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.
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
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
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
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
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!
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)
Marie Summerwood, Wise Woman Center cook,
has been a lover of food and nourishment for many years.
She taught macrobiotic cooking for 10 years, then found
cooking with weeds (at Weed's) to be a natural next step.
Cooking in the Wise Woman Tradition uses any food, any
technique needed for the right nourishment of the moment.
It is a sacred recognition of the cycles of our lives,
and the will to bring to it what will best nourish. Marie
recognizes that one of the deepest spirals of life begins
in the kitchen.
Read about Marie's love for her magnificent
cooking at the Wise Woman Center.