There are many different layers to learning about plants and herbalism. There’s learning about the plants themselves, the gifts they offer, where they grow, when to harvest, how to harvest, and so on. There’s learning how to choose the right herb for the right situation. And there’s learning how to prepare that herb. When you are starting out, it can easily feel like information overload. Trying to memorize all those layers of information can seem impossible.
I want herbs to be accessible for everyone and I believe that learning about herbs should be fun and illuminating, filled with “aha!” moments. That’s why I am passionate about hands-on experiences with herbs. Of course books or lectures are great ways to begin to learn about herbs, but when it comes to really getting it, learning by doing is often what facilitates deeper understanding of all those layers.
This article will show you how to use your sense of taste to tell the difference between two different herbal preparations. This will help you figure out the best herbal remedies for your situation.
But first, tell me: does this sound familiar? Have you ever been excited to use an herb, but you get stuck because you don’t know exactly how to prepare it?
Let’s use nettles as an example.
You’re interested in learning about stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) so you reach for a few books on the subject or do a search on the internet.
You start reading about nettle and see that it is amazing. It strengthens our hair, bones, and teeth. It modulates inflammation and can address signs of chronic inflammation such as arthritis and eczema. It can address insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes by reducing blood glucose levels and by modulating inflammation. Many people rely on nettle to get them through their seasonal allergies. And, you don’t need a reason to enjoy nettle, as it makes a delicious and nutrient-dense food.
With all these reasons to enjoy nettle, you are excited to use the herb yourself.
So where to start? How do you prepare nettle?
One website recommends making a nettle tea by steeping a bit of leaves in a small amount of just-boiled water.
Another source recommends making a nourishing herbal infusion by steeping a handful or two of stinging nettle in a lot more water and for a lot longer.
Which is best?
Let’s try them both, and then use our senses to figure out the best herbal remedies with nettle!
A Nettle Experiment
Even if you think you have a pretty good idea of the differences between these preparations, I recommend doing this exercise. It is by physically doing something that we really learn. If you simply read this article and then move on to the 1,001 other things in your life today, it’s unlikely you are going to remember or gain deeper insights. Involving our senses in the learning process is the best way to truly learn something.
Step 1: Make a Nourishing Herbal Infusion with Stinging Nettle Leaf
A nourishing herbal infusion is a type of water based extraction made popular by herbalist Susun Weed. This method uses a lot more herbs and a longer steeping time than you typically use in a tea.
Here’s how to make it.
Weigh out 28 grams of dried stinging nettle leaf. If you have finely cut leaf, this is about two cups of material. (It’s always best to weigh plants to get the best sense of how much you are using.)
Place the leaves in a quart canning jar. Fill the jar with just-boiled water. Stir well, add more water if necessary. Cover and let sit for 4 to 8 hours or overnight.
Move on to Step 2.
Step 2: Make a Tea with Stinging Nettle Leaf
Place 1 teaspoon of dried nettle leaf into a half-pint glass jar or lidded mug.
Pour 1 cup of just-boiled water over the leaves. Stir well. Cover and let steep for 10 minutes.
Strain. Let it cool.
Move on to Step 3.
Step 3: Let’s Taste!
Now that you have both of your herbal preparations we can use our senses to look at and taste the differences between them.
Okay, let’s begin…
First start with how the two preparations look. Is there a difference in color?
Next smell the two. Do they smell different?
Take a sip of your tea. Spend some time with it to really get a sense of its varying tastes, as well as how it feels in your body.
Now take a sip of the nourishing herbal infusion. Take some time with this to really get a sense of their different qualities.
You could note your personal preferences, but also spend time observing without judgement to simply notice what each preparation is like.
I recommend focusing solely on the experience at first, then, take some time to write down your observations.
You’ll get the most out of this article by tasting these preparations yourself. And while I don’t want to give you all the answers, here are some things to consider.
Nettle is considered to be a salty herb. You may have noticed that neither of these preparations taste like table salt or even like salty seaweed. Instead, this salty classification refers to its mineral-like taste. Nettle is high in many nutrients including minerals like magnesium and potassium. Now here’s a hint: vitamins and minerals are best extracted with prolonged hot water.
Keeping your nettle tasting experience in mind, which nettle preparation do you think would be best for building strong hair, bones and teeth? What preparation would be best for serving an afternoon tea to a friend?
This Is Just the Beginning
When you regularly do tasting experiences like this, you will continually build on your sensorial knowledge of herbs. In time you’ll be able to taste the difference between nettle that has been picked at different times of year or in different climates. You’ll also be able to easily tell if the nettle is freshly dried or if it is past its prime and no longer very potent. By developing your “Taste Toolbox,” you will create your own inner knowing that goes way behind memorizing lists of how to prepare plants. You will know how to figure out the best herbal remedies.
With nettle alone I could think up many more ways to experiment with preparations and get to know the herb more deeply.
- What if you simmer the leaves for 20 minutes? Or put them in a crock pot on low overnight?
- What’s the difference between a nourishing herbal infusions that steep for 4 hours compared to 8 hours?
- What if you used cold water rather than hot water?
- How does nettle tincture taste compared to the tea? How does fresh nettle tincture compare with dried nettle tincture?
Nettle is a deeply nourishing and restorative plant and its gifts are most powerfully felt when taken over time. This realization leads to even more experiments.
- How do you feel when you drink nettle tea daily for a month?
- How do you feel when you drink a nettle nourishing infusion daily for a month?
- How do you feel when you take 1-3 drops of nettle leaf tincture daily for a month?
- How do you feel when you take 15 mLs (about 1 Tablespoon) of nettle leaf tincture daily for a month?
- What changes do you notice after drinking a nettle nourishing herbal infusion for six months?
Of course there are many more herbs out there leading to many more tasting experiences. It’s true – we will never get bored as herbalists! Your Taste Toolbox is an important gateway towards many deeper understandings of the herbs.
While reading a chapter or article on stinging nettle is important, it’s not until we actually work with the plant that this knowledge can become transformative. By welcoming herbs into our lives – by growing them or harvesting them, smelling them, tasting them, and making different preparations out of them – we can truly bring their gifts to life while deepening our understanding.
Now I’d love to hear from you.
What are your insights from comparing a nettle tea to a nettle nourishing infusion?
How do you use taste and sensory experience when you’re learning about herbs?
Let me know in the comments below.