Nourishing and Tonifying Herbs
Nourishing Herbal Infusions
by Susun S Weed © 2007
Most herbalists, throughout history, have been fascinated with poisonous plants. This fascination, along with careful study, experimentation, and observation, has given rise to pharmacy --the use of concentrated poisons -- on one hand, and to homeopathy -- the use of diluted poisons -- on the other.
While respecting the ability of plants to stimulate and sedate, I have focused my studies elsewhere, specifically on the nourishing abilities of plants. The main premise of the Wise Woman Tradition is that health is inherent in each being, with nourishment being the key that unlocks it. Thus, I have spent the past thirty years recommending the use of nourishing herbs to a wide variety of people with a wide variety of problems.
Because nourishing plants, by definition, can't kill, they are scorned by many herbalists. Their effects are said to be slow and weak. Yes, poisons plants do create instantaneous results, and I do use them when I need that immediate reaction. But they always undermine health.
Nourishing plants always build health. Their effects are slower, but still rapid -- with significant improvement in well-being seen in ten days or less -- and powerful, often life-changing. I call the nourishing herbs "people's herbs" because they are safe for anyone to use for any reason. And the use of nourishing herbs is "people's medicine," our birthright of health. People's medicine is a direct threat to hierarchy medicine, whether mainstream or alternative. It returns the power of health to the hands of the individual, out of the hands of the elite.
Nourishing herbs are powerhouses of protein, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals that counter cancer and prolong life. The best ways to extract this richness are those that rely on water and dilute acid as solvents: that is nourishing herbal infusions and mineral-rich medicinal vinegars.
Nourishing Herbal Infusions
Tea for You?
Teas are a favorite way to consume herbs. Made by brewing a small amount of herbs (typically a teaspoonful to a cup of water) for a short time (generally 1-2 minutes), teas are flavorful, colorful drinks.
Herbs rich in coloring compounds -- such as hibiscus, rose hips, calendula, and black tea -- make enticing and tasty teas. They may also contain polyphenols, phytochemicals known to help prevent cancer. Since coloring compounds and polyphenols are fairly stable, dried herbs are considered best for teas rich in these.
Herbs rich in volatile oils -- such as ginger, chamomile, cinnamon, catnip, mint, lemon balm, lemon grass, lavender, bergamot, and fennel, anise, and cumin seeds -- make lovely teas which are effective in easing spasms, stimulating digestion, eliminating pain, and inducing sleep. Since much of the volatile oils are lost when herbs are dried, fresh herbs are considered best for teas rich in these, but dried herbs can be used with good results.
I enjoy a cup of hot tea with honey, which has its own medicinal value. But teas fail to deliver the mineral richness locked into many common herbs. A cup of nettle tea, for instance, contains only 5-10 mg of calcium, while a cup of nettle infusion contains up to 500 mg of calcium. For optimum nutrition, I drink nourishing herbal infusions every day.
Infusion for Me!
An infusion is a large amount of herb brewed for a long time. Typically, one ounce by weight (about a cup by volume) of dried herb is placed in a quart jar which is then filled to the top with boiling water, tightly lidded and allowed to steep for 4-10 hours. After straining, a cup or more is consumed, and the remainder chilled to slow spoilage. Drinking 2-4 cups a day is usual. Since the minerals and other phytochemicals in nourishing herbs are made more accessible by drying, dried herbs are considered best for infusions. (See experiment 2.)
I make my infusions at night before I go to bed and they are ready in the morning. I put my herb in my jar and my water in the pot, and the pot on the fire, then brush my teeth (or sweep the floor) until the kettle whistles. I pour the boiling water up to the rim of the jar, screw on a tight lid, turn off the stove and the light, and go to bed. In the morning, I strain the plant material out, squeezing it well, and drink the liquid. I prefer it iced, unless the morning is frosty.
I drink the quart of infusion within 36 hours or until it spoils. Then I use it to water my house plants, or pour it over my hair after washing as a final rinse which can be left on.
My Favorite Herbs for Infusion
Any herb that is free of poisons; that is, any herb that contains little or no volatile oils, resins, alkaloids, or glycosides is a good choice for infusion. Additionally, I prefer to use herbs that are exceptionally high in protein, minerals, and vitamins for my daily infusions. See Chart 1.
Nourishing herbal infusions cost me less than a dollar a day. (I buy them by the pound at wholesale prices from Frontier Herb, and so can you.) A quart of infusion a day completely replaces all vitamin and mineral supplements, giving me a savings of at least $75 per month. (The average supplement buyer spends $100-$150 a month on pills, though some customers spend more than $300 monthly on nutritional supplements of various kinds.
I use these five nourishing herbal infusions regularly, drinking at least a quart a week of each one:
nettle leaf (Urtica dioica): nourish and rebuild adrenals, kidneys, blood vessels, skin, hair
oatstraw (Avena sativa): longevity tonic, rebuilds nerves
red clover blossoms (Trifolium pratense): my anti-cancer ally,
linden flowers (Tillia americana): anti-flu, anti-cold, lovingly soothes lungs and guts
comfrey leaf (Symphytum officinale): heals, nourishes brain, bones, mucus surfaces, skin
I also use, for excitement or for specific reasons, these nourishing herbal infusions:
chickweed (Stellaria media)
mullein stalk and leaf (Verbascum thapsus)
raspberry leaf (Ideaus sp.)
hawthorn berries, leaves, and flowers (Crateagus sp.)
elder berries or flowers (Sambucus canadensis)
burdock root (Arctium lappa)
violet leaves (Viola sp.)
plantain leaves (Plantago sp.)
marshmallow root (Althea off.)
slippery elm bark (Ulmus fulva)
I only use one herb at a time in my infusion. I keep it simple, so I can really get to know the plants -- and my self.
How Do Infusions Taste?
Generally, great! Most people like the taste of nourishing herbal infusions, but here are a few hints to get you started. Remember you can add anything to like to your infusion, from instant coffee to whiskey, as well as honey, cream, lemon, or your usual seasoning choices.
• Nettle infusion is improved by the addition of salt or miso when you drink it hot; I like it iced.
• Comfrey leaf infusion heated, with honey, is wonderfully soothing; great iced too.
• Oatstraw is mild and easy to drink hot or cold, sweeten or plain.
• Linden flower infusion is great cold, but even better heated and taken with honey.
• Red clover, especially flavored with mint, is so like iced tea you can fool your friends.
The tannins in red clover and comfrey make me pucker my lips, so I add a little dried peppermint (Mentha piperata) or bergamot (Monarda didyma) to my jar when I make the infusion, just enough to flavor the brew slightly. You can add up to a teaspoonful per quart of any aromatic herb without poisoning yourself. Or you can heat the completed infusion, a cup at a time, and pour it over an aromatic herb to make a tea infusion. Sage, ginger, lavender, thyme, marjoram, shiso, oregano, rosemary, lemon balm, hyssop, and basil are all wonderful choices.
Notes: Is comfrey safe for internal use? The roots of wild comfrey, Symphytum officinale, are known to contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can cause venous liver congestion. Two neonatal deaths are ascribed to ingestion of comfrey root. The leaves of cultivated comfrey, Symphytum uplandica, do not contain these alkaloids and appear to be safe for all women, even pregnant and lactating women. Four generations of people living at the Henry Doubleday Research Center have eaten cooked comfrey leaves regularly, including during pregnancy and lactation, and no liver problems have been seen in this population.
See: Awang DVC. Comfrey. Canadian Pharm Journal 1987: 101-4.
Also see: Gladstar R."The Comfrey Controversy." Journal of the Northeast Herbalists Association. 1994