Mother Earth's Medicine Cabinet: More Tea Please!

Tea is, and has always been, far more than just something to quench the thirst and please the palate. For thousands of years, tea has been one of the go-to medicines for many ancient healers. Not only can different teas provide healing properties, they also provide preventative means for the body. For instance, green tea is packed full of antioxidants, which oxidize and help repair any damaged cells that could cause potential health issues.

All “True Teas” are from a plant called Camellia sinensis. Camellia sinensis is a species of evergreen shrub from which the leaves and buds are used to make tea. There are two main varieties used to make what is called true tea: Camellia sinensis var. Sinensis is the Chinese tea and Camellia sinensis var. assamica is the class of Indian Assam teas. White, Green, Yellow and Black teas are all harvested from either of the Camellia varieties. The difference lies in the processing, through which a tea reaches different levels of oxidation.

 Tisanes, Infusions and Decoctions – Oh My!

Tisanes: Tisanes are herbal teas that are used specifically for the medicinal properties within. The drinks are made by using an infusion or decoction made from dried flowers, roots, stems, leaves, bark, herbs, and spices. Tisanes usually have high antioxidant levels, as well as many other health-benefiting factors.

Decoctions: A decoction, in my opinion, is best described as the result and act of extracting the vital healing essence from the plant matter, whatever it may be. The plants, herbs, spices, etc. are crushed and mashed in order to release the volatile oils to the surface and then boiled down which draws out the oils and furthermore the medicinal properties from within. I personally prefer this method when working with bark, roots, and similar woody plant matter.

Infusions: An infusion is very similar to a decoction in the sense that the goal is to extract the chemical compounds and flavor from the plants and herbs using either water or consumable alcohol. Depending on the recipe you are using, you may use boiling water, warm water, or a consumable alcohol (such as vodka or a grain-based alcohol with high proof). The herbs are left to steep for a long period of time. Next, the plant matter is strained – leaving only the liquid.

So technically an herbal tea is a tisane, and in order to make tisanes you need either a decoction or an infusion (and in some cases, you could use both). Herbal and medicinal teas provide numerous benefits for our mind and body. In all honesty, any healing plant or herb can be made into a form of herbal tea –  some may taste better than others, but there’s always a way around that.

Now that you know what is what in the realm of teas and tisanes let’s talk about some of the plants to use and what benefits they provide you.

  • Green Tea – Antioxidant properties and healthy cell growth.
  • White Tea – Antibacterial, highest antioxidants of all teas, and lowers high cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Black Tea – Regulates the body’s blood sugar levels and has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Chamomile – Antibacterial properties, eases stomach irritation, calms anxiety and nervousness.
  • Yerba Mate – Helps with respiratory issues, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure.

This list could truly continue on long enough for me to write a book. The general idea is that once you know a plant’s medicinal uses and how it affects the body, (including the side-effects) you can make many of them into a tea, tisane, decoction, and infusion.

Some plants work more efficiently when processed in the proper manner. For example, woody plants and roots are usually best made into a decoction. This is mainly because when making a decoction you first crush and mash the plants and then boil out the good stuff. A plant that is much more fragile and delicate shouldn’t be mashed and boiled because there is a big possibility of cooking away the medicines through evaporation.

I noticed when I added more teas and tisanes into my daily life I felt much healthier. I realized I could literally consume tasty beverages to enhance and provide healing to just about any issue I was having in a safe and healthy way. As always, before adding something new to your diet or health care regime it’s always best to do extensive research and try new things in very small quantities. There are hundreds of teas and tisanes you can buy either online or in the local grocers. You can also grow many of your own medicinal herbal and plants.