When I was 9 or so, my mum had a friend, who we'll call P, who became quite ill and started seeing a Chinese doctor. Well after that, every time she'd come and stay, she'd brew these big pots of the most DISGUSTING smelling herbs on the stove. And she'd stay for quite a while, and the smell would always be there, and, being the brat that I was, it got to the point where I was so angry about the olfactory assault that I just refused to even acknowledge the poor woman's existence. Because it felt personal, as all bad smells do. I still actually take bad smells as a personal insult- I only JUST started talking to Jamie's friend who forgot to brush his teeth one morning before we all went on a drive up into the mountains, and that was 4 years ago.
The smell of P's herbs on the stove plagued me. And for years, even after I became fascinated with herbalism (which, now that I think about it, is no short miracle), I wouldn't go the infusion route. Nor decoctions. The connotations were all wrong- too woo-woo. Too stinky. Too weird.
Tinctures felt clinical. Salves felt sensual. Teas, well I am Scottish- it may have even been my first word. But stovetop stuff- I might as well start wearing patchouli and throwing peace signs. And I'm not quite sure what it was that changed for me. Maybe it was one of those books that I read on the beach. They all seem to blend together now, so I'll make it up:
The heroine grew up in a family that used herbs as medicine. It wasn't weird or stinky. She was pretty and wore dresses. Maybe she was from Costa Rica and had long wavy black hair and would be played by Penelope Cruz with a flower behind her ear. She lives in America now and she brews potions for people and acts as the local medicine woman with her little quirky community of people who all have an interesting story. Then something happens- let's say the local government wants to knock down the shop that has been in her family for, well, not that long because I forgot she's from Costa Rica. And then a handsome stranger steps in as her lawyer or something. And he saves the day. And they fall in love. This story is kinda boring actually. Maybe instead of it being a legal thing, she gets KIDNAPPED by some crazy outlaw (because she's not in America at all- she's in Colombia, where she grew up, and she was kidnapped because of her herbal skills, to cure this prisoner because he is needed to be alive to hold him ransom because... um... because he's rich. Super rich. Oh no, because he's in intelligence and they need his information. Yeah, I like that better. So he's an intelligence agent (one of the best, of course) and she's needed to heal him so that he can talk. Did I mention that he's gorgeous? But you can't tell at first because he's too thin and weak. And they slowly fall in love and when he's got his strength back he KICKS EVERYONES ASS AND they move to America and live happily ever after. Uhm. Well the whole point is that she makes these infusions that aren't gross smelling, they're sensual and pretty. Because she's got a flower behind her ear and is played by Penelope Cruz.
That's what changed. Infusions stopped being weird stinky P, and started being Penelope Cruz. And now I make them all the time.
The cool thing about infusions is that they can be medicinal, or they can be delicious, and sometimes they can be both. So, for example, if you have people coming over for dinner- you could make a rose and hibiscus infusion and throw some ice in there and put it on the table and it'll look really pretty. Or if you're feeling exhausted you can do medicinal infusions and add things that taste good. You can make them really strong like real medicinal infusions, or you can make them weak, more like a tea, and sip them chilled on a summer afternoon. You can pour them into a water bottle and carry them around with you all day (which is what I do. People look at my water bottle funny.). Or you can leave it in a big jar in the fridge and have it by the glassful like you would any other iced tea. But if you know what certain things do, then you can play around a bit.
The principle is really easy:
Take a container than can hold boiling water. I use either a biiig half gallon mason jar, or a french press. The french press is great because it's got a filter already built in...
(You can also make great teas in a drip coffee maker)
Fill it about an eighth of the way to a quarter of the way with dried herbs.
Fill the container with boiling water and sit for desired length of time (the longer you leave it, the stronger it gets. Which is great for medicinal properties but often bad for taste. Unless it's nettles, oatstraw or a root, I leave it for about 15 minutes usually).
Commonly found medicinal things you can make an infusion with:
Rose petals: Cooling and drying. For summer heat issues. For tension in chest and nervous irritability. Add honey and cream and it's quite lovely.
Chamomile: Quite bitter in large quantities. Calming, relaxing, good for digestion.
Red clover blossoms: According to Susun Weed, these are great for fertility. When taken over long periods of time they've been said to have an effect on tumours. Gentle and nourishing lymph mover. Quite delicious too.
Rosemary: good for concentration, and that gross stagnant moody PMS feeling. Aids digestion. Don't steep for too long, trust me on that one :).
Sage: For oncoming colds, sore throats. For ungroundedness, feeling spacey. Helps concentration. For concentration, combine with rosemary and basil.
Lemon balm: For anxiety. Aids digestion. Calms the heart.
Lavender tops: Tension, PMS, tight overheated anger. Nice combines with rosemary and a bit of honey.
Basil: According to Matthew Wood, it's used in the morning for alertness, and in the evening to aid sleep. I like to use it for concentration. Interestingly, it's been used for years in India to aid marijuana detoxification.
Thyme: For colds and flu and mucus congestion in the chest. Really nice with sage, mint and honey.
Nettles: Deeply nourishing, especially for those with iron deficiency. Taste is somewhat vulgur (to me) so add mint and all is forgotten. I think nettle infusions made the biggest difference to me with helping restore my energy after adrenal burnout.
Oatstraw: For exhaustion, low sex drive, weak and frazzled nerves. Great in combination with nettles. Taste is slightly sweet and grassy and nice.
Mint: aids digestion, stimulates sweating when there's a fever.
Bee balm flowers: aids digestion. Calming. Helps body fight infection- GREAT for UTI, candida and general malaise. Also good as a wash for burns.
Other great things to infuse are:
hibiscus flowers, lemon verbena, apple blossoms, orange blossoms, peach blossoms (HEAVEN).
What about you- anything you like to make teas or infusions with that I didn't mention?