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Medicine so big, it can’t possibly fit into a tea bag.

The Nevada City Herb & Tea Co. is a local’s resource for high quality herbal infusion formulas. Starting this company granted me a new title as ‘The Tea Lady’, and I do love tea very much. On the other hand, being a clinical herbalist means that my tea formulas are actually designed to be medicinal preparations (that are delicious, of course). Thus, all my teas come loose in a lovely tin.

As I go around town offering tea, one of the questions I am often asked is ‘have you considered putting your tea in bags?’ If only they knew what a loaded question this is for an herbalist like me. There are just too many ways to answer. As one who brews herbs, the infusions I make fit very well into the cultural understanding of tea, but they politically do not fit very well into a bag. I have nothing against bagged teas, however getting the most medicinal value out of drinking your herbs is just not very effective that way. I do think that making herbal medicine work for our busy lives is better than not using herbs at all, and if a bag of tasty tea is laying around I will probably drink it. However, isn’t the point of tea to become less busy? Making time for properly brewing a cup of tea is also about making time for ourselves. Tea offers a brief reprieve of life’s daily pressures. There is an art, a consciousness, a healing practice of medicine, nourishment and self-love that comes with brewing herbal teas beyond the bag. The brewing instructions on my cans of loose leaf herbal teas are actually instructions for preparing an age old herbal remedy.

I make and sell herbal formulas that are disguised as ordinary tea, but I am really selling herbal medicine. The conscious debate that is happening when I contemplate putting my teas into bags is weather to cater to a modern fast food paradigm by dumbing down an effective medicine, or weather to foster a more slow food movement awareness that brings herbs back to the table. We know that taking time to prepare our own meals and grow our own food is healthier, both in terms of nutrition and creating a less stressed environment. Shouldn’t tea be that way too? Calling my herbal infusion formulas ‘tea’ is sort of like crossing that line of what the public already knows and expanding it into a world of cultural herbal awareness. Everyone loves a cozy cup of tea. We all feel sort of comfortable and familiar with the idea. So expanding on that is a fairly reasonable way to infiltrate modern lifestyle and resurrect an Earth Centered tradition with the embrace of herbal medicine.

Instructions for the classic ‘overnight herbal infusion’: At night before going to bed place ¼ to ½ cup loose herb in the bottom of a quart sized jar that has a tight sealing lid. Pour boiling water over the herb to fill the jar and close firmly with the lid. Wrap jar in a small towel or pot holders to give it a good shake. Let steep overnight. In the morning, open jar and strain through a stainless steel mesh strainer. Serve cold or reheat to serve warm. Drink one to two quarts each day to improve health conditions. **This brewing process is seriously effective as a medicine. It also uses no paper products and creates less garbage waste than bagged teas.

Now, I am open to new ideas and getting people to use herbs however they can, so to be fair I did have a look into the whole tea bag idea and weighed out my options. I could very well send a few pounds of my blended herb formula off to a facility in Southern California where they have the equipment to grind my herbs into a slightly larger than particle sized powdery dust and pour it into paper bags that are stapled shut with a little string and the whole nine for a mere eight cents per bag. Think of the revenue that comes from selling a box of bagged tea that contains about two grams of herbal dust per bag! The entire box is big enough to fit a pound of strawberries inside it and yet the total herb content is typically less than one ounce. A product that is more package than herb always sells well in our modern market. If I weren’t an herbalist, if I didn’t care about quality and making a difference in people’s health, I could very well join the rest of the corporate world in just happily selling a package with a pretty picture and call it a day.
The truth is that I am an herbalist. So, here I am writing about it instead. The main reason I make and sell tea is to support the proper use of herbal medicine in our everyday lives. Ultimately something as simple as how we brew tea can raise awareness to making healthier lifestyle choices. Brewing herbal infusions the old fashioned way is far more effective and noticeably improves health conditions, provided we are using the proper herbs for the job.

Two more things about the bagged tea idea that don’t work for me as an herbalist. One is quality. The next to powdery dust level of herb grinding degrades herbal constituents very quickly. The smaller we grind herbs up the faster they degrade. A two gram bag of powdery dust easily loses its medicinal potency while sitting on a store shelf. Then you have the whole individually wrapped envelopes thing come into play as a method for preserving these dust filled bags. Sure it helps to preserve quality, but then we’re talking unnecessary and just plain wasteful uses of paper products. The second issue I have with bagged teas is effectiveness. The preparation method and quantity of herbs used with a mere two minute steep time is often clinically deficient. One bag of tea just won’t cut it to clear a sinus congestion or relieve a stomach ache. The biggest reward of being an herbalist is when someone calls you up to tell you how effective your tea formula is. A tea bag might steal that from me.

Bagged tea is not enough for a proper therapeutic strategy. If a box of bagged tea says it helps with digestion, I expect it to be properly formulated by a knowledgeable herbalist with a sufficient dose of herbs to do the job, yet that is often not the case. Companies that sell bagged teas are bigger companies, and do not take therapeutic factors into account. Their primary goal is to sell their product.

Educating the public about how to brew a proper medicinal formula in order to make a difference in our lives is more my speed. Herbalist quality formulas that are brewed properly not only effect medicinal potency, but they are also nutritious. Herbal infusions brewed overnight are so rich in vitamins and minerals that one cup counts as a serving of vegetables (or sometimes two- depending on the herb).

All the gifts that tea brings is a method for self-nurturing, self-care and self-love. Herbal Infusions engage us in making the necessary time for ourselves. They encourage us to take care of ourselves. Teas invite nutrients and healing properties into our bodies, and to interact with plant spirits. The process of making and drinking tea puts us in the moment, supporting us to be present. The more care and love we put into a cup of tea the bigger the impact it has on our health.

Around the world, tea is a social and cultural filter. Conversations and ceremonies are held over tea. Tea practices have been established for thousands of years. Even though most of the ones we know about involve black and green teas, the tea bag itself is fairly new by comparison.

“Needless to say, it was in America, with its love of labor-saving devices, that tea bags were first developed. In around 1908, Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, started to send samples of tea to his customers in small silken bags. Some assumed that these were supposed to be used in the same way as the metal infusers, by putting the entire bag into the pot, rather than emptying out the contents. It was thus by accident that the tea bag was born!” – UK Tea and Infusions Association

Instead of putting my teas in bags, I much prefer to resurrect a ritual of tea time using proper herbal infusions that effect positive change in people’s lives. Brewing tea is an act of love. Don’t ever cut corners on love! We have only forgotten about the eons of proper tea brewing do to an industrial age of convenience that ultimately compromises quality. Once you get used to making infusions they really aren’t laborious at all. It becomes an enjoyment.

So, the answer is no… I am not going to put my teas into little bags. I am going to encourage you to brew infusions, and drink them every day.

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