Crafting Herbal Tea Blends
Herbs can be prepared in many different ways depending upon the plant, its medicinal or culinary uses, and what your goals are in using the herb. In this article, we’ll explore how to prepare tea formulas, also known as “tisanes,” so that you can create custom tea blends, one of many ways to enjoy your homegrown medicinal garden herbs and share them with friends.
When designing a tea formula, consider what kind of tea you want to create. What are your goals? Do you want your tea blend to be calming and relaxing, perhaps something you drink before bed? Or maybe you’re looking for something that will help awaken your senses, or something that will aid in digestion or boost your immunity. The possibilities are endless, and your tea goals can be medicinal, culinary, or both!
One way that herbalists categorize herbs is by their actions, and knowing the actions you would like to incorporate into your tea blend can help you select which herbs to include. Some examples include:
You can learn more about what these actions offer as well as some example herbs in each category in this article: “Guide to Basic Herbal Actions” by Mountain Rose Herbs.
As herbalist, organic permaculture farmer, and ecologist Sarah Farr writes in her book Healing Herbal Teas: Learn to Blend 101 Specially Formulated Teas for Stress Management, Common Ailments, Seasonal Health, and Immune Support, “Tasting each herb you use is incredibly important to the craft of herbal tea making, more so than with other forms of herbal medicine, because flavor is a big part of why people drink teas.” She shares that, “When I first started making teas, one out of every ten teas I made was really good on the first try. I often had to tinker with the blend quite a bit until I arrived at the right balance of medicine and flavor.”
Flavor is key in creating tea blends, so it’s important to spend time getting to know your herbs both for their actions as well as their tastes. If you drink tea, you likely already know quite a few of the herbs whose flavors you enjoy. The trick is learning how to combine these flavors while also taking into account the medicinal actions that will help you reach your tea blending goals.
Just as herbs can be categorized into herbal actions, Farr writes that “herbs can be categorized into specific tastes that are connected to specific plant physiologies and herbal actions. This simple yet remarkably reliable system has been used in natural medicine for thousands of years.” Some categories of taste are:
Astringency (also an action)
Pungent and Spicy
To learn more about the tastes and explore strategies for becoming familiar with the different tastes of herbs, read Chapter 2 of Sarah Farr’s book here.
Selecting Herbs & Creating Formulas
Once you’ve identified what kind of tea you’d like to create, look around your garden or visit a local shop that sells bulk herbs, and find out which herbs will help you meet your goals. To get you started, here are some of our favorite common herbs, their associated actions, and their taste profiles:
Actions & traditional uses: Nervine, Carminative. Calming, aids in digestion, dulls muscular aches, reduces nasal congestion, lowers fever, antiseptic, antidepressant, stimulates menstruation.
Taste: Salty, Bitter.
Actions & traditional uses: Alterative, Diuretic, Tonic. Helps prevent anemia, controls bleeding, reduces inflammation in joints.
Taste: Astringent, Umami.
Actions & traditional uses: Aromatic, Carminative. Stimulates digestion, anti-nausea, eases congestion.
Taste: Pungent & Spicy, Salty.
Actions & traditional uses: Aromatic, Carminative, Diuretic (mild). Supports digestion, promotes flow of breast milk in nursing mothers.
Taste: Sweet (similar to licorice and anise)
Actions & traditional uses: Astringent. Remedy for menstrual cramps, tones uterus, aids childbirth labor.
Taste: Sour, Astringent.
Actions & traditional uses: Astringent. Emmenagogue.
Actions & traditional uses: Adaptogen, Antimicrobial, Alterative, Carminative, Demulcent, Diaphoretic, Nervine. Soothes the nervous system, stimulates immune system, warming digestive aid.
Taste: Pungent & Spicy.
Actions & traditional uses: Aromatic, Carminative, Diaphoretic. Reduces nausea, boosts immune response, induces sweating, reduces cold and flu symptoms.
Taste: Pungent & Spicy
When formulating your tea blend, less is more. A good rule of thumb for beginners is to start with three herbs per blend so that each of them is able to contribute without being diluted or creating complexity in getting the tea to taste good. In this article on tea blending from Mountain Rose Herbs, they recommend choosing a “base ingredient,” a “supporting ingredient,” and an “accent,” with each contributing to your overall tea goal through their actions and flavors.
Another way to think about this is to use the formulation pyramid, described in Sarah Farr’s book here. She offers a great example of how you could create a digestive tea using the formulation pyramid in Chapter 2.
Once you become familiar with the process, you can deviate from the 50% - 30% - 20% division and add more or less depending upon your preferences. Using one of our favorite simple tea blends as an example, you might choose nettle as your base ingredient, tulsi as your supporting ingredient, and spearmint as your accent. Here’s our preferred formula for this blend:
Simple Tea Blend
Cameron’s favorite easy to blend tea is:
3 Part Nettle
2 Part Tulsi
1 Part Spearmint
It can be an easy infusion. Add parts into a French press or tea pot, pour over boiling water, and steep for 10 minutes. This tea doesn't even need honey but you can add some for taste.
This tea blend is good for:
Respite Nervine Tea
Another tea blend that we recommend is this Respite Nervine Tea blend in Chapter 3 of Sarah Farr’s book. It features herbs that are grown and sold here at Kindred Herbs (although we don’t yet offer raspberry leaf or rose).
1.5 parts anise seeds or fennel
1.5 parts mint
1 part nettle leaf
1 part chamomile
1 part rose petals or 0.25 part lavender blossoms
1 part skullcap
0.5 part raspberry leaf
0.5 part catnip
0.25 part licorice root (or a spoonful of honey in each cup)
Hot infusion: Pour 1.5 cups hot water over 2 tablespoons tea. Steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
Cold infusion: Combine 2 cups cold water and 1 to 2 tablespoons tea in a lidded jar. Shake the jar to make sure all the tea is saturated. Place in the refrigerator or a cool place for at least 2 hours.
Taste: smooth, palatable combination of bitter and sweet
Herbal actions: nervine, restorative
Systems affected: nervous, muscular
(The above recipe is sourced from the book Healing Herbal Teas.)
How Much Tea Per Dose?
In addition to considering the ratio of herbs in a tea blend, how much of the tea you consume affects how potent the herbal actions will be. Sarah Farr explains that “if you were buying tea in tea bags at the store, you would need at least four tea bags to create a therapeutic dose for yourself. I usually make loose-leaf teas with a ratio of at least 2 heaping tablespoons tea per serving and usually drink at least 2 cups of tea per serving. If you like mellower tea, you can make 4 cups of liquid for your serving. The dosage is really about how much tea you are using; the amount of water you decide to use depends on your taste preferences.”
Her book outlines a number of tea blends, as well as recommended doses, in Chapter 3 here.
When brewing tea before you leave the house, make enough tea for the day and store it in a thermos to drink midday and late afternoon. When using tea therapeutically, the dosage is typically 3-5 cups minimum, drunk throughout the day; however it could be more or less depending on recommendations of a health care provider.
Now that we’ve explored some of the basic steps to take in crafting your own tea formulas, it’s your turn to give it a try! Remember to start with your goal, identify what actions and tastes you’d like to feature, choose your herbs, and experiment with different ratios.
“Herbal Pharmacy Preparing Formulas from Parts” (Northeast School of Botanical Medicine)
“How to Create Your Own Herbal Tea Blends” by Mountain Rose Herbs
“Formulations and Applications of Medicinal Herbal Teas” by Mel Mutterspaugh (TraditionalRoots.org)
“Guide to Basic Herbal Actions” by Mountain Rose Herbs