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Many of the plants in my garden have leaves or flowers that are, in various places, described as being good for making a herbal tea. A couple of examples are lemon balm leaves (Melissa officinalis) and strawberry guava leaves (Psidium littorale). I also have a number of different varieties of mint.

When you buy herbal teas, the leaves or flowers (or bark) that the tea is made from are obviously dried. Is the drying process an essential aspect of the tea preparation, or is that simply for storage and preservation? If you have access to the raw ingredient, do you need to dry or process it in some way first or can the tea be made satisfactorily without any drying or processing?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Dried vegetation usually suffers cell wall degradation. So when rehydrated all the oils and flavours will easily leach out. This is very desirable for vegetation you want to extract oils and flavours from

Many "teas" are also partially fermented for additional flavour. This processes need to be stopped otherwise the whole plant will be consumed. Drying is the simplest way to stop fermentation, and make the product storable and transportable

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Certainly you can make tea from fresh herbs! In most cases, the dried part of whatever you're using is preferable because of storage and preservation, as you mentioned, but fresh herbs tend to be weaker tasting than their dried counterparts. Unfortunately, I don't know why this is.

The way to combat this is to simply use more of whatever you're making tea from. If you find an herbal tea recipe and it calls for 5 grams of dried herb, use 10-15 grams of fresh herb (depending on your taste). But feel free to experiment and see what's good for you. Another thing to keep in mind is that short steeping times are often not enough to extract the beneficial nutrients from a given herb - again this depends on the specific plant and your taste, but 4 hours to overnight is usually what's recommended.

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I think that the "weaker per gram" phenomenon is easily explained by the fact that plants are mostly water, so the same leaf will weigh much less dried than fresh, while keeping most of its oils (some of the taste components will evaporate while drying, of course). –  rumtscho Oct 28 '13 at 12:16
    
good point, i think that makes a lot of sense –  dax Oct 29 '13 at 14:31
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