Many people ask me about the difference between pre-packaged herbal tea bags and using loose whole herbs. Which is better, more potent, longer lasting, and more energetic? I’d like to share some ideas and experiences with you to explain just why loose herbs are the best choice for brewing medicinal tea, and why they can be a lot easier to work with than you might think!
The Nature Of The Plant
In just about all cases plants are gently dried before they are used for tea. When dried, the cell walls of a plant break down so that all of the good stuff inside is more available once we re-introduce them to water. Within even the most expertly dried plant is a host of essential oils, minerals, vitamins, organic chemical compounds, and other medicinal elements. When we drink herbal tea, our goal is to get all of this healing goodness into our bodies in the most potent and pure way possible. This is the foundation for choosing loose herbal tea when you steep.
What’s In Your Bag?
In order for herbs to be placed inside a tea bag they have to be cut, ground, and sifted. If they weren’t, it would be impossible to stuff them in those neatly folded tea bags and they would likely rip through it with their unpredictable stems and leaves. Pre-packaged tea bags makes it super easy to have tea anytime, but you may be losing a massive amount of the healing benefits you are actually after. Pulverizing herbs increases their surface area which means that the good stuff inside evaporates, breaks down, and even goes bad faster. A broken and powdered leaf loses many of its natural defenses and will simply wither away faster.
Because of the loss of color, scent, flavor, and healing potency, most tea bags also contain ‘natural flavoring’ to help make them taste and smell good long past the expiration of the herbs themselves. What are ‘natural flavorings’? Who knows. The laws that govern how flavorings have to be detailed on packaging and what can be called natural are too loose for my comfort. Adding flavorings to herbal tea is so common that I have actually found cheap black tea that has been flavored with artificial ginger marketed as ‘ginger herbal tea’. Be warned.
I personally don’t want perfumes (a common flavor enhancer – what we smell is what we taste), concentrates, derivatives, synthetics, or other junk in my tea. Water delivers things to our tissues and to our blood stream quickly… I’d rather not mix medicine with toxins.
It’s also a good idea to consider the tea bag itself. What’s it made of? Has it been bleached? Does it add things to the tea? Most good herbal tea companies these days to care to use natural, non-bleached bags but that is not the general rule. It’s also a good idea to consider that most herbal tea bags have no expiration date. How long have the bags been sitting in those envelopes on that shelf, and how long is too long?
Letting The Herbs Out Of The Bag
For me, the above questions and concerns are simply too many to be worthwhile. Even if working with whole herbs takes an extra minute or two when brewing, I know how much more I’m getting. There have been so many times that I’ve made a cup of simple tea for a friend who has only had the pre-bagged version and their reaction was profound. If you’ve only experienced chamomile, hibiscus, green, or any other simple or blend from a bag, you’ve got a treat in store for you when you try them whole!
Loose Herbal Tea
Loose tea is all about working with whole herbs. They may be cut which is fine, but they are not powdered, pulverized, or given any additives whatsoever. Loose tea is more colorful, aromatic, and medicinal than the bagged alternative and for me, working with them is just a lot more fun. I love opening up pouches of whole mullein, plantain, and peppermint and adding a pinch of each to my tea ball for a springtime lung detox. I love seeing the herbs that heal me, interacting with them, creating a relationship with them, and being part of the process. I have found that being part of the tea building ritual puts the body and mind at ease so that more of the tea’s energy is allowed into deeper parts of the body. It’s really an all around win!
An Exception To The Rule
When whole herbs are bagged as needed, as ordered, or in small batches – their potency is the same as using whole herbs. My friends at Flying Bird Botanicals place whole herbs into special tea bags as ordered so that they are fresh and ready to help you heal when you receive them. In addition, if you add your own whole herbs to a DIY bag after pulverizing or grinding them, you’ll end up with the same high potency as using whole herbs.
Get Your Steep On!
I encourage you to pick up a small pouch of your favorite tea herb and try it. The difference will make a fan out of you! If you have no access to any herbal tea but the pre-packaged kind, by all means start there. A little tea is better than no tea, and it may be a great place to start your own healing journey.
I purchase all of my whole herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs for a few reasons. First, they have bags as small as 4oz. which is extremely cheap in price and the perfect amount for me to use on my own within a year or so. Next, the bags they place their herbs in are super high quality so that I don’t have to buy other storage containers once they arrive – I just tuck the bags away in a cool, dark cupboard. Finally, they have a massive selection of whole organic herbs in the right varieties and they get to my doorstep fast. Needless to say, I’m a fan. Click the link below to check out just how much amazing herbal healing supply they carry…
6 thoughts on “Why You Should Avoid Packaged Herbal Tea”
Great article, Josh! I find myself usually mention this point or that one…but here it is all in one place! A wonderfully informative resource – shared this all around.
Thanks Lee! 🙂
It’s so fun discovering and reading through your blog! We love loose leaf tea too! We also provide compostable pyramid bags- the pyramid shape allows us to maintain more whole leaves and flowers. We run our bags on a sate of the art machine that allows for the tea to be blended on-line, ensuring less of the breakdown you are talking about. We are so excited to say that we are the ONLY company in the world using this technology right now. We have put a lot of thought and intention into our tea bags- no staples, glues, bleaches, or tags. We believe in freshness, sustainability, and wholesome healing herbs! Loose leaf is best, but for those indulgent times when you want the convenience of a bag, we think we have found the best option out there! Cheers to delicious gifts from the earth,
Flying Bird Botanicals
Thanks for the great comment!
Freshly bagged tea is definitely the exception to the rule. It’s fresh and vibrant, so it’s filled with the good stuff!
This is great information Josh! These are the type of things that a lot of tea lovers aren’t aware of…I will be be looking out for this now and in the future.
Thanks Tara! 🙂
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