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Herb teas are both culinary, medicinal
4/12/2006
The Messenger
by Jean Merrell
One of the more popular uses of herbs is the making and drinking of herb teas. Many people who want to limit the caffeine in their diets are turning to herb tea as a refreshing hot or cold drink because herb tea has no caffeine.

Other people like the taste of herb teas and consume them simply as beverages. Herb teas have been so popular that grocery stores are now offering large selections (and the list gets longer every year) from companies such as Celestial Seasonings, Bigelow, Stash, or Lipton.

Herb teas were first used as medicines and even today they are still brewed and consumed as such. Creating an herb tea for medicinal purposes is not much different than preparing it for culinary enjoyment. You just toss some of the herb leaves or flowers into a non-metallic container, pour in boiling water, and allow it to steep for about 5 minutes.

Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs tells how to make a proper pot of herb tea: Bring fresh cool water to a rolling boil. Use some of the hot water to rinse a pottery, china or other non-metal teapot. The hot water will keep the tea hot and pure in flavor.

Into the teapot, put 2 tablespoons of fresh or one tablespoon of dried herb leaves (or flowers) for each cup of water that you are using plus an extra tablespoon "for the pot." (Or use purchased teabags.)

Pour in the measured amount of boiling water and put a lid on top to prevent the aromatic oils from evaporating. Keep the teapot covered to retain the heat.

Let the mixture steep for about five minutes. Steeping time will vary, depending on what herbs you are using so taste test at intervals until it is right. As soon as the tea has reached the desired strength, pour it through a strainer to get the herb leaves and material out before drinking the tea.

It is important with a medicinal tea to insure that as much of the active ingredient as possible be captured in the tea.

One way to do this is to cover the tea with a lid so that when the steam rises, it condenses back into the water.

Some of the more popular herb teas are: (1) chamomile, made from the flower heads of the plant, known as a digestive aid and upset stomach, (2) lemon verbena, lemon balm and lemon grass that make a lemon-tasting tea, and (3) mint, used for digestion purposes.

Other herbs used for tea are: rosemary, sage, catnip, fennel, rose hips, ginger and many combined blends.

Many herb gardeners grow their own herbs for making tea. When making tea from the garden, one should know that not all herbs are suitable for making tea. Some will make you sick. A person should know about the properties of the herb that he/she is dealing with because some of them are not for human consumption and would make you ill.

One good approach is to read up-to-date information and judge the herb's merits. Quite a number of herbs with long histories of use in folk medicine are now being exposed and not to be used. For instance, sassafras tea, once used extensively by our grandmothers, is not recommended as a tea to be consumed. Likewise, we are warned that the garden herbs, comfrey and pennyroyal, should not be ingested.

[Editor: Because pennyroyal tea and other oral forms of pennyroyal contain very little pulegone, they may be safe to take in small amounts.]

Jean Merrell and her husband, Paul, are local gardeners who grow herbs and vegetables organically.

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