When it comes to herbal remedies, how should customers choose between teas and tinctures? Traditionally used to calm nerves and settle stomachs, herbal teas and tinctures are now being nudged into the spotlight by intriguing research that suggests they may aid more serious conditions as well. In a 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture study, researchers found that drinking 3 cups of hibiscus tea daily lowered systolic blood pressure in subjects by more than seven points after only six weeks. Still, deciding to go tea or tincture boils down to personal preference. The following guidelines can help your customers decide.

The benefits of tinctures

  • Tinctures are more concentrated than teas, making it easier to down high doses of medicinal compounds. In general, 30 drops of tincture are the equivalent of 1 cup of therapeutic-strength tea (approximately 2 tablespoons of dried herb per cup of water).
  • Tinctures contain a wider range of medicinal compounds than teas because the added alcohol extracts more compounds than water alone. For example, myrrh and other resins can be extracted only with the addition of alcohol.
  • Tinctures provide a convenient way of taking herbs that have an unpleasant taste. Customers don’t have to drink a whole cup of tea for full value.
  • Tinctures have a shelf life of two or more years, whereas herbal teas (when brewed) should be used within a day or two.

The benefits of teas

  • Herbal teas are generally less expensive than tinctures. For example, 1 ounce of chamomile tincture at $8 per ounce costs 66 cents per dose (30 drops). The equivalent amount of chamomile tea costs about 28 cents (2 tablespoons of chamomile at $1.25 per ounce).
  • Herbal teas are a good choice for children and people who wish to avoid alcohol.
  • Herbal teas have benefits in addition to their medicinal compounds. For example, teas can replace fluids lost through fever or diarrhea, and hot teas can help soothe sore throats.
  • The simple act of preparing and drinking a cup of herbal tea is a soothing ritual in itself. This is particularly helpful when using herbs for stress relief and insomnia.

How to prepare herbal teas
Tictures usually come ready-made, but teas must be prepared. Packaged teas make it easy to brew an herbal remedy for everything from coughs and colds to fatigue andlow energy. Boxed herbal teas generally contain about 1 teaspoon of herbs per tea bag. This makes a tasty beverage tea, but for stronger medicinal benefits, two tea bags should be used.

To properly prepare an herbal tea, bring fresh spring or filtered water to a boil. Place the tea bag into a teacup or mug and add hot water. Cover with a saucer to prevent the plants’ volatile essential oils from escaping, and steep for 10 minutes (no more than four minutes for green tea).

Boxed herbal teas can provide a soothing after-dinner digestive, a calming potion before bed or temporary easing of a sore throat when taken hot. A bagged tea isn’t likely to deliver a sufficient dose of healing compounds for more serious conditions, though.

For a stronger medicinal tea, customers should use an infusion or decoction. Infusions can contain leaves, flowers, berries and crushed seeds. Measure 2 tablespoons of dried herbs for each cup of tea desired, and place into a glass, stainless steel or porcelain container with a lid. Add the appropriate amount of boiled water, cover and steep for 15 minutes. Strain out the herb and drink up to 3 cups a day.

Decoctions are used for tougher parts of plants, including the bark and roots. Place 2 tablespoons of dried herbs and 1 1/4 cup of water for every cup of tea desired into a stainless steel or glass pot with a lid. Allow the herbs to soak for 15 minutes. Then bring the mixture to a boil, cover, turn the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and steep an additional 10 minutes. Strain out the herbs and drink up to 3 cups a day.

What to do if an herbal-tea recipe combines roots and leaves? First make a decoction with the roots. Then, after removing the pot from the heat, add the leaves and steep for 10 more minutes.

Herbalist Laurel Vukovic lives in Ashland, Ore. and is the author of Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000).