Making herbal infusions or tisanes

Welcome fellow bloggers.  I have decided to write a series of blogs which explore the various different ways in which you can use herbs to support your health and wellbeing.  This week’s post will introduce you to infusions or tisanes.  This is very similar to making a cup of tea.  We are all aware of how we make our cuppa 🙂 tea leaves are brewed to make an infusion but we are lucky that they are conveniently bagged to ensure minimal mess and effort.

When using herbal remedies it is common to think that they are completely safe.  This isn’t always the case.  Please ensure that you know the herbs that you are using.  Please read up on them to check for any safety concerns which may be specific for you.  This is especially true if you are taking medication from your GP/hospital.  I love dandelion and would recommend it for most people but if a person is suffering from gallstones then it isn’t advisable for them to use the herb in medicinal doses.

Dandelion in full bloom. A great digestive herb to be avoided if you suffer from gallstones.

Dandelion in full bloom. A great digestive herb to be avoided if you suffer from gallstones.

Safety is the key, you need to be able to correctly identify the herb that you are using and be aware of its effects and actions prior to using it.  As a herbalist I have to stress the importance of safety – consult a qualified herbal practitioner such as myself if you are unsure about anything.  We may not have deadly animals in the UK but we do have a vast array of poisonous or toxic plants.

The usual standard dose for making herbal infusions is 25 grams of the dried herb to half a litre of water.  This is great if you are brewing on e up for more than one person or you do not mind drinking the infusion cold.  I prefer to drink my herbal tisanes hot so I use one teaspoon of dried herb per cup.  If you are using fresh herbs (always wash them first) you will also have to triple to quantity of the herbs to take into account the extra water content within the herbs.

Infusions are usually made using the leaf or the flower of a plant, many flowers are aromatic and you do not want to lose these aromatic constituents (volatile oils such as monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes give many herbs their aromatic smell such as rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, sage etc.) they are light enough to evaporate so it is recommended to use water that has recently boiled instead of pouring boiling water that has just boiled straight over them.  The volatile oils are what you smell when you add herbs to cooking as the heat of the food has enabled them to evaporate.  Essential oils are also made up by distilling the volatile oils out of the plant material.  Volatile oils are able to pass the blood/brain barrier and can have a positive impact on our limbic system which is the seat of our emotions.  They are also antiseptic and usually anti-inflammatory in nature therefore we do not want them all to escape from our herbal brew.

You can use a cafeteria to make a herbal infusion.

You can use a cafeteria to make a herbal infusion.

Add the herbs of your choice to the cafeteria. I have chosen rose, fennel and peppermint.

Whichever way you choose to make herbal infusions please don’t throw your used herbs in the bin, they can be placed in your  composter (as can normal teabags).

There are two ways that I prefer to make a herbal tea.  I purchased a tea strainer (I have one in the shape of a house made out of metal and several shaped like musical notes made out of plastic).  If I am just making one cup I like to use the tea strainer.  I place the loose herb inside the tea strainer and then use is like a spoon as it hooks onto the side of my cup/mug.  If I fancy a couple of cups of herbal tea then I use a cafeteria to brew up my tisane as it isn’t very messy at all and is very quick to prepare.

Let the kettle cool slightly once it has boiled before adding the hot water to you herbs

Let the kettle cool slightly once it has boiled before adding the hot water to you herbs

As a herbalist I am fully aware of the benefits of drinking herbal infusions.  For instance whilst I was at university I was drinking a lot of….. (you thought I was going to say alcohol but I was already a mother when I went to university and had my daughter to look after lol)… coffee!  You see I was going to say coffee.  This was due to the demands that commuting to a different city, looking after my daughter, studying and attaining all of the academic deadlines did to me… I relied on coffee to get me going and keep me going – but this was detrimental to the health of my adrenals (if you have dark circles under your eyes you might be in  a similar situation too – you can always book a consultation with me to support your health).

Allow the herbs to infuse in the water for 5-10 minutes.

Allow the herbs to infuse in the water for 5-10 minutes.

I was drinking over eight cups of coffee a day which is excessive.  The recommended daily amount is two to three.  I blended up herbs to support me in cleansing my system.  If you too drink lots of coffee or you have drunk lots of coffee you will be well aware of the caffeine withdrawals that we experience – physical symptoms include a pounding headache!!  I blended up herbs and drank a cafeteria full each day and managed to cut back without experiencing the caffeine withdrawals.  Two to three cups of herbal infusion are the usual dose I recommend to my patients if they are having herbal teas to support their health and wellbeing.  It is a dose which is tried and tested.

You can then pour yourself and your friends a delicious herbal infusion

You can then pour yourself and your friends a delicious herbal infusion

Infusions can be stored for up to 24 hours, if you haven’t drank them in this time they can be watered down to feed your plants (indoor or outdoor). You can add the infusion to the bath or use it as a hair rinse after shampooing.  You can use them as a gargle/mouth wash if you are experiencing gum disease/gingivitis.  They can be made into a compress for external wounds, bumps, scrapes or bruises.  They can even be splashed onto the skin as a lotion.  But they should be discarded from internal consumption after a day.

Here is the tea strainer which I use when making one cup.  They are available to buy for only £1

Here is the tea strainer which I use when making one cup. They are available to buy for only £1

The only time that this doesn’t apply is when I make tinctures – I make alcohol preparations of herbs.  I will discuss how you can make these in a future blog.  When I strain the herbs to get the tincture out some of the alcohol is trapped in the herb so I make a herbal infusion of the herbs which I have used to make a tincture – this extracts the alcohol and also the rest of the active constituents in the plant material giving me a tincture-tea.  There is usually an ounce of alcohol left which then helps to preserve the infusion.  I then drink the tincture-tea when required to support my own health and wellbeing.

Gingko biloba leaf which was used to make a tincture and is now infusing to make a tincture-tea

Gingko biloba leaf which was used to make a tincture and is now infusing to make a tincture-tea

There are several herbs which you can use safely to make nourishing herbal infusions to support your health and wellbeing:

Marigold (Calendula officinalis) is safe enough to use in pregnancy and breastfeeding.  It is anti-inflammatory and an excellent wound healer helping to stop bleeding.  An infusion would help support digestive issues, be used as a gargle for gum disease, or as a compress for burns, cuts and other wounds including leg ulcers, varicose veins and haemorrhoids.  As a lymphatic this herb can support you if you have tonsillitis.  The plant is easy to grow in our climate and you can pick it up from most garden centres and even supermarkets.  You would use the flowers to make an infusion.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is also safe to be used in pregnancy and breastfeeding.  It is gentle enough to give to children who have an upset stomach and yet strong enough to calm down feelings of restlessness and anxiety.  It can help with nervous diarrhoea, reduce wind and bloating and support women with painful or absent periods.

Chamomile flowers make a delicious and soothing herbal infusion

Chamomile flowers make a delicious and soothing herbal infusion

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a nuisance weed for many but its effects supporting eczema is amazing.  It cools and soothes and can help with psoriasis too.  It can be made into an infusion to support people who have rheumatic disorders.

Cleavers (Galium aperine) has no known side effects and is an excellent spring tonic supporting lymphatic disorders and skin problems including psoriasis.

This names just a few herbs which are safe enough for most people.  There are people who can experience sensitivity to members of the asteraceae family.  They would have to stop using herbs such as chamomile as it is a member of the asteraceae family.  I look forward to introducing another method of using herbs next week.

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What it health?

Marigolds, seem as sunshine herbs are great for boosting both mind and body

My favourite quote is by Mahatma Gandi “Health is true wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” But what is health? I know from observing people that it is taken for granted when people are healthy and sorely missed when it is gone!! Whilst studying to be a herbalist at University I was taught that our health is a great way to look into a persons past – this is because our health is the result of all of our actions and their consequences in life. I know that this sounds a bit drastic but when you boil it all down it is essentially true too!

rose

Roses can revitalise and uplift your spirits when taken as a herbal medicine – although the same can be said when we receive them too!

Health arises from a harmony with nature, our health isn’t just our actions but also our response to the changing seasons and the tides of time. Health therefore isn’t something which is achieved but something which is constantly worked on. The ideal state of happiness and health is still achievable but it isn’t so much a goal as a lifestyle choice. Our mind can affect our body for example: depression can lower the immune system. The same is true that our body can affect our mind – if we are lacking in certain nutrients then we can experience confusion, poor memory, irritability, lethargy and several other issues which we attribute to our thoughts and emotions.

When you look at the body in detail it is constantly changing, biochemical reactions are constantly occurring, cells are dying, new cells are being made to replace them – we are not who we were a year ago as practically every cell in our body will have been replaced!! Change is constant and because we are living beings we can survive and function effectively if we can easily adapt to change. Some of us struggle with this which causes stress which in itself has a detrimental effect on the body.

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Meditation is a great way of stilling the mind and reducing the mindless chatter that occurs.

Hippocrates is deemed the founder of modern medicine, a lot of his philosophies regarding health are FINALLY being accepted again. “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” If we do replace every cell in our body on a regular basis then it stands to reason that we are what we eat. If we eat a lot of bad foods then we will end up feeling bad. Simples’! He also viewed health as a balance. This Hippocratic doctrine of harmony is only just re-entering the scientific arena. In Hippocratic teachings it is taught that both health and disease are under the control of NATURE and natures laws. Health and disease reflect the influence exerted by the environment and our way of life (our lifestyle). Health depends on the state of balance and equilibrium among the various internal factors which govern the mind, body and soul. This balance of health is only reached when we live in harmony with our environment.

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Reconnect with nature to be more in harmony with it. It’s amazing how great you can feel after spending time outdoors

Love your planet, love your community, love your neighbours, family and friends and most of all love yourself! As a herbalist I use herbs and plants, gifts from Mother Nature to help to support your health and wellbeing and bring it back into balance. Health also required action on the part of the one being healed by assessing their lifestyle including their thoughts, diet and routines.

Herbal Hair Dyes

As the sun is STILL shining… and my last post didn’t jinx it… I would like to introduce you all to natural ways to highlight or dye your hair.  I was inspired to write this post yesterday when I was out with my sisters and niece.  Hair dye was purchased – a divine plum (I can’t wait to see her new look!!).  Whilst in the aisle of a shop in Freshney Place, Grimsby, several people picked up hair lightening kits.

chamomile

Chamomile flowers lighten hair naturally

As a herbalist I try to use natural products where possible and minimise the amount of chemicals I use.  It is really easy to lighten your hair naturally using herbs.  If you are spending time in the garden or outdoors why not use lemon juice or chamomile to lighten your hair naturally.  You can make a tea using dried chamomile flowers (or fresh) – infuse a handful of fresh flowers or a teaspoon of dried flowers in a cup of boiling water for 5 – 10 minutes.  Allow to cool down, I have found it easy to put the infusion in a spray bottle and then spray onto hair.  If I do this I add a quarter of a cup of vodka so that it doesn’t go off.  This can be slightly drying but will quickly evaporate on a hot day.  You can also dissolve some salt into the mixture to get a sun-kissed beach head of hair.  You can do the same with lemon or apply it to your hair neat.

If you would like streaks of sun lightened hair then ensure that you apply the lemon or chamomile to the sections of your hair that you want lightened.  Or if you would like hair that gradually lightens like the L’oreal Paris Preference range which is currently being advertised on the TV then make a large amount of chamomile tea, dip you hair in it before going out in the sun and every time you come back indoors re-dip your hair in the herbal infusion ensuring that you do not wet as much hair as the last time.

A close up of sage - Salvia officinalis

A close up of sage – Salvia officinalis

Now you may not want your hair lighter – if this is your case then you need to grow/purchase or harvest rosemary, nettles and/or sage.  A natural way to darken ones hair is to get a large handful of sage leaves, cover with 2 teaspoons of borax and 1/2 pint of boiling water.  Mix well and leave until it goes cold.  The borax helps to preserve the infusion.  You can then carefully apply it to your hair with a brush, you can repeat this process as often as you like as there are no side effects to topical application of sage infusion.  Rosemary and nettles are both reputed to darken greying hair.  Rosemary also makes a great rinse for people with auburn hair and helps to clear dandruff.  You can make herbal infusions with any of these herbs or a combination of the three.

You always need more fresh herb than dried when you make a herbal infusion, if you make it in a teapot which has a cover more of the volatile (essential) oils are preserved, the wonderful aroma from herbs are the actual volatile oils which you are sensing from your olfactory senses (sense of smell).  There are several ways that you can use herbs to darken your natural colour or aim to prevent premature greying of your hair.

Rosemary is used to darken greying hair.

Rosemary is used to darken greying hair.

You can make up an infusion and use as a rinse between shampooing and after conditioning.  You can make an infusion and place in a spray bottle and apply prior to putting your hair up.  You can apply the herbal infusion to your brush as mentioned before.  You can also make the infusion into a shampoo or conditioner itself.  Another way is to allow the herbs to steep in a plant based oil for several weeks.  Keep this oil out of the sunlight while you are making it and shake it daily ensuring that no plant material is poking out of the oil (as it can go mouldy).  You can use the oil as a deep conditioning treatment once a week.  Try applying it to your hair (it works better if it is warm) and leave on for a few hours under a hot towel or overnight and then wash out with your normal shampoo and conditioner.  Not only are you giving your hair a natural moisturiser but the infused herbs will work to darken your hair.

The methods that I have shared with you will vary in results depending on your hair type, diet, length of time you have used it, strength of the sun etc.  The key is these are natural methods of hair care.  The lightening methods are dependant on the sunshine – the sun naturally lightens our hair but the addition of the herbs helps to accentuate it.  Of course there is henna – which I am sure that most of you would be aware of.  Henna is a climbing plant which produces a red/auburn colour – a natural way to get beautiful red hair.  It would be great if you could post your pictures of your hair once they have been highlighted/dyed naturally.

If you would like to learn how to make shampoo, conditioner, infused oils, hair masks etc., I can offer one to one sessions in the comfort of your home (if you live in the Grimsby and Cleethorpes area), possible workshops on how to make herbal body care products are being planned and a possible location is being sought.  Any ideas – please let me know.