Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Infusion By the Folk Method

What's the difference between a cup of tea and a dose of medicinal tea? The herb, it's amount, and the steeping time.

Herbal infusions don't use the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) unless a nervine stimulant is called for in the formula. Instead,  aromatic plants are chosen for their taste and desired effect on the body. 

The amount of plant material is critical for medicinal effects. Many herbalists use the weight-to-volume method for infusions: An ounce of dried plant per 16 ounces of water. It's simpler at home to estimate dose by using a teaspoon of herb per cup, presuming the dried herbs are finely cut, crumbled, or ground. For fresh plants which have a high water content use two teaspoons per cup.

Lastly, steeping time is longer for medicinal teas than for black or green tea: 10-15 minutes for most herbs, though there are exceptions. 

Mentha spicata
In early winter you still might find a few garden plants that escaped the first freezes. Last dusk I was surprized to uncover some spearmint sprigs from under fallen leaves and a handful of fennel seeds poking up from the plant's umbrella tops - just in time for post-Christmas gastrointestinal distress. For the most part, though, we'll shift to dried plants for winter teas and tinctures.

1) Be absolutely certain about fennel identification because other plants with an umbrella-like seed head can be deadly (i.e. hemlock, Conium maculatum);
2) Infusions in which boiling water is poured over the herbs are the best method of water extraction for leafy or soft plants. Decoctions in which the herb is boiled in water are better for hard or woody plants.

EARLY WINTER TUMMY TEA – A mint and fennel infusion for promoting normal digestion (carminative) and treating indigestion:

1. Crumble a couple handfuls of dried spearmint (Mentha spicata) leaves (substitute peppermint, lemon balm, catnip, or other aromatic mints);
2. Place two teaspoons of the mint in a 4 cup or larger teapot. For fresh herbs, double the amount;
3. Add two teaspoons of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seeds to the teapot;
4. Pour 4 cups of boiling water over the herbs, place the lid on the pot, and let steep for 10 minutes;
5. Strain off the tea and serve a cup at a time with honey, refrigerating the unused portion;
6. Drink one cup 4-6 times a day for medicinal effects.

Foeniculum vulgare

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