I'm writing this in the first days of January, when the pressure to throw out 'bad' habits and completely remake yourself on both an emotional and physical level is still very...in your face.
I like the energy of a fresh start as much as anyone else...but I don't love the emphasis on immediately cutting out everything that's 'bad' for you. I think this mindset is fueled by guilt and, honestly, can lead to failure...and in turn, more guilt. It's not a great cycle.
Instead, I like to focus on adding good things to my life; more walking, more time with friends, more good music, more delicious, healthy food.
Good stuff slowly pushes out the bad, I think.
So, let's focus on some herbal good stuff you can add to your life.
Recently, someone asked me: "as an herbalist, what is the one thing you would recommend to do daily for good health?"
Without even having to think, I said: nourishing herbal infusions.
And then I thought: Hey, I should do a post on the blog about them.
So here we are!
What are nourishing herbal infusions?
Nourishing infusions are, essentially, very strongly brewed herbal teas made with nourishing, food-like herbs in large batches that you can drink throughout the day. (The idea of nourishing herbal infusions, to my knowledge, was largely popularized by herbalist Susun Weed. )
They're incredibly simple and quick to make and provide a nice alternative to drinking just plain water all day (which I mean, I love water. Like LOVE. But it's fun to mix it up AND get some extra nourishment, too.)
The key to nourishing infusions is how long they steep (8 hours or more). Letting the water do its work for this long results is a really strong, delicious brew packed with all the awesome nutrients the herbs have to offer.
How do you make them?
Making nourishing herbal infusions is really simple. All you have to do is:
- Add 1 oz (usually this is about 1 cup) of dried herb to a quart jar and then fill to almost the top with just-boiled water.
- Cap and let sit at least 8 hours or overnight (leaving it out on the counter top is fine, but you can throw it in the fridge too).
- When the brew is finished steeping, strain out the herbs, pour the liquid back into the container, and store in the fridge.
Drink the infusion throughout the day, either on ice or warmed up. It should last in the fridge for about 3 days (but you should have finished it off by then, anyway!).
What herbs should you use?
The idea with nourishing infusions is to use...nourishing herbs! These are typically gentle, mild herbs that almost stray over into the realm of being a food (the line between food and medicine is extremely thin...).
I don't recommend using very aromatic (high volatile oil content) or strongly medicinal herbs, as steeping them for that long could result in something a little too strong.
My favorite herbs to use for nourishing infusions are:
Nettle (Urtica dioica): Nettle infusion is probably the nourishing infusion I drink the most, just by virtue of the fact that I know just where to go to find huge swathes of it growing in the wild.
Nettle is, I would argue, one of the most nourishing plants out there. It's packed with vitamins and minerals and has a delicious deep-green flavor. Nettle has an affinity for the kidneys, but can support the overall health of the whole body, too. Drinking a cup or two of nettle infusion gives me a great boost of energy.
Rasperry leaf (Rubus spp): Raspberry leaf is a another herb full of vitamins and minerals (especially iron). It contains flavonoids, tannins, and glycosides of kaempferol and quercitnin.
A nourishing astringent, it can have a tonifying effect when consumed over time, and has a special affinity for the womb and reproductive organs (this is why it's often recommended in pregnancy). Many people swear by it for relieving menstrual pain and balancing hormones, too.
Of course, people without wombs should drink it too, as it's overall nourishing effects have plenty of benefits for the whole system!
Red clover (Trifolium pratense): Red clover, that beautiful dark pink flower that carpets the meadows in June, makes a delicious, mildly astringent, almost vanilla flavored infusion.
It contains minerals, vitamins, coumarins, flavonoids, isoflavones, and resins.
Red clover is mildly antispasmodic, a great lymphatic cleanser, and it's excellent for helping to clear up the skin. Because of it's isoflavone content, it can also help to balance out hormones.
Oatstraw (Avena sativa): Oatstraw is rich in proteins, glycosides, and vitamin E (among other things, but we're keeping it pretty basic here).
It's incredibly nourishing to the whole system, but especially the nervous system.
Oatstraw has a deeply calming, mood improving effect and is nice to work with when you're feeling symptoms of nervous exhaustion, can't sleep, or have some sort of nerve-related digestive things going on (nerves and digestion are more closely linked than you'd think...).
It also just makes a really nice, mellow, mildly sweet infusion.
Linden (Tilia spp) leaf and flower: Linden is one of my personal favorites for a nourishing infusion, especially when made with fresh flowers (you can use the same ratio of 1 cup herb to 1 quart water...just make sure that 1 cup is densely packed). It has a mildly sweet taste and a deeply calming, cooling effect. It also helps to open up circulation around the heart, allowing it to beat easier - it's wonderful to drink before bed when you need to relax and get a good night's rest, and in general for heart health.
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) berry or leaf and flower, or both: Hawthorn is an astringent herb that has a tonifying effect, over time, on the heart muscle, and is often used by herbalists for irregular heartbeat and other cardiac issues. I have a tricky valve in my heart that can get upset by too much caffeine, alcohol, stress, or a lack of sleep, and hawthorn is what I reach for to get it beating steadily again.
In addition to encouraging the health of the physical heart, hawthorn is often used by herbalists in situations of deep grief and loss. In all ways, it's a guardian of the heart.
Violet leaf (Viola odorata): Violet leaf is cooling, moistening, and high in minerals like magnesium and calcium. It helps to keep the lymphatic system clear and moving, and is a really nice thing to consider if you tend to have a hot/dry constitution and feelings of stagnation in the body.
Chickweed (Stellaria media): Chickweed contains saponins, which have a very cooling, clearing effect. Chickweed is nice for helping to keep the lymphatic system clear and flowing. It's also mildly demulcent and emollient (read:soothing). This is a plant that is definitely better/more effective when used fresh, but if you can only find dried, I would say go for it.
Although these aren't ones I brew regularly, here are a few other excellent herbs you might want to look into and consider making into a nourishing infusion:
- Burdock root
- Mullein leaf
- Marshmallow leaf or root
When starting out on a regimen of nourishing infusions, it's a good idea to really listen to your body to see what herbs it needs/likes. Pay attention to how you feel after a day of nettle infusion vs violet or chickweed infusion - nettle may be a bit drying for some, while violet is moistening and cooling. It's also a good idea to rotate through a few different herbs to make sure you're getting a well-rounded set of their many benefits.
When I started out with nourishing infusions, I used only one plant at a time so I could get a feel for what I liked and how I reacted to it. Admittedly, though, I do occasionally blend herbs together (nettle and raspberry leaf is one of my favorites). Don't be afraid to eventually mix things up, if you want!
And, of course, if something doesn't seem to work for you, or you just plain don't like the taste of it, skip it! There are plenty of other herbs to work with, and not everything works the same way for everyone. So, enjoy the process, have fun trying out new stuff, and find what works best for you!
As always, be sure to do your own research and determine which herbs are safe and will be good for you on an individual level. All the info here is strictly educational and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any illness or disease. Use caution when introducing new herbs into your routine, and consult a doctor if you are pregnant or nursing, or have any medical conditions.