Simple Herbal Tonics: Brews for Beginners

tonic

So you read my last article Herbs Made Easy: The Art of Simpling, and you’re ready to plunge in and make an herbal tonic? All that’s left is picking an herb and making an infusion. Remember the characteristics to look for when picking an herb.

It should:

  • be safe
  • be mild
  • be food-like
  • grow where you live.

Even though the plant grows in your area, even outside your back door, it’s safer and easier to buy some of the dried herb at your local health food or herb store at first. You can move on to growing or wildcrafting and preserving herbs later if you wish. Herbs are usually inexpensive by bulk. Look for herbs supplied by local organic growers or reputable wildcrafters, and make sure the store cleans and changes their jars or bins frequently. If you can’t get dried herbs where you live, you can mail order them from Mountain Rose Herbs or another bulk herb company.

Here are three good, safe, nutrient-rich herbs to start experimenting with:

Dandelion

dandy leaves

The herbalist Richard Mabey calls dandelion “one of nature’s greatest medicines.” And herbalist Joyce Warwell points out that it’s a prime ingredient in over half of the herbal blends on the market today and has a stellar safety record – no known “drug interactions, cumulative toxic effects, or contraindications for use.” She adds, “There is probably no existing condition that would not benefit from regularly consuming dandelions.”

dandyEvery part of the dandelion is edible. The leaves contain vitamins A, B, C, and D, potassium, iron, lutein, and other nutrients. They can be eaten in salads or dried and made into tea. They are a powerful diuretic, but unlike pharmaceutical diuretics they don’t leach potassium from the body. Warwell writes that dandelion “stimulates liver function, reduces cholesterol, fights diabetes, and stimulates digestion.” And Tierra adds that it decreases high blood pressure, cures skin eruptions, and quells a stomachache.

The flowers can be made into wine, tea, or even fritters, as blogger Steadymom illustrates here .

Dried dandelion roots  contain vitamins, minerals, and potassium and make a powerful liver-stimulating tea. According to Tierra, “even serious cases of hepatitis have been cured, sometimes within a week, with dandelion root tea.” And roasted dandelion root makes a tasty coffee substitute.

Stinging Nettle

nettles

The herbalist Susan Weed calls nettles “one of the finest nourishing tonics known” and contends that “the list of vitamins and minerals in this herb includes nearly every one known to be necessary for human health and growth.”

Weed writes that nettle infusions not only supply calcium, phosphurus and vitamins A and D, but all are in a readily assimilated form. Nettles also contain iron and vitamin C; the vitamin C ensures that the iron is well-absorbed by the body, making nettles an excellent remedy for anemia. Nettles are also high in protein. Their high vitamin and mineral content make nettles an excellent all-around tonic.

Nettles are also used to encourage the flow of breast milk in nursing women, lower blood sugar levels, slow profuse menstrual bleeding, treat eczema, heal arthritis and gout, and cure hay-fever allergy symptoms. Externally, nettle compresses can stop bleeding or heal hemmorhoids, eliminate dandruff, and slow hair loss. Does that sound like a lot of uses for one plant? Well, that’s far from all. Check out the book 101 Uses for Stinging Nettles by Piers Warren for more.

Alfalfa

According to Tierra, alfalfa means “father” in Arabic, perhaps referring to the plant’s “function as a superlative restorative tonic.” Alfalfa leaves are highly nutritious, containing vitamins C, D, E, and K, calcium, potassium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, and protein.

Alfalfa’s historically been used to restore vitality and increase appetite in both horses and people. It’s also used to treat cystitis, prostatitis, peptic ulcers, fever, insomnia, inflammation, and arthritis, as well as to increase the flow of breastmilk in nursing women, reduce inflammation, and regulate the bowels.

How to make a nourishing herbal infusion

I’ve been making herbal infusions for years, using Susan Weed’s infusion method:

  1. Place one ounce of dried herb (about a cup) in a quart jar.
  2. Fill the jar to the top with boiling water
  3. Put the lid on tightly and steep for 4-10 hours. (I usually let it steep overnight.)
  4. Strain and pour a cup, and store the rest in the refrigerater.
  5. Drink 2-4 cups a day.
  6. Drink the entire infusion within 36 hours or until it spoils.
  7. Use whatever remains to water house plants, or pour over your hair after conditioning as a final rinse.

Dandelion, nettles, and alfalfa are mild herbs that have been ingested for thousands of years with excellent safety records, however they aren’t for everyone. If you have a medical condition or take any medications, check with your doctor, an herbalist, or a pharmacist first. And it’s a good idea for everyone to be cautious about what goes into your body. Read about whatever herbs you plan to take, seeking books and websites written by reputable herbalists, and be alert to the rare chance of allergic reaction or side effects. But don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Nutritious herbal tonics are great additions to a healthy, happy life.

Sources:
The New Age Herbalist by Richard Mabey
The Herbal Home Remedy Book by Joyce A. Warwell
The Way of Herbs by Michael Tierra
Herbal for the Childbearing Year by Susan Weed
The Herb Book by John Lust

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About Abby Quillen

Abby Quillen writes fiction and magazine articles. Her articles and essays have appeared in YES! Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, Colorado Central Magazine, and on Common Dreams, Nation of Change, Reader Supported News, The Daily Good, Truthout, and Shareable.net. You can find more of her writing at http://abbyquillen.com.

Comments

  1. i love this and can not wait to make an infusion out of some nettle that i have. i also posted this to my believing nature site too:

    http://believingnature.wordpress.com/2009/06/08/making-simple-herbal-tonics/

    thanks for sharing!!
    andrea
    http://ciderandfaun.blogspot.com

  2. It is irresponsible of you to promote using dandelion without alerting people about a very serious side-effect which has been known for hundreds of years. It makes you pee-it was traditionally called “piss-a-bed” for this reason. It can have a very strong effect in this regard; just eating the greens as a part of dinner one night can be enough to trigger several days of urinary “issues”. That indeed is considered one of the plant’s main health benefits for people needing that kind of help. Over the years I have been astonished at how cavalier people can be about recommending things that they have not really researched. Herbs are no joke; even food plants like elderberry can kill if mishandled. Please approach your recommendation giving responsibly.
    Over

    • Abby Quillen says:

      Thanks for voicing your concern. I agree, it’s wise to investigate any herb you plan to ingest. I certainly do. That said, please note from MedLine Plus: “Dandelion is LIKELY SAFE for most people when used in the amounts commonly found in food.”

      Here’s this from Wildman Steve Brill, clarifying your comments: “The modern French name for this plant is pissenlit (lit means bed) because the root and leaf tea act on the kidneys as a gentle diuretic, improving the way they cleanse the blood and recycle nutrients. Unlike pharmaceuticals diuretics, this doesn’t leach potassium, a vital mineral, from the body. Improved general health and clear skin result from improved kidney function. One man I spoke to even claims he avoided surgery for urinary stones by using dandelion root tea alone.”

      I (and thousands of others) regularly ingest dandelion and experience no troubles at all. But as with all remedies, it’s wise to weigh potential risks and benefits for yourself. Here’s a great place to start researching dandelion, for anyone considering trying it: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/dandelion-000236.htm

  3. What’s the difference between a tonic and an infusion. I’m not sure if I read this too fast but these are directions on how to make an infusion, correct?

  4. What a fabulous post. Very informative and inspiring. Thank you

  5. Thank you for the great post! There is a dedicated webite to dandelions: http://dandelionrootteasource.com/

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  1. [...] Stay tuned for my next article: Simple Herbal Tonics: Brews for Beginners. [...]

  2. [...] Urban Habitat is a great blog I have just recently discovered. They have a great post on how to make simple herbal tonics from different herbs/plants like dandelion, nettle and alfafa. These herbs and plants have very [...]

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