Herbal “teas” can be made either by infusing the areal parts of the herb or by decocting the tougher roots or berries. You can make a combined infusion/decoction by first decocting the tough plant components and then pouring the mix over the dried aerial parts and infusing for ten minutes. While herbal teas are frequently recommended for specific ailments, they also make refreshing or relaxing brews for everyday drinking.
Experiment with combinations of any of the relaxing herbs such as wood betony, chamomile, skullcap, vervain, lemon balm, St. John’s wort of lavender, or take them separately if you prefer. Try mixing equal amounts of lemon balm, chamomile flowers, and lime flowers. Store the mixture in a glass or ceramic jar, use one teaspoon per cup and infuse for five to ten minutes before drinking.
There are also plenty of herbs to add to night-time brews to ensure a good night’s sleep. A traditional Welsh night-time drink was made by mixing equal amounts of red clover flowers, hops and wild lettuce (one to two teaspoons per cup of infusion). The great French herbalist Maurice Messegue suggested combining equal amounts of wild lettuce, hawthorn flowers, melilot and red com poppies. Use two teaspoons of the mixture per mug, infuse for five to ten minutes and drink the hot brew 20-30 minutes before bedtime.
The name of this useful and fragrant herb comes from the Latin verb lavare – to wash. Lavender is regarded as an antiseptic and cleansing remedy and has been widely used in perfumes and toiletries for centuries.
The herb is also antispasmodic and carminative so it is a useful treatment for digestive problems. It is uplifting and antidepressant and is helpful for tension and emotional upsets, as well as a cooling remedy for migraines and headaches.
Lavander is also traditionally used for treating headaches which are eased by an ice-pack, while rosemary is better for those head pains that respond to a hot compress.
Herbal medicine tends to use the oil, collected by steam distillation-its antiseptic properties make it an essential addition to the first-aid box. The flowers, while less potent, are delicious in home-made teas.
Chamomile flowers make a popular tisane, although commercial tea bags all too often lack the pungency of the fresh herb. Two species are used medicinally-Roman chamomile and German chamomile. Their properties are very similar. Two or three fresh flowers are all you need add to a cup of boiling water to make a delicious night time drink which will help relieve insomnia, anxiety, and stress. A cup of chamomile tea can also be added to baby’s bath water or bottle-feeds to ease both sleeplessness and the traumas of teething.
Chamomile is carminative and soothing for the minor digestive upsets-as an anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic it will also help to relieve symptoms of chronic conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Chamomile creams and ointments are ideal for a wide range of skin irritations including insect bites and eczema and they will also help to relieve anal and vaginal itching. The infusion makes a good steam inhalation for hay fever and to combat minor asthmatic problems. The same mix will also soothe congestive catarrh and bronchitis
Virginian skullcap was introduced into Europe in the 18th century as a treatment for rabies-hence its alternative name of mad dog herb. Although it was traditionally used by the Native Americans as a remedy for menstrual problems, it is now valued more as an effective sedative and nervine, and can be used to treat nervous exhaustion and premenstrual tension. Skullcap is cooling, antibacterial, styptic, will reduce fevers, flower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and stimulates digestion. It has a pleasant flavor and is a useful addition to relaxing teas. The European variety of skullcap has similar properties. The Chinese use another variety, S. baicalensis.
When buying dried herbs, choose suppliers that store the herbs in dark glass jars kept out of the light-direct sunlight makes herbs deteriorate more quickly-and always buy herbs that look fresh well-colored rather than drab and dusty.
If you dry your own herbs, hang the stems in small bunches away from direct light and with a good circulation of air. Herbs collected on a dry day in summer should be dry enough to crush and store within four or five days. If you are drying seeds or flowers, tie a paper bag loosely over the stems to catch any seeds or florets that fall.
It’s always easiest to mix your dried herbs in bulk for tea making. Use 25-50 g of each herb and mix them together in a large bowl. Spoon the mix into a clean dark glass or ceramic jar with an air-tight lid, and store in a cool place away from direct sunlight.