Herbs on the Balcony

Recently I was in San Francisco for the last weekend of my Cancer Journey coach training. I love San Francisco and have visited the touristy areas many times. But this trip I got to visit someone’s home.

When I attended the first weekend of training four months ago, I struck up a friendship with another woman in the class that lives in San Francisco. She has lived there most of her life and invited me over to her home for dinner on Saturday night. I eagerly accepted.

It was on the third floor of a building in an area known as Twin Peaks. There was a storm blowing strong winds and rain that night as her husband picked us up after class. I was in the back seat watching the rain when he suddenly turned into an alley that I just knew wasn’t wide enough for our car. As I exhaled the breath I was holding, he slipped into a narrow parking spot under the building.

We all slipped off our shoes by the door and my friend showed me into the living area. She had told me that she loved the view out of her window, and I could see why. The lights of the city spread out before me like stars in the night sky. She pointed out the lights of the bay bridge and the Salesforce tower that uses the top nine floors to create public art by illuminating images that are visible for 20 miles.

The view of the city was truly breathtaking but the pots on her balcony spoke to my soul. The balcony may have been small, but it didn’t stop her from using some of the space to grow herbs. Wind and rain prevented us from opening the door, but I could see lavender, rosemary and thyme waving at me in the breeze. I waved back.

Her Australian born husband cooked us a lovely dinner. He is a fascinating man and I loved hearing his accent. She is equally fascinating, an Emmy award winning documentary film maker who has been featured on Oprah. I tried to play it cool and not seem star struck by the two of them.

After dinner she asked if I would like a cup of tea. Yes please. It was a cold, rainy night and a cup of tea would be lovely. As she opened the cabinet where the tea was kept, she started asking me what kind I wanted. Her and a friend had attended the international tea festival the last time it was in town and her cabinet was literally overflowing with different kinds of tea.

We looked at a lot of labels and finally settled on one that had ingredients I recognized. As she handed me the tea I asked if she ever made tea from the herbs on her balcony. She looked at me with surprise. “I could make tea from what I have outside?”, she asked. “Of course,” I replied, “you have some very good healers out there.”

Like many people she felt called to have the live plants nearby, but it never occurred to her that they wanted to be used. Plants want to help humans. So much so that they provide us with oxygen! The very thing we need to live on this planet.


Here are the healing properties of the herbs on her balcony:


Legendary as a cerebral tonic and stimulant to the brain.  It has long been valued for its ability to ease headaches and migraines and relieve mild to moderate depression. It aids digestion by helping break down fats and starches. It stimulates the circulatory system and helps with things like poor circulation and low blood pressure.


This is the best herb we have for stimulating the thymus, a major gland of the immune system.  Thyme is a great pick-me-up for low energy.  Its antispasmodic properties are useful for lung problems and for convulsive coughs such as whooping cough.  It is an excellent remedy for sore throats, head colds and stiffness related to chills.  Thyme also helps stimulate the body’s natural defense and boosts the immune system.


That wonderful aroma draws you into the healing power of lavender with its relaxing, calming and uplifting effects. It can relieve tension, stress and insomnia. Clinical studies have proven lavender’s effectiveness as an antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic agent.

The question I get asked most often is if herbs need to be dried before using them in tea and the answer is no. Herbs can be used fresh or dried. There are two ways to make herbal tea, by infusion and decoction. Most of the herbal tea we drink is made using the infusion method.

INFUSIONS are made from the more delicate parts of the plant, including the leaves and flowers.  These plant parts must be steeped, rather than simmered, because they give up their medicinal properties easily.  To make an infusion simply boil the water and pour it over the herbs and let steep for 10-15 minutes.

DECOCTIONS are made from the hard parts of the plant, such as the roots, bark and seeds.  It is a little harder to extract the constituents from these parts.  To make a decoction, place the herbs in a pan and cover with cold water.  Heat slowly and simmer, covered for 15-20 minutes.  The longer you simmer the herbs the stronger the tea.

HERBAL TEAS can be drunk hot, at room temperature or cold.  Once brewed, an herbal tea should be stored in the refrigerator.  Left at room temperature for several hours it will begin to sour.  Stored in the refrigerator, an herbal tea is good for 3-4 days.

Depending on how strong you want the finished tea to taste determines how much tea to use. Use twice as much fresh herb as dried. A general rule is 1-3 Tbs of herb for each cup of water or 4-8 Tbs of herb per quart of water. The more herb you use and the longer you let it steep, the stronger the brew.  Let your taste buds and senses guide you.


Whether you grow your own or buy from a reputable source, enjoy the healing benefits of herbal tea all year long!

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