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Herb Teas

We ca also compare hydrosols to herb teas. For literally thousands of years herbs have been used for health in the form of tisanes. A small amount of herb is steeped in hot or boiling water and the resulting tea is consumed for specific physical or mental conditions. Chamomile tea relaxes the body, calms the mind, and aids sleep. Linden treats stress and anxiety and also aids sleep; peppermint helps indigestion and wakes us up.

Ginger root gives warmth and eases a cough or motion sickness. There are hundreds of herb teas with "accepted " or "proven" properties. In fact, the German government's Commission E has approved medical uses of tisanes, including peppermint, fennel, linden, German chamomile, and melissa.

The average tea bag weights two grams. Depending on the herb, this equates to approximately four to eight grams of fresh plant materials per bag. We might add anywhere from 100 to 150 milliliters of water and brew the mix for ten to fifteen minutes, depending on the desired strength of the tea we are preparing. The result is a ratio of maybe 0.08:1 herb to water. Hydrosols, depending on the plant material, are at the very least 1:1 plant to water and more frequently 3 or 4:1.

If herbal teas work, can't we assume that something so much more concentrated will also work? Diluted (thirty milliliters in one liter of water), hydrosols are still as strong as, or  stronger than, herb tea. There is also the issue of fresh versus dried plant material. We know that some of the volatile and fragile components of herbs are lost during the drying process. Drying techniques are, in fact, one of the biggest problems facing herb growers. I recently saw an innovative drying container for organic herb production.

The fresh plant material is set on a net suspended three feet in the air in an enclosed room , and both fans and heaters circulate warm air through the material. The temperature is controlled to ensure optimum speed of drying with minimum loss of volatile components for each type of plant and plant part being dried.

In this manner one hectare of German chamomile flowers can be dried in less than a day. However, we know that most herbs on the market are not dried so carefully and many are not organic. Recent studies in the United States and Canada on herbs imported from China showed that these "medicinal herbs" contained large amounts of chemical contaminants in the form of pesticides, herbicides, and so on and also contained far less than the expected concentrations of active therapeutic compounds.

If we were to make a tisane from such herbs, what medicinal value would it have and what concentration of active ingredients would be in each dose? When plant material is distilled for essential oils and hydrosols, it is often put into the still in a fresh or only slightly wilted state, rarely if ever fully died.

If we are buying from certified organic producers, we are getting not only a contaminant-free product but also one in which the fragile and volatile components remain in the plant material being processed, thus delivering a more therapeutic finished product. Ultimately the effectiveness of hydrosols must be significantly higher than that of herbal teas, regardless of dilution rates.

There are, of course, varying qualities in waters, as in oils, and just because a hydrosol is certified organic does not make it good. I was sent some certified organic rosewater last spring, but neither the taste nor the fragrance was very rich. The internal effects seemed minimal and that "feel-good feeling" I associate with drinking rose was missing altogether.

When I called the supplier, I asked if the distillation was just for hydrosol or for oil as well. The supplier informed me that, like many others, the company distilled rosewater from dried roses year-round to keep up the demand. There was no oil produced from the distillation and the plant -to-water ratio was 1:1 That may work in baklava but not for menopause.

On the other hand, a shipment of cinnamon hydrosol from leaves wild-harvested in the Madagascar rain forest was a feast for the senses. Distilled by local people in very basic conditions, this hydrosol was particularly energetic and helped a severely stressed woman get through a lengthy and nasty court battle, focused and with a smile on her face, without filling the prescription for Prozac that her doctor had given her. 

Reference:Hydrosols - The Next Aromatherapy: Suzanne Catty

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