Part of a herbalist’s job is creating individualized formulations for her clients.
Formulation is as much as science as an art. Crafting formulas with several herbs is one of the more challenging and rewarding aspects of being a herbalist.
Being a great lover of the herbal tea, I personally love designing healing and satisfying teas. Recently I have been asked about how I create herbal teas that taste great while address specific health concerns. So I thought I would jot down a few tips on creating your own healing tea.
When blending a herbal tea there are two primary considerations to make:
l The therapeutic effect of the plants used.
l The taste of plants.
Let’s begin with taste. In my practice, it is essential that the teas I offer taste good. If a tea does not please the palate, I can hardly expect anyone to sit down and enjoy their medicine.
The base of a good herbal tea is the quality of the plant material used. Dried medicinal plants have a strong scent, vibrant colour and are not ground to dust.
The next step is to choose a foundation herb that gives the tea body. I generally choose plants that are high in minerals for this role. My preferred plants are nettles (urticaria dioica) or alfalfa (medica sativa). Both these plants feed the body vitamins, minerals and chlorophyll. Their high nutritive value brings energy to the tea drinker while building bones and blood, making strong nails and shiny hair and balancing blood sugars.
The third step in building a good medicinal tea is adding a plant high in flavonoids. Plants make flavonoids to protect themselves from the sun’s radiation. People take flavonoids to protect themselves from free radicals. Yet this is not always my reasoning when including plants with flavonoids in a tea. Flavonoids support the absorption of the nutrients and the medicinal that the other plants in the tea carry.
If I am formulating a tea for energy, I will include flavonoid rich gingko (gingko biloba). If the tea is being designed to address anxiety, I may choose hawthorn leaf and flower (crataegus spp.) for its calming properties and flavonoid content. A tea designed to boost the immune system may include either rose hips (rosa acicularis) or elder berries (sambucus nigra). These plants both have a variety of healing properties and are high in flavonoids.
Too many flavonoids create a sour tasting tea. So to balance the sourness of the tea, I add a couple of plants containing volatile oils to the blend. Plants containing volatile oil have strong scents and flavours.
They are generally plants that calm the nervous system, ease digestion and have anti-microbial properties. They also mask the taste of other plants and bring higher notes to the tea. Peppermint is one such plant.
Again I choose the herb with volatile oil to enhance the tea’s medicinal effect.
Rosemary (rosmarinus off.) brings a warming sweet flavour to a tea designed for energy and memory. Damiana (turnera diffusa) is a spicy Mexican herb that calms tummies turned upside down by anxiety. Ginger (zingiber officinale) lifts the mind while easing spasms of all types. Lemon balm (melissa off.) cools down burning stomachs and hot heads.
Finally, I add a herb with a mildly bitter flavour. The bitter flavour prepares the digestive tract to receive nutrients while preparing the mind to receive life. Dandelion (taraxacum off. folia) leaf, high in minerals and a gentle liver cleanser, brings a mild bitter flavour to the tea, giving it depth while enhancing its medicine. Mugwort (artemisia vulgaris) is another plant I often choose for its bitter taste and warming effect on the body.
Once in a while, if a person has had too much bitterness in their life, I add sweet tasting herbs. Liquorice (glycyrrhiza glabra) is the sweetest medicinal herb I know. It calms fired up adrenal glands while supporting many of the body functions that are dramatically affected by long-term stress. My other favoured sweet herb is oat seed (avena sativa). Oat seed is a soothing nerve tonic that knits together frayed nerves.
People often think herbal medicine needs to taste bad. But I find, again and again, a supportive nourishing herbal tea that tastes great is sometimes the best medicine for many of life’s ups and downs.
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached www.abraherbs.com.