A few days ago I picked up a book in a charity shop: Herbal Remedies by Christopher Hedley & Non Shaw.
I've only tried teas so far and am probably making no end of mistakes - after looking up the properties of what I had available I'm mixing them up and them making a tea which I'm drinking warm - I think I'm getting some efect.
(NB I cannot taste tea or most herbal teas and so have to use cinnamon or cloves for flavour)
Is there any real problem with this or is there a 'better way' to get the value of these herbs and spices?
Christopher Hedley and Non Shaw are both experienced, practicising herbalists and they wrote this book to try and help people access simple herbs and spices.
You don't say if you're using dried or fresh herbs or just what you have in the cupboard. Many times herb teas have a subtle flavour, very unlike the herbal tea bags sold in the shops which are flavoured with all sorts of things to make them palatable. If you are using dried herbs bought to flavour foods, I would forget them as they have probably been harvested over 2 years ago and most dried herbs only have a shelf life of 6 -12 months. The exception to this is lemon verbena which will remain potent for up to 2 years.
The best way to make a herb tea is to use a teapot or cafatiere. Put in 2 teaspons of dried herb or 2 tablespoons of fresh herb and pour just boiled water over it. Replace the lid and leave for ten minutes. Strain and drink. Using cardoman or cinnamon is a nice way of adding flavour. I add grated root ginger to a lot of my teas. You need to remember that all these spices are warming herbs which aid circulation.
If you are using seeds or barks to make tea - such as rose hips or cherry bark for a cough, then you need to put these in a saucepan, covered, and simmer for about 20 minutes before straining. This is called a decoction. You can also make a maceration, where you cover the herb or spice with cold water over night and drink the liquid. This is really good for getting calcium and other minerals out of nettles and actually tastes good!
Think about getting out and about and trying some wildcrafted herb teas. Elderflower is available at the moment. This is one of the nicest teas I know, either with lemon, lemon balm, lemon verbena or ginger or all of them. You might want to try honey suckle or couchgrass. The latter makes a refreshing tea and is good for your lymphatic system.
If you are wildcrafting, make sure the plant is away from car fumes and has not been sprayed with anything noxious. You also need to identify what you are picking. If you are anywhere near the Yorkshire or Derbyshire Dales, there is loads of sweet cicely on the road sides which has a pleasant aniseed flavour.
Have fun and experiment!
Re: Any advice for a noobie?
July 4 2007, 6:46 PM
Sorry to repeat your advice I just want to make sure I'm not misunderstanding.
Bark, roots and seeds (when dried) will last for years and so supermarket spices are OK to use
Leaves (when dried) will only last a few months (so supermarket herbs are usually too old)
Flowers (when dried) last only a few weeks
Anything fresh will only last days - pick at height of season for strongest effect and use immediately.
New question - when making a tincture is there any reason other than taste to use different alcohollic drinks(wine/cider/spirits)?
Re: Any advice for a noobie?
July 4 2007, 8:30 PM
Nobody said that bark, roots and seeds when dried, last for years. They last longer than ground products, but could get infested with "drug bugs" after a while and lose volatile constituents. Supermarket seeds have an expiry date.
Regarding alcohol used to make tinctures, wine and cider are not high enough in alcohol to be a good preservative. Vodka is the best choice for tinctures as you want to taste the main ingredient in your tincture.
Re: Any advice for a noobie?
July 5 2007, 9:25 PM
The other thing going for vodka, besides it's "tastelessness", as Matthew Woods points out, is that you get the same strength and effect from any brand of vodka so you can always use the cheapest. The same is not so if you want to use brandy. Making a tincture out of Spanish brandy is nothing like making one out of a good quality one.
I usually make hawthorn brandy out of the autumnal haws, but use vodka for the hawthorn blossom and leaf tinctures.
There are some very bitter herbs you may want to mask by using rum, e.g. motherwort and boneset. I have to admit that if I'm desparate, I'll use whatever alcohol I can lay my hands on at the time. We are restricted in the UK because unless you have a special license, you can't get any alcohol stronger than those sold in ordinary spirits. In the States it is different and they will talk about getting 100% alcohol and using organic grain spirits and other types of alcohol. This is why Americans talk about drop dosages while we use teaspoonfuls. It gets confusing!
Dried flowers will last for the same length of time as leaves, provided they have not lost their colour and their scent (if they had any). You've just got to get to know your herbs individually. I put my dried calendula petals into a glass jar and covered it with a brown paper bag last year and they have totally kept their colour and vibrancy nearly 12 months later - amazing!
July 5 2007, 10:50 PM
Well, Sarah, I bow to your superior knowledge on herbs and tinctures but I have to disagree with you on what constitutes a good quality brandy. There are many different Spanish brandies of varied quality just as there are many French brandies, also of varied quality. As it happens, for the most part, I much prefer the softer flavours of Spanish brandies and never buy French brandies which, to me, are harsher with less subtlety of flavour. I drink to the fact that they don't make good tinctures!
Re: Spanish brandy
July 7 2007, 7:27 PM
Maybe I should have said cheap Spanish brandy, David!
Brandy, to me, is something which goes in the Christmas cake and flower remedies. I never drink it neat! Give me a cup of tea any day!
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