Medicinal Herbs

Make teas, infusions, and syrups from your home apothecary garden

"O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies
In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities–" 

(Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2) 

If you grow culinary herbs–such as basil, oregano, thyme, or mint–then you are well on your way to growing a medicinal herb garden. Many of our most common herbs can be crafted into teas, tinctures, syrups, and infusions for medicinal use. Apothecary style gardens have grown in popularity as more people value a closer connection to nature, ancestral knowledge, and the practical benefits of homegrown remedies.

For thousands of years, gardeners and herbalists have turned to plants to treat sore throats, stomach upset, headaches, toothaches (see Spilanthes), and other ailments. Illuminated Medieval manuscripts, like this Anglo-Saxon herbal recently digitized by the British Library, feature strange and fascinating botanical drawings and texts describing the various effects and properties of herbs. Ancient clay tablets, stone murals, and paper scrolls show how, from the beginning of recorded history, humankind has looked to herbs for healing. Even Ötzi, a man who died 5300 years ago and Europe’s oldest naturally preserved mummy, was found carrying plants and fungi for the treatment of his intestinal parasites and inflammation. 

Still, it is important to always to keep your doctor informed of your symptoms and anything new or unusual that you may be introducing into your diet. Poor Ötzi, no doubt, would have happily availed himself of modern medicine when he was injured with an arrow, but he succumbed to his wounds on an icy, mountainous slope instead.

Shop our Medicinal Herbs collection here, where you can read more about the various attributes of different herbs. You’ll find nervines such as German Chamomile, Catnip, and Mad Dog Skullcap; adaptogens like Sacred Basil; and immune boosters like Echinacea. Other herbs with medicinal qualities–such as Lemon Balm, Mint, and Anise Hyssop–also make great-tasting herbal teas and infusions.

Herbal Infusions

An herbal infusion is simple to make. The main distinction between an herbal tea (or "tisane") and a hot herbal infusion is the length of time and amount of herbs used during steeping.  An herbal infusion is meant to draw more flavor and medicinal potency from the herb by steeping more herbs for a longer period of time. A good ratio to follow is one cup of boiling water to 1-3 tablespoons of dried herbs (double the amount of herbs if you are using them fresh). Adjust the ratio according to your taste or desired potency. Generally, flowers and leaves can be steeped from 10-20 minutes; woody plant parts like stems and roots will require a low simmer for 15-30 minutes on the stove to make a decoction. Experiment with combinations and ratios to come up with your own custom herbal tea blend for teas and infusions, like the one below:

Ötzi’s Fireside Recovery Tea

1 part dried Catnip
1 part dried Chamomile
1 part dried wild rose petals
1 part dried spruce tips

Brew 2 tablespoons of tea per one cup of water. Steep for five minutes. 

Herbal Tea Simple Syrups

You can also turn your herbal tea infusion into a simple syrup. Brew a strong tea infusion and then strain and discard the herbs. Place your tea in a saucepan on the stove and reheat it to a boil. For every cup of strong tea, stir in one cup of sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, you can remove the tea from the flame and let the contents cool for one hour–now you have a syrup! Store your syrup in the fridge for up to one month.

Anise Hyssop Syrup
(Based on a recipe found in All Good Things Around Us by Pamela Michael.)

1 large handful flowering stems and leaves of Anise Hyssop (about 30 sprigs)
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup sugar

Make the infusion following the instructions above using hyssop stems and leaves.  Simmer your herbs in water on the stove for about ten minutes. Strain the liquid, dissolve the sugar, and let boil for five more minutes to reduce some of the liquid, if necessary. Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate it for up to one month. Use Anise Hyssop Syrup for poaching fruit or add it to fruit salad for a special treat.