What is the best way to make herbal medicine? Is it tinctures? Teas? Powders? This seemingly simple question is a common debate within herbal circles.
Like everything in nature, the answer isn’t black and white. There is a time and place, and even preference, for all types of herbal medicine. This article is about one my favorite ways to enjoy herbs daily during the hot summer months.
As I write this, the last days of summer are noticeably here. I see it in the changing light as the long yellow hues of daylight fade earlier and earlier each night.
Here in north central Washington State, the air is hot, dry, and, due to a local wildfire, filled with smoke.
I’ve been harvesting big bundles of herbs and baskets full of vegetables. Some things are drying, others are macerating in alcohol or vinegar, and others are being savored in quintessential summer meals like gazpacho.
Cool Water Infusions
While this is the traditional time of preserving, I like to take advantage of all the fresh herbal abundance and make cool water infusions with them.
Cool water gently teases out the aromatics of plants, giving the water a very pleasant and fresh taste. It also pulls out the mucilage in demulcent plants, resulting in teas that are cooling and soothing. The taste is completely unlike teas made with hot water, and a lot more practical to make in this hot weather!
Cool water extractions don’t pull out the same qualities as hot water extractions, notably vitamins and minerals. Hot water extractions don’t pull out mucilage as well as cool water extractions, and they alter the aromatic oils within the plants. Again, one isn’t better than the other, simply different.
You can make cool water extractions with practically any lovely aromatic herb. I’ve used rose petals, lavender flowers, anise hyssop, and mints as simples or in combinations. But for the past two years, my favorite herb to use is tulsi. Often times I use it as a simple, and other times I combine it with additional herbs, like in this recipe.
Before we get to the tulsi tea recipe, let’s take a closer look at the herbs we are using.
Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)
Also commonly called holy basil, tulsi is a deliciously aromatic plant that is highly revered in India and Ayurvedic medicine. Its gifts are many! Western herbalists love it as an adaptogen, an herb with broad-ranging benefits, that can be easily grown locally.
Entire books have been written on tulsi! I even include a chapter about it my book, Alchemy of Herbs. And while its benefits are impressive, I’ve come to love it as a cold infused tea during the summer months for several specific reasons.
The first is taste! A cold infusion of tulsi tea is fresh and light. I rarely drink water during the summer months; instead, I make up batches of tulsi tea daily. When you infuse the fresh flower tips of tulsi, there is also a notable demulcent quality to it, which is soothing during the hot arid months of our summers.
Lately, with a wildfire creeping down a local valley, threatening homes and transforming many of my favorite spaces, I’ve also come to rely on tulsi’s relaxing nervine properties. In a clinical trial, tulsi was seen to help people diagnosed with general anxiety disorder.1 Herbalists commonly use it for people experiencing lots of stress with difficulty sleeping.
I prefer tulsi when it’s fresh. If you don’t already grow it, consider doing so next year. If you’d like to try this recipe, check with local farms or gardener friends to see if they have any available. If you aren’t able to find fresh tulsi, you can use the dried herb in this recipe, or you can substitute another fresh mint like lemon balm, peppermint, or spearmint.
Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)
Schisandra berries are another herb with countless gifts! They are often combined with other adaptogen herbs and are used to support heart health, modulate inflammation, address negative consequences of long term stress, as well as aid the immune system and the lungs.2 3 4 5
Schisandra berries are famous for having all five tastes of herbal medicine. When prepared as a hot infusion or as a tincture, the taste is pretty … intense! As a cold infusion, they are tart and tasty, reminding me of citrus or hibiscus. This tart taste is wonderfully thirst quenching in the summer heat.
Mallow (Malva neglecta)
Mallow is a common garden weed that is one of our very best demulcent herbs – it even has more mucilage than marshmallow!6 I love adding a bit to my summer teas to soothe any irritated or dried-out tissues. It is especially helpful when there is wildfire smoke in the air.
If you don’t have mallow available, you can also use marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) leaves or roots, either dried or fresh.
Cold Brew Tulsi Tea
This deliciously fresh and aromatic tulsi tea is perfect for the hot and dry months when you are craving something cooling and soothing. I like to make this up the night before and let it sit until morning. I make up extra batches in the morning for evening guests.
What you’ll need…
- 1/2 cup (30 grams) finely chopped fresh tulsi leaf and flower
- 2 teaspoons (4 grams) dried schisandra berries
- 2 teaspoons (2 grams) finely chopped fresh mallow leaf
1. Place all the herbs into a quart-sized jar.
2. Fill the jar with cool water. Cover tightly with a lid. Shake well. Place in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.
3. Strain off the herbs (you can reuse them, but the flavor will be dulled). Enjoy within 36 hours.
A note on substitutions:
- If you don’t have access to fresh tulsi, try another fresh mint like lemon balm or peppermint.
- You can also use 1/4 cup dried tulsi in place of the fresh tulsi.
- Dried marshmallow root or leaf (Althaea officinalis) can be substituted for the fresh mallow.
- 1 teaspoon dried hibiscus can be used in place of the schisandra berries.
Yield: 3 1/2 cups
Now I’d love to hear from you!
What are your favorite summer herbs?
Do you drink a lot of cool teas during these hot months?
Let me know in the comments below.
- Bhattacharyya, D., et al. “Controlled Programmed Trial of Ocimum Sanctum Leaf on Generalized Anxiety Disorders.” Nepal Medical College Journal 10, no. 3 (2008): 176–79. ↩
- Yip, Adrian Y S, Wings T Y Loo, and Louis W C Chow. “Fructus Schisandrae (Wuweizi) Containing Compound in Modulating Human Lymphatic System – a Phase I Minimization Clinical Trial.” Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy = Biomédecine & pharmacothérapie 61, no. 9 (2007): doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2007.08.018. ↩
- Chiu, Hui-Fang, Tzy-Yen Chen, Yu-Te Tzeng, and Chin-Kun Wang. “Improvement of Liver Function in Humans Using a Mixture of Schisandra Fruit Extract and Sesamin.” Phytotherapy research : PTR 27, no. 3 (2013): doi:10.1002/ptr.4702. ↩
- Aslanyan, G, E Amroyan, E Gabrielyan, M Nylander, G Wikman, and A Panossian. “Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Randomised Study of Single Dose Effects of ADAPT-232 on Cognitive Functions.” Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology 17, no. 7 (2010): doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2010.02.005. ↩
- Dharmananda, Subhuti. “MODERN APPLICATIONS OF SHENGMAI SAN.” Shengmai San: An Ancient Formula Now Used in Chinese Hospitals. Accessed October 15, 2015. ↩
- Pakravan, M, H Abedinzadeh, and J Safaeepur. “Comparative Studies of Mucilage Cells in Different Organs in Some Species of Malva, Althaea and Alcea.” Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences : PJBS 10, no. 15 (2007): 2603-5. ↩