Hello Fellow Health Hunters!
So when you think of the humble cup of tea, you probably think “a cup of tea fixes all problems”, or “slightly more flavour than water”, or “this will give me the pick me up to get me through the rest of the working day”, or, and let’s be honest, we’ve all thought this at some stage “This is something to drink until I can get home, and have a glass of wine” (if this is you, please do yourself a favour, and have a glass of organic, sulphite free red wine……..and savour it as a soul food!).
But did you know, with a little herbal knowledge, and a few adjustments to your tea brewing techniques, you could actually be contributing to reversing disease process and optimising your health?
This is where a humble cuppa, becomes your medicinal tea. Back in naturopathy school, I had a very talented teacher, Elspeth Taimre (if you are in Perth, Western Australia, she is still a practicing Naturopath http://www.heartstarherbs.com/index.html) who strongly advocated herbal remedies in the form of teas; they can be that transformative to your health. And as recently as a couple of weeks ago, my son, Master O, and I were both fighting the dreaded daycare diseases (this round involved an up-all-night barking cough, running noses, loss of voice, sore throat, and generally feeling miserable) and I cured mine by drinking fresh thyme leaves tea. The daycare disease that had been plaguing me for almost two weeks was gone in two days. For Master O, we made his bath and added a couple of litres of the thyme leaf tea, and let him breathe it in as he splashed around. He also drank the cooled thyme tea, and received thyme’s antibacterial properties via breastfeeding. Anyway, all that to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how fast our Thyme tea worked for the both of us!
So here is the basic method for turning that tea medicinal (note: black, white and green teas don’t really have any medicinal properties other than antioxidants, and given their tannin and caffeine content, don’t respond so well to this method, becoming very bitter-save those teas for a quick brew):
- Choose your herbs according to your health needs (investigate on line, talk with your local herbalist or Naturopath, or check back in at Vintage Health, I will have a list ready soon). About a heaped tablespoon or a teabag per cup of hot water. Take note of the part of the plant you are using, as this will determine how long you need to brew it for (see step 3 for more on that). Put your plant parts in your cup/strainer/teapot/thermos flask. For this mornings cup of tea, I’ve chosen a nettle tea bag, a slice of fresh lemon, star anise, and cinnamon quills. These herbs offer digestive and liver support (in particular, increased bile production), lemon is great to clear mucous from the digestive tract, cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar levels, and is warming, and nettle is nutritive and wonderful for allergies1,2,3.
- Boil your water. Pour immediately over herbs. Cover with a lid of some sort (I usually use a small plate over my cup).
- So this is where knowing what part of the plant you are using helps, and if it is fresh or dried. Generally, using the root or wooded part of the plant requires more brewing time than the delicate flowers or leaves. Eg. Dried Astragalus root, a great plant for immune support and longevity3, is very hard and fibrous, so to get the maximum benefits, I recommend steeping for at least 30 minutes. Even better, keep simmering it for 30 minutes on the stove (but if you are impatient, or that seems all too hard, go with my first suggestion, you will still get the benefits). Dried Chamomile flowers, used for mild sleep problems, or irritable children1,2, are delicate and light, they can be steeped for about 5 minutes. A general rule of thumb for dried herbs/flowers, is to let steep, covered, for 10-15 minutes. Fresh flowers/leaves can be steeped for 5-10minutes, depending on how fragrant they are (the more fragrant, the more volatile oils, the less time you need to steep). If your brew tastes burnt/bitter, you have overdone it. Use your intuition here. Or trial and error. But have fun with it! I’ve brewed this cup for 15 minutes because of the woody cinnamon and anise. I’ve just broken my own ‘rule of thumb’ by over brewing the fresh lemon, but I like to get as much out of my medicinal teas as possible. Bitterness be damned!
- Remove teabag or bits of herbs/fruit. Drink when it has cooled to your preferred temperature.
So, this is medicinal strength tea, but to get a medicinal dose, you will want to drink at least 3-4 cups per day. Play with this recommendation though, some people are far more sensitive to herb actions than others, so may not need so much medicinal tea. This also depends on if the herb is fresh or dried or powdered, because fresh herbs are the far more potent form. Sometimes you can reuse the herbs from your first cup too, particularly woody or chunky herbs. Just cover and store in the refrigerator. Eg in my cup of tea, I would reuse the cinnamon and star anise, and use a new nettle teabag and a fresh piece of lemon.
Preferably sip your tea if you can-this is the optimal way to take water into the body. If you guzzle it down your blood pressure receptors in your circulatory system register an increase in pressure due to an increase in blood volume, and will trigger the kidneys to get rid of extra fluid. Sipping fluids slowly enables the body to use them.
Some herbal teas are better consumed at certain times of the day. For example, those wanting to get a better night’s sleep, but want to be alert during the day, would be best to drink their sedative herbs in the afternoon and evening. Those wanting a wake up tonic, or tea for concentration (e.g. studying), shouldn’t drink their tea just before they go to bed.
Try to avoid drinking your medicinal tea with medications, supplements or big meals. Firstly, herbs in any form can interact with certain drugs or affect absorption of vitamins/supplements. Talk with your health professional (this may be your Doctor, Pharmacist or Alternative Health Professional like a Naturopath) about your specific circumstances. Secondly, excess fluids, like having a huge glass of water, can dilute stomach enzymes, compromising digestion. Sipping your tea throughout the day won’t affect digestion. If you are the type of person that only drinks your fluids in cupfuls at a time, drink your medicinal tea at least 30 minutes either side of a big meal.
So there you have it. Value adding to that afternoon cuppa.
May you be Inspired to Create Your Life!
PS. Here is a tea supplier in Maine, USA, who gives a nice synopsis of the different ways to steep different kinds of tea and why. While you are on the site, have a snoop around at the different teas they have. It can give you some great ideas for blending your own-or just order on line from them. Enjoy!
1. Grieve, M. (1973) A Modern Herbal, Merchant Book Company Ltd, Surrey.
2. Hoffmann, D. (1990) The New Holistic Herbal, HarperCollins Publishers, London.
3. Lu, H.C (1999) Chinese Natural Cures, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers Inc, New York.