We all have rituals in our lives. For some it’s the way we walk or drive to work each day, the foods we eat on Friday nights or Saturday mornings, the people we call on Sunday afternoons, the time of day that we shower or bathe, or the places we visit in nature. When we do something that we consider unhealthy or uncommon, we tend to call it a habit. But when we repeatedly do something that we consider special or somehow supportive, it can be seen as a ritual.
I began drinking herbal tonics as a ritual over 8 years ago. At the time I was working in a field that left me feeling underwhelmed (while simultaneously feeling overwhelmed day in and day out). I had been taking antidepressants for nearly a decade, hadn’t ovulated in the same amount of time, and was navigating frequent anxiety attacks. From my current perspective, I can now see that becoming acquainted with medicinal plants at the Heartstone School for Earth Essentials in 2012 was a crucial turning point in my life. Little did I know, that simply beginning each day with a blend of herbs would have such a profound effect on my body, spirit and lifestyle.
This simple ritual of preparing and consuming herbal tonics is one way to easily integrate plant medicine into your everyday life. While some rituals may be monotonous, this practice can be quite dynamic and will meet you wherever (and however) you are. Whether you’re just beginning to explore the many benefits of plant medicine, are diving deeply into nourishing a particular system, have 2 minutes to spare or have 20 minutes to dedicate, preparing and consuming herbal tonics is a ritual that can truly become your own!
When I first began preparing herbal tonics I would start with one herb at a time to truly get acquainted with each plant. We live in a culture where “more is more”, so it’s tempting to create complicated formulas that support each body system and offer more bang for your buck.
But herbalism is not capitalism.
Herbalism is a relationship that flourishes when its foundation is strong. By creating the space to get to know each plant (how it tastes, where it grows, the season it’s harvested in, its uses and the systems it nourishes), we build this foundation. Now, don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely begin to integrate this ritual with pre-made herbal blends. Again, this practice meets you exactly where you’re at, and wherever that is is perfect! If creating the space to intentionally prepare and drink 1 cup of an herbal tea blend each day is what feels best for your mind and body, you’re exactly where you’re meant to be. Dedicating the time, consciously choosing which mug you want to hold in your hand that day, and allowing your senses to heighten as you sip your tea blend, is – in and of itself – a medicinal ritual with powerful benefits.
In a world where we’re expected to multitask at every moment, choosing to slow down and be present with your body throughout this ritual is revolutionary.
It may seem far-fetched, but this practice of making tea is absolutely one of self-care. Choosing to hydrate, to deeply nourish your body on a cellular level, to warm the senses and quiet the mind, is simply put…healing. And this nourishment is not meant to only be for yogis in an Ashram or carefully curated on Instagram by a team of millennials. At its core, herbal tonics are the most basic and accessible form of plant medicine. And yet, I would wager to say that it is one of the most luxurious forms, nourishing our bodies, minds and spirits.
(1/4 cup of Alfalfa and Tulsi waiting to steep)
There are many ways to make an herbal tonic. It’s a like a choose your own adventure book!
> The Morning Ritual
Find yourself rushed to get out the door in the morning? Before getting dressed or making your breakfast, grab a quart-sized mason jar, choose your herbal ally (or allies) for the day, drop 4 bags into the jar or place a ¼ cup of the loose herbs into your strainer, give thanks, and set the water to boil. Then, while you’re moving from one room to the next, pour the freshly boiled water over the herbs and cover the top with a lid face down. Just before you leave, about 15-20 minutes after pouring in the boiled water, strain the herbs and go on your merry way. This practice offers you an opportunity to check in with your body and decide which herbs you’d like nourishment from, while also only taking the time to make the tea once, but offering you the full daily recommendation of herbal tea (4 cups) that you can sip throughout the day. Trying to increase your consumption of water? I recommend drinking ½ of the jar and then refilling it with water at least twice throughout the day. This will dilute your tea as the day wears on, but will allow you to drink 8-9 cups of water each day, while offering the added benefit of herbal tonics. Personally, I like to add a bit of lemon juice once the tea has been diluted more than once.
(Infusing herbal goodness...)
> Sleep On It
Another way to optimize nourishment when our time feels limited is to prepare your herbal tonic for an overnight infusion. To do this, you simply prepare your mason jar with 4 tea bags or ¼ cup of loose herbs at night, bring 4 cups of water to a boil, and pour the water over your herbs before going to bed. Be sure to cover the top of your jar to trap the beneficial oils that are released through the steam. Then, in the morning, you simply strain your herbs and head out the door. Infusing your herbs for 4-8 hours allows for a full water extraction of the herbal constituents, including vitamins and minerals.
(Cover and steep for at least 20 minutes...)
> Be Here Now
Perhaps you have more time, or want to make the practice of preparing herbal tonics a more frequent and conscious daily ritual. To do so, you would prepare your tea in 1 cup increments throughout the day. This allows you to take some time to choose an inspiring mug, mix your herbal tonics throughout the day based on how your body’s feeling in that moment, boil your water, and choose 1 or 2 daily practices to integrate.
Perhaps you give yourself a few minutes to stretch or journal while the water is boiling. Perhaps you choose to meditate, write, read for pleasure, close your eyes, or go for a quick walk outside while your tea steeps for another 20 minutes.
When your tea is ready, you strain the herbs, hold the warm mug between your hands, breathe the rising steam deeply into your lungs, give thanks, and take your first sip. This luxurious practice can be enjoyed 4 times throughout the day, from just after waking to just before bed. It only requires 20 minutes at a time. If you find yourself with an hour and a half to spare throughout the day, you can easily integrate this practice into your daily ritual…and imagine how you would feel if this is how your day unfolded!
(...find your favorite mug and check in with your body)
> Tea Time
Working from home, but short on time? No worries. You first cup can be enjoyed with breakfast and your last cup just after dinner. That leaves only 2 tea breaks during your work hours. Preparing your tea takes less than 2 minutes, and it’s a good idea to get up from your desk and walk around every 30-45 minutes anyhow. Allow one of those standing breaks to be your tea prep and then set a timer for another 30 minutes while your tea steeps. While this approach may feel a bit less luxurious than the 20 minute journaling/meditation/stretching session described above, it still offers you an opportunity to check in with your body, choose an herbal tonic or tea blend, give thanks, breathe deeply, and nourish your systems throughout the day. And that, my friend, is self-care.
(When I am on the go, I put my jar of tea in this leather carrier...it keeps the jar safe and within arm's reach at all times!)
Below are a list of 12 herbal tonics that are nourishing to many different systems throughout the body. As always, consult your practitioner before integrating herbal medicine and speak with a trained herbalist or naturopath if you’re pregnant, nursing or taking medications. I also encourage you to do a little research and see if you have any herbal apothecaries or natural food stores in your region. These are the best places to find herbal teas in bulk or pre-made in tea bags. If you can’t find one of these sources, you can purchase herbs in bulk from reputable companies like Healing Spirits Herb Farm, Star West Botanicals or Mountain Rose Herbs. As for grocery store (or online) sourcing of tea, Traditional Medicinals, Organic India, and Yogi Tea are all good options.
Nettle Leaf - nourishes the nervous, hepatic and reproductive system - contains vitamins A, B (B1, B2, B3, B5, B9), C, K, zinc, iron, potassium, manganese, magnesium
Linden Flower - nourishes the lymph, nervous and cardiovascular systems - contains vitamins A, C, D, B (B1, B3), potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium
Red Raspberry Leaf - nourishes the reproductive system - contains vitamins, A, E, B, C, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron
Oat Straw or Tops - nourishes the nervous, cardiovascular and reproductive systems - contains vitamins A, B, C, K, magnesium, calcium, iron
Tulsi Leaf - adaptogen and nourishes the nervous, cardiovascular and digestive systems - contains vitamins A, C, K, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron potassium
Burdock Root * - nourishes the hepatic, cardiovascular, lymph and digestive systems - contains vitamins A, B (B1, B2, B6, B9), C, inulin, potassium, manganese, calcium iron
Dandelion Root * - nourishes the hepatic, digestive and cardiovascular systems - contains vitamins A, B, C, D, calcium, potassium, inulin, iron zinc
Skullcap Leaf - nourishes the nervous and cardiovascular systems - contains iron, manganese, magnesium, calcium, copper, potassium zinc
Ashwaganda Root * - adaptogen and nourishes the nervous, adrenals and reproductive systems - contains vitamin C, carotene, zinc, iron, calcium
Hawthorn Leaf - nourishes the cardiovascular and nervous systems - contains selenium and potassium
Alfalfa Leaf - nourishes the hepatic, cardiovascular and reproductive systems - contains vitamins A, B9, C, D, E, K, calcium, potassium, iron
Chamomile Flower - nourishes the nervous and digestive systems - contains vitamin A, B9, carotene, magnesium, potassium, calcium
* Roots in their cut and sifted form require a process called a decoction. (Powdered roots can be prepared as an infusion) To make a decoction, you’ll want to combine the roots (1-4 tsp/cup) and water in a pan, cover, then bring the mixture to a boil. Once the water has begun to boil, you’ll want to let it simmer for 20 minutes before straining.