simmered until 1 bowl.
Put 1-3 tablespoons of cut herb, seed, root, bark, etc into a pot of 16-32 oz of water and allow to sit in non-boiled water for at least 5-10 minutes. Set on stove and bring to a slow boil then turn down to a simmer for 10-30 minutes. Strain and drink. Will keep about 72 hours if kept refrigerated. Most decoctions can also be brewed via single cup through a regular infusion process as noted above but without the strength.
The decoction method is used for hard, woody substances (such as roots, bark, and stems) that have constituents that are water-soluble and non-volatile. (Red clover is an exception, because red clover flower decoction will extract more minerals that the infusion.)
Decoctions extract mainly mineral salts and bitter principles. Decoctions are intended for immediate use.
Store for a maximum of 72 hours in the refrigerator.
Amounts can vary, depending upon your taste and the potency of the herbs, however 1 to 2 teaspoons of herb mixture to each cup of water is a good starting point. Roots and barks are more concentrated than the lighter leaves and flowers used in infusions, so less is needed.
Heating method for the decoction
There seems to be conflicting views as to how to boil the herb(s). The following methods are extracted from different sources.
Start with cold water over a low heat and slowly bring herb mixture to a simmering boil. Keep the pot covered and simmer for ten to 20 minutes. Take off heat and leave covered while your decoction cools to drinking temperature.
Use this method when the material you want to extract is a bitter, or mineral salt. The whole herb, roots or seeds, or the bark of a woody plant are soaked in cold water for several hours, then brought to a boil and simmered for 30 minutes.
Add 3 cups of water to the herbs and bring the mixture to a boil using relatively high heat. Reduce to medium heat and continue to boil (for approximately 20 minutes) until 1 cup of strong, dark liquid remains.
Strain the liquid into a large glass or ceramic container. This is the first dose (the strongest) of your herbal medicine.
Add 2 cups of water to the previously cooked herbs. Continue to simmer under medium to low heat for approximately 20 minutes, until 1 cup of liquid remains.
Strain the liquid and pour it into the same container holding the previous dose.
Repeat the last two steps one more time to make a third dose of medicine, which you again combine with the previous two doses.
When finished you should have approximately 3 cups of herbal medicine, and can now discard the cooked herbs. You will generally take 1 cup of your decoction three times a day, but this depends on your individual condition. Decoctions should be drunk slightly warm (like tea). Some herbs may taste a bit bitter, and if so you can usually sweeten them with a small amount of honey. Your decoction should keep for about 2-3 days if sealed and refrigerated.
I personally adopt Method 3 most of the time.
Why you boil a decoction three times
It is important to boil the herbs three times for 20-minutes each time, rather than all at once for one hour. Many of the herbs in your formula will contain some volatile aromatic oils as active ingredients. These oils will be retained in a short 20-minute boiling, but will probably evaporate after an hour at high temperature. Other components of your herbal formula (such as the active ingredients in hard roots or nuts) might take an hour to be fully extracted, however.
Thus the best method of preparing the decoction is to boil the herbs for 20 minutes three times in a row, combining and mixing all three doses. This ensures that all the various active herbal ingredients are present in the final medicine.
Mortar and pestle
A mortar and pestle can be used to crush the herb(s) to aid in the infusion or decoction of the herbal tea, especially anything tough or hard, like nuts or barks.
For the freshest tasting cup of tea, you should always use mineral water or freshly drawn water direct from the tap that has been running for a while. Standing water loses oxygen, and the resulting tea tastes flat. If your tap water is chlorinated, a compromise can be reached by drawing fresh water and letting it stand uncovered for a couple of hours to allow the chlorine taste to leave the water; although, using mineral water is a quick and easy solution. Boiling the water for long periods also removes oxygen from the water, so always use fresh water (do not re-boil it), and use the water quickly after it comes to a boil.
Traditionally, in Asia, water is always brought to gentle boil before one prepares tea. Boiling water eliminates many harmful germs and bacteria. Though water quality has improved vastly, boiling in the water in this fashion can help to bring out tea’s flavor. The water should be heated until a steady stream of air bubbles gently rise to the surface. At this point, the water is sufficiently heated and also has a preferable oxygen content. In contrast, using water that has been held at a fierce, rolling boil can leave tea tasting dull and flat.
MY HOT TIP FOR MAKING FRUIT TEA
Try this the next time you use your juicer to make fruit juice. Make sure the container for the pulp is clean before you start juicing. After juicing, the collected pulp can be put into a tea bag/filter and used for fruit tisane infusion. Now you can have your juice and fruit tea, no waste!
I used my juicer to make some fruit juice as usual, but this time instead of throwing away the pulp, I used the pulp to make a fruit tea (infusion).
3 large green apples
1-litre fruit juice, and pulp sufficient for 3-litres of fruit tea.
The above ingredients produced almost a litre of fruit juice while the pulp was sufficient for 3 litres of fruit tea. I packed my teapot’s strainer full of pulp to make a fresh infusion of fruit tea. The balance of the pulp was kept in the fridge and used over two days to make two more pots of fruit tea.
After using the pulp to make the fruit tea, I used the pulp to make my “garbage enzyme”. Remember: to make garbage enzyme, use PLASTIC bottles, not glass. This is to avoid nasty accidents in case the gas build-up creates too high pressure.
Extra extra bonus:
If you have fruit peels, why not use them in your compost pit? I use mine to make vermicast ( worm castings ). Learn to make vermicast here.
Here’s another great guide on Vermicomposting:
Truly, truly no waste!
When you are making your herbal tea, you need a cat curled up at your feet to make it truly magical. Just kidding! (…. but it can’t hurt to try).
One quart is equal to 4 cups, 2 pints, and 1/4th of a gallon.
1 quart is 1.1365225 liters.
1 Liter = 1.05668821 Quarts [Fluid, US].
1 Liter = 0.87987699 Quarts [UK]
U.S. to Metric
1/5 teaspoon = 1 milliliter
1 teaspoon = 5 ml
1 tablespoon = 15 ml
1/5 cup = 50 ml
1 cup = 240 ml
2 cups (1 pint) = 470 ml
4 cups (1 quart) = .95 liter
4 quarts (1 gal.) = 3.8 liters
1 fluid oz. = 30 milliters
1 fluid oz. = 28 grams
1 pound = 454 grams
Metric to U.S.
1 militers = 1/5 teaspoon
5 ml = 1 teaspoon
15 ml = 1 tablespoon
34 ml = 1 fluid oz.
100 ml = 3.4 fluid oz.
240 ml = 1 cup
1 liter = 34 fluid oz.
1 liter = 4.2 cups
1 liter = 2.1 pints
1 liter = 1.06 quarts
1 liter = .26 gallon
1 gram = .035 ounce
100 grams = 3.5 ounces
500 grams = 1.10 pounds
1 kilogram = 2.205 pounds
1 kilogram = 35 oz.
Cooking Measurment Equivalents
16 tablespoons = 1 cup
12 tablespoons = 3/4 cup
10 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons = 2/3 cup
8 tablespoons = 1/2 cup
6 tablespoons = 3/8 cup
5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon = 1/3 cup
4 tablespoons = 1/4 cup
2 tablespoons = 1/8 cup
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons = 1/6 cup
1 tablespoon = 1/16 cup
2 cups = 1 pint
2 pints = 1 quart
3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon
48 teaspoons = 1 cup