Around the Summer Solstice, I often travel to a secluded spot on the Sandy river near Portland, Oregon. There, I begin my hunt for the elusive native herb known as mugwort. This beautiful plant can be difficult to find, even if you look quite carefully. But if you look closely you will be able to find mugwort’s silver leaves ruffling gently in the breeze.
After locating some small stands, I ask permission to collect a few stalks of this gentle, yet powerful herb. I listen carefully to what messages the mugwort offers. It almost always will say what’s on its mind. Before harvesting, I light a little sage and make a prayer of thanks. Some will offer a little tobacco. I always try to give back to the mugwort that I harvest, fostering a good relationship for future harvesting in my favorite secluded places to wildcraft.
A few hours later I am home and brewing up a cup of mugwort tea in my kitchen. I can smell its stimulating, pungent, distinct aroma as the tea brews. The steam envelops me, and I begin to fall into the dreamy state that mugwort often elicits.
I then take a few sips and take in a little of mugwort’s essence. It is bitter and strong. I can feel my taste buds and insides start to come alive. The mugwort starts to stir things up, get things moving. A knot of tension in my stomach starts to shift and turn, slowly untying itself and releasing the strain. A few more sips and I can feel my blood moving as a trickle of sweat forms on my brow. A half a cup later and the anxiety and stress in my system dissipates under a calm and even flow of energy that circulates through my body.
With each sip, mugwort draws me into her spell, magically soothing and uplifting me. I can hear her messages to “Be still” and “unwind”. I feel more receptive, more attuned, more open and more myself. This simple tea has magically helped me transform and become fully present to the moment and the subtle vibrations around me.
Tea Crafting and the Four Elements
Herbal teas, when we make them with good intention and a good heart, have the ability to transform us. Each aspect of making a tea, from collecting or buying the herb to how we prepare it and drink it, is vital to whether it is a magical experience or just another activity in our day. Taking the time to truly craft a tea helps us to become wiser, healthier, and more attuned to the natural world around us.
Crafting tea is a time-honored tradition in places such as China and Japan where rituals are often performed in conjunction with tea making. Timing, presentation and proper brewing methods are all coordinated to augment a sense of peace and tranquility and to come into harmony with the flow of the natural world.
Making magical teas starts with an understanding of the four basic elements that comprise the natural world- earth, water, fire and air. Each of these elements is associated with particular aspects and processes of the natural world. Earth is associated with the trees, mountains, hills valleys and fields. Water is associated with the rivers, lakes and oceans. Fire is associated with the Sun and the flame. And Air is associated with the currents of the wind and the sky.
When we make a magical herbal tea, we are communing with these natural elements and replicating the natural processes of the planet Earth at a basic level. In so doing, we are creating a relationship and harmonizing with the forces of nature through the simple practice of making herbal tea.
The Earth Element
The first step in making herbal tea is to collect or find the best herbal material possible to put in your brew. This first step is vital because it is our initiation into creating a relationship with a particular herb. The best way we can do this is the way I described above with mugwort: Collect it in its natural state in the wild. Gathering herbs can take some practice and a small amount of botanical knowledge of the plants in your natuve region. The reason wild plants are the best to work with is that they have evolved and adapted to find the perfect niche to grow and thrive in. This is where they feel most comfortable and at home. Because of this, they resonate with a greater strength and vibrancy. The soil conditions and the amount of light, heat and moisture are in perfect harmony to allow the plant to grow.
Approaching a herb in its natural environment is similar to approaching approaching any wild creature. It should be done with care and respect. If you can, take the time to learn the ways of the herb you are gathering. Read about it in herbal and botanical books. Get to know its shape, color, fragrance and appearance.
After developing an alliance with a particular herb, learn what are its best parts to pick. For some herbs you may want to just collect the flowers. For others, you may want to collect the leaves, the roots, or just the root bark. Herb books and teachers will give you guidance on this matter.
Before gathering the herb, spend some time in contemplation and appreciation of the powers of the plant. Knowing what it is good for and how you will use it will help the plant give its life more easily. You may want to make prayers, light sage, offer tobacco, a strand of hair, or just speak words of appreciation and thanks. Make sure you do not overharvest. Try to limit your gathering to no more than 10-20 percent of a stand. Leave no trace of yourself behind.
If you are a novice at gathering herbs in the wild, ask an herbalist friend to take you on collecting expeditions. Herbalists have years of experience identifying herbs in the wild and will show you the best methods of collecting each individual herb. They’ll also help you avoid poisonous plants when collecting.
Though it can be wonderful to collect a herb in the wild, cultivating and gathering herbs in your own backyard is also rewarding. Many herbs- such as lavender, chamomile angelica and peppermint- can be easily grown in the area around your house. Growing your own medicinal plants helps you to have a year-round relationship with them that helps in magical tea making. You can watch as each herb grows day by day, and you can give energy to the herbs through regular watering, pruning, composting and mulching. Whether cultivated or gathered in the wild, try to harvest the herb before it gets too hot and the Sun starts to wilt the plant. Gather flowers and leaves in the spring or summertime. Gather flowers and leaves in the spring or the summertime. Gather roots after the energy of the plant has turned inward in the fall or very early spring.
Finally, the next best way to make a magical herbal tea is to buy loose dried herbs from a reputable source- one that gives tender care to each herb they harvest. Check around and make sure the dried herb looks fresh and full of vital essence.
Avoid leaves that have turned brown or yellow or have splotches on them. Dried herbs should have retained their fragrance and color. You should be able to breathe in their essence.
Get to know the farmers and wildcrafters who gather herbs for you. Make sure they are doing their work in a positive, giving way. The better the herb is cared for, the better will be its effect. Store-bought herbs can sometimes be collected in a machine like manner with little care and consideration. This diminishes the magical and healing properties of herbs.
If you have collected a herb in the wild, I highly recommend making a fresh tea soon after you get home. Most herbal teas we drink are from dried plants, but I find that herbs give their most vital essence and best magical qualities when they are prepared fresh as soon after harvesting as possible. It is useful to have a patch of your favorite herbs growing in your backyard.
Herbal Tea Making and Astrology
In Renaissance Europe, herbalists and doctors often offered herbs according to astrology. Similar to traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurveda, plants are thought to carry a certain type of force, or energy. In Traditional European Medicine, that energy was categorized into seven different types of herbs related to each one of the planets. When making magical herbal teas, it can be helpful to take note of these ancient associations. Here is a brief description of how each type of herb tends to act and some of the main herbs in each category:
Herbal Characteristics: Herbs associated with the Sun generally have red or yellow colored flowers, tend to be showy such as sunflower, often grow in sunny places and have a good strong aroma and taste. Some classic solar herbs are marigold (Calendula officinalis) angelica (Angelica officinalis) and St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). Many herbs from the Sunflower family (Asteraceae) are associated with the sun.
Herbal effects: The Sun is associated with the heart and the eyes primarily. Herbs of the Sun often have an ability to heal those areas. Solar herbs often have a warming, drying and gently energizing quality, helping to move energy and remove blockages.
Herbs: Calendula, chamomile, cinnamon, eyebright, goldenseal, hawthorn, rosemary, St. John’s wort, sunflower
Herbal Characteristics: Herbs of the moon tend to have one of the following characteristics. They tend to hold water and are succulent and juicy in nature. The leaves have a round shape (such as nasturtium- Tropaeolum majus) or have wide spreading leaves. They grow in damp places such as marshes or near lakes and streams. Their flowers or leaves are white, silver (willow-Salix), or pale yellow. Willow is a classic example because it tends to grow near rivers and streams and has long, droopy leaves that are silvery white in color. Willow has the ability to reduce inflammation and is therefore helpful for reducing hot or fiery type conditions due to its soothing, cooling and watery powers.
Herbal effects: These herbs tend to be cooling and moistening by nature. The moon is associated with the stomach, the breasts, the bladder and the womb and these herbs often help strengthen and heal these parts of the body. They also tend to be helpful in regulating fluid and hormonal balance and can often be helpful before and during menstruation. Herbs of the moon tend to be cooling, moistening and nourishing.
Herbs of the moon: Aloe, cleavers, lemon balm, marshmallow, willow
Herbal Characteristics: The flowers of mercurial herbs can come in various colors and shades. They tend to have finely divided leaves and are often strongly aromatic due to their volatile oil content. Lilly says these herbs “do quicken the spirits, are subtle and penetrate, and in a manner insensible.” They often grow in a dry climate and Lilly says they “love sandy, barren places, they bear their seeds in husks or cobs and they smell rarely or subtly.”
Herbal effects: These herbs tend to be stimulating and enlivening. They also tend to affect the lungs, nervous system and the brain primarily. Many Mercurial herbs act as expectorants, digestive aids and can often help to bring on a sweat to help eliminate toxins. Mercurial herbs can also be helpful for problems in speech and communication. Mercury is also associated with the arms and hands and Mercurial herbs can sometimes have a healing effect on these areas of the body as well. Essentially, Mercurial herbs are stimulating and can help heal nervous system disorders.
Herbs of Mercury: Caraway, coltsfoot, dill, elder, fennel, lavender, oats, parsley, peppermint, red clover, valerian
Herbal Characteristics: Venusian herbs are ones that have a sweet flavor and smell fragrantly. The leaves are smooth and lack edges or sharpness. The flowers are often white and have a flavorful and succulent taste. The Lilly (lilliaceae) family of herbs is often associated with Venus.
Herbal effects: Venusian herbs help to soothe and strengthen, tonify and nourish. Often Venusian herbs have an effect on the reproductive system, especially of women. They tend to be helpful in water metabolism problems, especially associated with the kidneys. Burdock is an example of a Venusian herb. Through its ability to cleanse and nourish the blood, it helps to reduce skin ailments such as eczema and psoriasis and bring forth healthy skin and lustrous looking hair. It also has a marked effect on the kidneys, helping to replenish and strengthen this area of the body. Burdock (Arctium lappa) is also helpful for lowering blood sugar levels, another aspect of health associated with Venus.
Herbs of Venus: Burdock, catnip, feverfew, western red cedar, licorice, mugwort, rose, thyme, vervain, violet
Herbal Characteristics: Herbs associated with Mars are often strong smelling such as garlic (Allium sativum) and ginger (Zingiber officinale) and can have thorns or prickles such as Nettles (Urtica dioica) or Hawthorn (Crataegus). Martian herbs can have a red color such as red pepper (Capsicum annuum) and can have a strong, pungent and sometimes burning flavor. These are tough and hardy herbs that help stimulate and vitalize the system.
Herbal effects: These herbs generate heat and are often helpful for inducing a sweat as a way to throw off toxins and dispel infections. Because Mars is associated with the gall bladder, the blood, the tissues and the muscles, these herbs often help strengthen and cleanse these areas of the body. Martian medicinal plants are heating, stimulating, directing and energizing. For this reason they are often helpful for the melancholic or phlegmatic type, who tend to be more cool, damp and heavy by temperament. They promote vitality and are sometimes eliminative and purgative in nature. They help to rid the body of microbial invasion and help to strengthen and tonify the body. Nettles is an example of a Martian herb that strengthens the entire body. It is fortified with nutrients such as iron (ruled by Mars) that helps nourish the system.
Herbs of Mars: Basil, cayenne, garlic, gentian, ginger, ginseng, hops, juniper, nettles, pine, sarsparilla, tobacco, yarrow
Herbal Characteristics: Jupiterian herbs tend to have large leaves or characteristics that are slightly oversized or showy. They also tend to have a pleasant scent, or at least one that does not smell badly. Jupiterian herbs can often have a bitter taste. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) are two examples of herbs that are bitter.
Herbal effects: Because of their bitter taste, Jupiterian herbs often help to stimulate the liver. In this way they help promote better absorption in the digestive system and help rid the body of waste material by increasing heat in the system. Dandelion accomplishes this task wonderfully and is a supreme herb for healing the liver. Because Jupiter is associated with expansiveness, these herbs often help to heal excessive cell proliferation such as in skin eruptions, boils and tumors.
Herbs of Jupiter: borage, chicory, dandelion, dock, echinacea, hyssop, maple, Oregon grape, rosemary, sage
Herbal Characteristics: Saturnian herbs are often sour, sharp, salty and have a biting quality. They tend to be nutrient rich and some are long lasting and woody.
Herbal Effects: Saturnian herbs tend to be cooling and grounding in nature. They tend to cause a contraction of tissue and can sometimes cause obstructions and be dangerous to consume. Saturnian herbs tend to build up tissue and deposits. They are generally binding and help to draw matter together. They can sometimes be sedating and can be poisonous. Saturnian herbs can also be helpful for strengthening the spleen, the bones, the teeth and nails and can increase calcium absorption in the body. Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and comfrey(Symphytum officinale) are two examples of nourishing, bone strengthening herbs.
Herbs of Saturn: Comfrey, horsetail, mullein, oak, plantain
Gathering herbs according to their astrological association helps us to gain a little more information about the plant, understand how it relates, connects and differs from other plants. Developing an understanding of the deeper energies of a plant help us to form a more comprehensive understanding of how to work with a plant and to use it in magical work.
The Water Element
After you have collected the best herb for your magical tea, make sure you have the best quality water as well. Though it may sound strange, not all water is the same. Yes, water may all contain the same two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule, but there is a lot more going on that meets the eye.
Water is the key medium for interacting between the human and the plant world. It is the mediator for helping there to be communication. The plants communicate through their complex chemistry of resins, alkaloids, minerals and oils. Water helps deliver this message to the human body so that it can assimilate the information in the best way possible.
Water from wild places such as streams and rivers will be highly charged and carry the wildness of the land that it comes from. Often this type of water is more invigorating and helpful for those people who are weak or febrile.
Water that is from deep below the ground, such as from artesian wells, has an earthy quality that is very grounding and healing. This “hard” water contains minerals and mineralized water will be healing in its own right, but will not extract as much nutrients and active constituents from an herb as will soft, or demineralized water.
Choosing water for a magical tea is a very important part of the process. We wouldn’t want to go to
all the trouble of getting the freshest herbs and then use tap water that is rife with pollutants. Either collect your water from a fresh source or use water that is purified in the best possible manner.
Once you have gathered good water, make sure to find a good pot to boil the water and a good vessel to pour the tea into. Cast-iron pots will leech iron into the tea, which can help heal those people who are more anemic and “blood deficient” in nature. Stainless-steel pots work great as well, but avoid anything that is aluminum or has a layer that can peel off.
Finding the right herbal teapot is an important part of the tea-making process. Beautifully designed and colorful pots add to the sense of sensual enjoyment. The best teapots are made of clay are hand-sculpted by an artisan. The love and care that goes into making the teapot helps make the tea-drinking process more uplifting and magical.
The Fire Element
Fire is the key alchemical tool for helping the herb deliver its medicinal and healing contents to the water. In traditional Europe, alchemy was known as the science that would transmute baser elements such as lead into precious metals such as gold. On a symbolic level, fire is associated with the spiritual effort and heat required to overcome baser instincts and to develop a mind and heart associated with God. This form of spiritual alchemy is at the root of practices such as tai chi and yoga. Heat generated from postures and movements helps to train the heart toward a goal of “attainment”, or oneness with the divine.
In making herbal teas, using the right amount and source of heat is essential for drawing the best qualities from a plant and delivering it to the water. The fire element is instrumental in helping the plant communicate its consciousness and magical gift to human beings. Even when taken in tincture form, fire has been used to create the alcohol that will act as the medium of the herb’s medicine.
In traditional times, tea would be made over a true wood flame. The type of wood used to make the flame would be important to the process. Cedar wood has different properties from maple, fir or cherry. Unless you have a wood burning stove that you can make tea on, it is unlikely you can consider these things. Flame from a gas burning stove is the next best choice for making a good tea, because it burns efficiently and you can adjust it very easily. Electric stoves are also a good source of the fire element.
When working with the fire element, remember that it is very powerful and has an intelligence of its own. Fire will talk to you if you listen. If the fire gets too hot, the vibration emanating from your stove will seem angry or overly excited. If the heat from the stove is not enough, you will sense that it feels lacking. The proper amount of heat is essential to the process of making tea.
Its important to think about the amount of heat we are using in our home environment, and this is especially true of heat for our magical teas. Too much heat is wasteful. By connecting with the fire element, we start to be mindful of how much heat we use each day. Using the proper amount of heat helps us to develop a considerate and mindful heart. The process of making tea can then become a meditation for developing integrity when working with the fire element.
The Air Element
To start the process of making tea, pour a quart of water and bring it to a boil. Then place an ounce of dried herb into your teapot. Once the water has boiled, pour the water into the tea pot and allow it to steep. (There is some variation in the amount of herb to use- sometimes less, sometimes more. Please consult an herb guide to see exact amounts.) While doing this, direct your attention to honoring the herbs and their properties, where the herb came from and how it will be used to heal. Give thanks and prayers of gratitude for their healing powers.
After the water has been completely poured, take a moment to breathe in the aroma of the herbs now that they have ben mixed with the water. This is the air element associated with magical tea making. Breathe in the herb’s essence as it gently coats your mouth, throat and bronchial passages. The uplifting qualities found in the essential oils in herbs can be tremendously beneficial to the respiratory tract, nerves, and immunological system.
After breathing in the infusion for ten or twenty seconds, make sure to cap the pot so the essential oils don’t evaporate. Then let the tea sit for about ten to sixty minutes. Delicate, flowery herbs such as chamomile and elder flower should be consumed sooner as their properties can fade more quickly. Rooty teas can sit for up to an hour, as it takes a long time for their properties to completely dissolve into the water. The longer a tea sits, the more bitter it tends to become.
Sun and Moon Tea
Aside from making teas over the stove, there are a couple of other magical ways to make tea. Making a Sun tea is a way of connecting with the original source of the fire element, the Sun. Sun tea is made by simply placing your herbs and water in a quart jar that sits out under the Sun. The water heats up with the Sun’s rays. The herb delivers its medicinal and healing properties to the water, though it usually takes a little longer than making tea on a stove. You should generally wait about two to four hours before you drink this brew. Sun tea is especially helpful for those people who tend to be fatigued, cold and depressed.
One of my other favorite ways of making tea is to utilize the magical power of the Moon. On the night of the Full Moon, follow the same directions as for the Sun tea, except place the glass jar out under the Moon. Steep the tea for an entire night, and then drink it in the morning. The tea will be cold but will have taken in some of the essence of the Moon’s energies. This is especially helpful for people who run too hot and tend to be anxious and “wired”. Moon tea helps you to become more relaxed.
Drink Your Tea!
After making tea, pour yourself a delicious cup. Use a strainer to strain out the herb and allow the tea to come through. Take some time to enjoy this sensuous and sumptuous experience. Find a favorite chair or relax into a bath and breathe in the aroma of the tea. Sip slowly and delicately. Never hurry your tea!
Taste the flavor of the tea and feel how it affects you as you drink in its essence. Notice your change in mood. Allow the tea drinking process to be slow and relaxing. This is not something to be rushed. After sipping a couple cups of tea, notice how you feel. The tea should have imparted its best medicinal qualities to you, and the alchemical process of harmonizing with the elements will have helped to transform and strengthen your spirit.
Making magical tea is simply the process of bringing mindfulness and good intention to every part of the tea making process. It involves attention to detail along with respect for the herb. Through care and consideration, tea making becomes a full body and full spirit experience that helps us to transform and become more fully alive and present.
You can also find me at the Facebook group Herbs for Mental Health.