Herbs are mankind's oldest medicine, with herbal teas having a proud and long history of healing. Following are some herbal teas that are as delicious to drink as they are good for your health.
Generally, the rule for herbal tea is much the same as for tea, that is, one teaspoon per cup and one for the pot. If you are using fresh herbs, double this. Pour boiling water on the herbs and steep for at least 3 minutes to release all the therapeutic goodness and flavour. Herbal teas are best when drunk freshly brewed, however they can be kept for up to two days in a covered container in the fridge.
Chamomile Matricaria recutita The very tea that Peter Rabbit’s mother gave him for a bellyache. Good for bunnies, good for us. In Europe, chamomile tea is commonly sipped as a digestive aid after meals. It soothes the stomach and can be helpful for diarrhoea, nausea, reflux and abdominal cramps, including period pain. A gentle sedative, chamomile is as soothing to the mind as it is to the tummy. Children may benefit from its calming qualities. Chamomile was recommended in the 17th Century to ‘comforte the braine’. If you are an anxious type, try swapping coffee for chamomile tea.
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale The leaf of the dandelion makes a very good diuretic (increasing urine flow) and delicious salad herb. Another of the detoxifying group of herbs, dandelion root has been used for centuries to aid the liver and its many functions. Dandelion root is helpful for any liver complaint, sluggish bowels or skin problems. Many people enjoy a cup of dandelion root tea as a substitute for coffee, perhaps because it has a black colour and tastes bitter, but it doesn’t have the kick or the caffeine of coffee.
Echinacea Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea A herbal dispensary without echinacea is like a pub with no beer. The herb with the name that nobody can pronounce (for the record, it’s ‘ek-in-ay-sha’), echinacea is native to the prairies of America and was used by the Sioux, Comanche and Cheyenne for snake bites, sore throats and wounds. Echinacea is able to boost the body’s immune system thus allowing our body to fight acute infection as well as boosting immune response, something antibiotics are unable to do. Echinacea is effective against both bacterial and viral infections, whereas antibiotics are specific only to bacteria.
Ginger Zingiber officinale Ginger is one of those wonderful plants that doubles beautifully as medicine and food. In China, ginger is known medically as ‘king of the stomach’. It is a tummy tonic par excellence, reducing nausea and bloating and aiding digestion. Recent studies have shown that, in addition to its tummy powers, ginger helps lower cortisol in the body, reducing stress and anxiety. And if you are a cold fish, ginger is a terrific circulation tonic.
Licorice Glycyrrhiza glabra If you get your hands on a bit of licorice root, give it a suck. Its incredibly sweet taste is due to glycyrrhizin, a natural constituent which is 150 times as sweet as sugar and actually helps stabilise blood sugar levels. It’s a great shame, but most confectionery licorice contains little of this precious herb. Licorice not only tastes good, it helps so many conditions, including asthma, bronchitis, sore throat, ulcers and inflammatory bowel conditions, and is a wonderful adrenal tonic, helping us cope with stress. Large doses of licorice can lead to a depletion of potassium, and an increase in blood pressure. This is unlikely to occur by drinking two or three cups of licorice tea daily, but check with your practitioner.
Peppermint Menthat'spiperita Part of the mint family, peppermint was used widely by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Peppermint has a great taste and is a major player in the confectionery world. Peppermint tea is excellent for wind pains (colic) and flatulence, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, nausea, indigestion and reflux. It’s also good for snuffly colds, as the menthol released in hot peppermint tea helps clear the sinuses. As it is the peppermint oil that is most potent, it’s best to use fresh peppermint leaves, or buy the freshest dried herb you can. Peppermint is a ‘refrigerant’ which means it can cool you down. Sipping cool peppermint tea helps relieve the hot flashes of menopause. Spearmint (Menthat'sspicata) has similar therapeutic properties to its peppy cousin, peppermint.
Remember to make herbal teas part of your daily routine. You can find them as old fashioned loose leaf, or if your prefer tea on-the-go, in teabag form. Naturally free from caffeine and sugar, herbal teas not only add to your fluid intake, but chosen wisely are an excellent addition to your health regime together with a good diet, exercise and a positive state of mind. Enjoy!