November 23, 2010
Herbal Teas
(Photo by Naama)

(Photo by Naama)

Teas of all kinds were a very popular drink in the 1800’s for a number of reasons.  First of all, in 1836, there were no sodas, energy drinks, or even fruit juices that were widely available.  Even things like apple cider were only available at certain times of the year.  So pioneers were always happy to find flavorful herbs, especially ones growing nearby that they could harvest for free, to use to make drinks that offered little variety to their diet.

Also, in larger communities, the water was not always safe to drink fresh out of the well.  They didn’t know it at the time, but several diseases, including cholera, could spread through ground water and affect an entire town.  Boiling the water before you use it would kill the germs, so even in areas where the water was safe, most people preferred to drink things that had been made with boiled water, rather than fresh water, just to be on the safe side.  That’s why teas, coffee, and even beers and wine were so popular – not only did they taste good, but they were safer than water.

Finally, many of the herbs you can use to make different kinds of tea can have a positive effect on the body.  Black tea, from India or China, for example, has caffeine in it, which perks you up and helps you feel refreshed after a hard day of work. White willow bark also became a popular ingredient for tea in the 1800s because of its ability to relive pain and reduce fevers.  Towards the end of the 19th century, it was discovered that one of the chemicals found in white willow bark – salicylic acid- is a great pain killer and was used to develop the chemical basis for modern aspirin.  Many of the properties people attributed to herbs in the 19th century have proven to be inaccurate, or have yet to be tested by science.  However, there are many herbs whose chemical properties have been studied extensively.

The herbs featured in the following recipes all have distinct flavors and mild positive effects on the body. Dandelion root, for instance, is considered by many to be a natural diuretic (it removes excess water from your body and promotes urination), and is said to improve liver and gall bladder function.  It has a rich flavor, not unlike unsweetened chocolate, and makes a very dark tea.  You can find more information about the uses of and research about dandelions by visiting

Dandelion tea:

Boil 1 tablespoon full of roasted dandelion root per cup of water.  Boil for approximately 5-7 minutes, and then let steep for 3-30 minutes, depending on desired strength.  Can be served hot or chilled.

Peppermint is another herb that has been used for generations to promote healthy digestion.  The reason mint-flavored candies are offered at the end of a meal in a restaurant is because people have noticed that various kinds of mints actually stimulate healthy digestion and can cure some types of stomach upset.  It is from mint that we can get menthol, the fragrant and tasty oil that makes your tongue feel tingly or hot.  I have paired it with alfalfa and red clover to add some flavor, and to create a tea that will help you feel really good and to stimulate your tummy and mind.  Find out more about peppermint by following this link:

Spearmint Tea:

1 tablespoon dried spearmint

½ tblsp dried red clover blossoms

½ tblsp dried alfalfa

2 cups boiling water

Lemon Balm is also a type of mint, but has more soothing and calming properties than peppermint.  It has a noticeably citrus flavor and smell, and thus is a nice addition to herb and flower gardens – take note, however, that lemon balm likes to spread as it grows, so it can easily overwhelm your garden!  Lemon balm is usually combined with other herbs like chamomile, and valerian in teas that have been proven to have a calming effect on your system and can even boost your mood.  In combination with alfalfa and red clover blossoms, this tea is supposed to help you feel relaxed and energized.  You can read more about lemon balm by following this link:

Lemon Balm Tea: 1 teaspoon dried lemon balm

½ tblsp dried red clover blossoms

½ tblsp dried alfalfa

2 cups boiling water

Pour the boiling water over the dried herbs.  Let steep for 3-20 minutes, depending on desired strength.  Can be served hot or chilled.

The last two herbs in today’s teas are ones that you may associate more with hay than you do with human food, but they both are great additives to teas.  Both have traditionally been thought to be blood-purifiers and all-around ‘tonic’ type herbs that can help clean out your system and revitalize your system.  Modern medicine has discovered that both plants are incredibly nutritious – they both contain lots of vitamins and minerals that would not necessarily be found in other components of the average pioneer diet.  Scientists have also found that red clover contains isoflavones – chemicals common in some plants that can act like estrogen in the body, and have some interest for cancer researchers, although no definitive effects have yet been proven.  Alfalfa has been shown to help lower cholesterol in cattle, and there is some evidence of it having the same effects in humans, although more research is needed.  Again, you can find out more about red clover at and alfalfa at

One more note about making tea from herbs:  Whenever you use the roots or bark of a plant to make a tea, you have to boil them to release the chemicals in the plant – if you just try to soak them in hot water, like you do leaves, flowers, and stems, you will only get a weak tea, without as much flavor.  A tea made from roots and bark is called a decoction, where as tea made from leaves and flowers is an infusion.

As always, you will want to consult with your doctor before you try to use any herb or alternative treatment for any disease or issue.

(Fresh herbs can be used in place of dried, but the teas will be weaker and have a slightly different flavor.)


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