There are a lot of people that take herbal medicines in the form of a tea for various reasons. Some of the basic reasons are that they don’t like the alcohol in tinctures or that the taste of decoctions are too strong. Teas are easy to prepare and easy to take, but there are things that you have to be aware of when taking teas as medicine.
The first issue is with quality control at the source. Unfortunately there are companies out there that are tapping into the lucrative natural health industry with no real expertise as to what constitutes a medicine and what is just simply a flavourful drink. One of the problems with quality is that companies will purchase the dried plant material left over after other herbal products have been made – such as essential oils. The problem with this is that the medicinal qualities of the plant have all been removed so you are left with inactive plant material that may have a nice taste but no real healing qualities to it. So be sure that the company you buy your teas from are reputable, use organic materials (preferably) and use the correct parts of the plants (leaf, root, flowers, etc) for a medicinal effect.
Once you are sure you have the right brand of tea, you now have to prepare it properly to gain the benefit of the plant. You want to avoid using the same teapot that you make black tea in due to the reaction of plant compounds with the high tannin content in your black tea pot. It is best to use ceramic, glass or china pots to boil and steep your tea. The correct portion is 1 heaped teaspoon to 1 cup of boiling water. You should let herbal teas steep for about 5-10 minutes before consuming. While you are steeping the tea it is important to keep a lid or cover over the pot to trap the volatile compounds (plant chemicals that will boil away in the heat) within the tea. If you do not cover the pot, these compounds will leave the tea in the form of steam and the tea will not be as effective as a result. Specific teas that should always be covered include Elderflowers, Peppermint, Juniper berries, Spearmint, Chamomile and Yarrow.
There are teas that are beneficial to have hot and then there are some that are best suited left to cool. Teas that are drunk hot are usually good for dealing with fevers (diaphoretics) and mucous build-up (expectorants) in your lungs during a cold or flu. Sedative teas used to help you sleep at night are also beneficial drunk hot. Teas that should be boiled and then left to cool are alteratives, which are plants used to help clean the blood, bitters to increase the appetite, diuretics to increase urine flow, vermifuges to expel worms and tonics to stimulate metabolism. There are some teas that do not need to be boiled at all, instead they are left in cold water or milk overnight and drunk the next day. If you need to sweeten your teas, it is best to use honey or an unrefined cane sugar.
Finally, now that you have your tea made, how often do you take it? The answer is different for each reason. For sleep, it is best to take it about 1-2 hours prior to bedtime, for appetite, take just prior to eating a meal. To calm indigestion, drink Peppermint tea after your meals. Most teas can be drunk freely through the day, but for medicinal effects I would recommend at least 3 cups throughout the day. There was a point in British history that Herbalists were banned from administering any form of oral medicine including teas. One Herbalist got around this by making teas and adding them to foot baths that patients would bathe their feet in. Amazingly, patients received the same benefit as if they had drunk the tea! Today Herbalists will still recommend to some patients to add teas to their baths to help with many conditions especially sleep aids, skin conditions and stress for children and adults. To do this, simply brew 2 cups of tea first and add to the running water in the bath, or place the dried herbs in a muslin cloth and let the herbs sit under the running water while the bathtub fills. A great example of this is to use oats for a milky bath that is great for skin rashes and psoriasis. Enjoy!