Weed Wanderings Herbal eZine with Susun Weed
March 2004
Volume 4 Number 3

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Anti-Cancer Lifestyle ...
Nourishing Herbal Infusions
by Marie Summerwood

Nourishing Herbal Infusions

On a road trip once I was captive in a car with someone who took lots of supplements. He had a long litany about pills and capsules. As he went on with it, I could notice inside me just the beginnings of self-blame because I don't take supplements generally. Fortunately I caught myself and when he had finished I found myself saying, "I know what you mean. I eat seaweed several times a week, I eat cooked dark greens nearly everyday. I use herbal vinegars on salads, in marinades and cooked beans. And I drink herbal infusions, about a quart a day." I'd never said it all that clearly before, and it made me realize just how rich my diet is in plant-based mineral salts. This article is about herbal infusions.

photo of nourishing infusions by Justine Smythe

It's easier to begin by talking about teas. Infusions differ from teas in this way: a tea is made from a small amount of herb (dry or fresh), boiling water, steeped for a few minutes. You get tannins, essential oils, some alkaloids like theine from black tea. Teas are often great tasting; peppermint tea can settle your stomach, lemon balm tea (fresh leaves best) helps with depression, the astringency of the tannins is pleasant and often helps settle the stomach, ginger tea helps with nausea. Teas are great, but they are not infusions.

An infusion is made from a lot of herb (always dry), boiling water and is steeped several hours. You get all of the abovementioned plus mineral salts. These mineral salts are bio-available in wonderful profusion and good balance. Dry herbs are used because drying the plant breaks the cell wall. When the boiling water is poured over them the weakened cell walls open and the mineral salts inside the cells come into the infusion. I always use organic plants, as many medicinal herbs are grown in Eastern Europe where the soil is highly chemicalized.

On a practical note, get a system going for the actual production; if it's not easy, it's more difficult to keep up. I make my infusions in a Corningware coffee pot without the usual basket innards. Use approximately 1 cup of dried plant per quart of boiling water. Cover and let sit at least 4 hours, or overnight. Make it a nightly ritual while getting ready for bed. In the morning strain it into quart jars and compost the spent plant material. No compost pile? Scatter it in the garden or on the lawn to dry up and turn to brown dust, adding to the local soil recipe.

Nettles (Urtica dioica) is my favorite. The taste is deep green, same as the color. Richest in calcium, magnesium, manganese, chromium and zinc, it also contains a pretty full panoply of other minerals. Nettles is particularly restorative to the kidneys and adrenals, and the tissues of the blood vessels. It strengthens the liver and is considered an adaptogen for the immune system. This means it supports the immune system toward flexibility; many people with allergies find drinking nettle leaf infusion to be very helpful. In the summer, ice cold infusion is deeply satisfying to the thirst. My mother drinks it hot with milk and sugar, but she's of English descent, that's what she's used to. Some people like to add dried peppermint to nettle leaf infusion, perhaps a tablespoon per quart. One caveat on nettles; some people experience an increase in urine production, so don't drink too much at night at first.

Oatstraw (Avena sativa) is often quite deep gold in color, and tastes slightly sweet. The taste reminds people of straw, because that is what it is; one person I knew hated it because it reminded her of all the mornings she had to get up early to milk the cows. But mostly people like oatstraw right away. It is made from the dried stem, leaf and seeds, harvested and dried when the seeds are still soft, called "in milk". If you crush such a seed between your fingers, you get a milky residue. It's this milk that gives oatstraw its sweetness, so if the oatstraw you buy has absolutely no seeds, it will be less sweet. Oatstraw is richest in chromium, magnesium, silicon and calcium. It is considered widely to be very restorative to the nervous system in many general and specific ways. Its benefits are cumulative; with all herbal infusions we reap profound results over time.

Red Clover (trifolium praetense) grows in your back yard, or down the street. The flowers are actually purple in color. Harvest flowers for infusion, along with the set of leaves that closely collars the flower. Dry them out flat, not touching. This infusion tastes the most like black tea, largely because of its tannins. But red clover is rich in chromium, tin, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and thiamine. It is often used to promote fertility, used daily for 3 months. It has good amounts of phytoestrogens that the body can use to make estrogens, so it can help soften symptoms of menoopause. It is also widely used as an anti-cancer herb.

Comfrey (Symphytum Uplandica) has the folk name of Knitbone and it does that so well! The high allantoin content of the leaf infusion supports cell proliferation in the healing process of bones. During WWI medics used allantoin for healing war injuries. The infusion can have a slippery feel to it, that's the allantoin. Some people like to add a little dried peppermint. Comfrey leaf infusion also helps heal lung tissues; many a longterm case of bronchitis has responded to consistent use.

One last infusion I really like is:
Mullein leaf (Verbascum thapsus). Mullein plants are the 4-6 foot tall spikes with yellow flower tops you see along the highway in the summer. The infusion has a dark brown color and taste that makes me feel like I am drinking the earth. Richest in iron, aluminum,calcium, chromium, cobalt, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorous and silicon, this infusion's other major benefit is to the lungs. Used to treat coughs, colds, croup, bronchitis and asthma, it is often traditionally drunk with milk and honey. (My mother would be pleased). It's also delicious unadorned. 

Herbal infusions are easy and delicious ways to enhance your mineral intake. Your local coop may well carry all that are mentioned here. You can buy a cup of one and try a quart of infusion. Drink it hot or cold, plain, sweetened or with a splash of tamari. When you discover the ones you love, you can harvest them yourself (that's another article) or buy them by the pound. You'll want that much around. Profound Results Over Time is the byline for nourishing herbal infusions . You can believe it!

by Marie Summerwood

Nutritional Herbology, Mark Pederson,Wendall W. Whitman Company, 1998
Wildflowers-Northeastern/North-central North America, Peterson Field Guide, Houghton Mifflin, 1996 (excellent for identifying wild plants)


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