Healing and Delicious Herbal Teas to Blend at Home
Herbal teas are not only delicious! Many also provide beneficial nutrients, and even a small collection can double as a home medicine chest for common ailments, especially headaches, tummy aches, nervousness, insomnia, and menstrual cramps.
Many of the herbs and spices that most people keep in the kitchen can be used to soothe common ailments, and with the addition of a few commonly available medicinal herbs, you will have a valuable domestic pharmacopoeia that will not only cover most minor complaints, but will also make delicious herbal teas for drinking just because they taste so good.
Personally, I think it’s best to buy herb in bulk and blend your own teas. Commercial herbal teas and tea blends contain only a very small amount of the herbal article you are paying for. When herbs are purchased in bulk from your health food store or herb dealer, you get far more for your money.
If you study the directions in old herbals about how to prepare an herbal infusion (tea), they usually specify making it pretty strong—using much more than you find in a typical commercial teabag. Directions typically suggest using about one ounce of the dried herb with about one quart of water. This is a good deal stronger than I prefer to make my herbal teas, but I use far more dried herbs per cup of tea than tiny amounts found in teabags. For example, I typically use at least two tablespoons of chamomile per cup of tea, or one tablespoon per cup of finely cut dried mint. Using a larger amount of herbs to make tea can be important if you are using the tea to settle an upset stomach or soothe a headache. If you purchase herbs in bulk, there’s no need to skimp.
It’s nice to store your herbs in labeled glass jars with air-tight lids. Herbs that fade if exposed to sunlight can be stored in amber-glass jars, or simply kept in a dark cupboard. (I’ve found that lavender buds and parsley seem especially prone to fading when exposed to sunlight.)
Collecting pretty airtight containers for you herbs is a fun project. Thrift stores and junk stores often have attractive and unusual containers.
Herbal teas are best sweetened with honey, which adds its own fragrance as well as adding complexity to the flavor of the herbs themselves.
Chamomile and Lavender Buds—Sleep-Inducing, Relaxing Tea:
This is a lovely tea for those nights when you can’t sleep. To be really effective, you want to make it good and strong: Use about two tablespoons of chamomile flowers per cup, and add about one teaspoon of lavender buds, for their pleasant fragrance. Chamomile promotes relaxation and sleep, and lavender is used in aromatherapy to relieve anxiety and insomnia, and even postoperative pain.
There is some scientific evidence that aromatherapy with lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, improve sleep quality, promote relaxation, and lift mood in people suffering from sleep disorders. Lavender aromatherapy has also been used to treat headaches, nervous disorders, and exhaustion.
Chamomile is soothing to the stomach and promotes sleep. It is also thought to calm muscle cramps, and may help menstrual cramps.
A little orange peel, if you have some on hand, fresh or dried, is another nice addition to this tea.
Hawthorn Berries and Hibiscus Flowers—Heart and Blood Pressure Tonic Tea:
Hawthorn berries are known value as a tonic to the heart and circulatory system. It is consdiered a safe and effective treatment for the early stages of heart disease, and is used to treat angina, myocarditis, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and cardiac arrhythmia.
Even though hawthorn has useful medicinal properties, it is believed that these result from the berries’ nutrients and antioxidants, and so teas and supplements are also beneficial to people without heart problems. Many people with no known heart problems feel that hawthorn berries improve their energy levels and sense of well-being.
Hawthorn berries are essentially a food item. They are eaten as a snack in many countries.
I’ve suggested preparing hawthorn berry tea in combination with hibiscus flowers mainly to improve the flavor. Hawthorn berry tea by itself is a pale pinkish color and has very little flavor. Hibiscus flowers give this tea a zesty citrusy tang and add a brilliant red color.
Hibiscus flowers, while generally considered valuable for making an herbal tea with a delicious flavor, have also been shown to help lower blood pressure. According to Mother Earth News (http://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/lower-blood-pressure-naturally-zmgz11zrog.aspx), “Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) has been used to treat high blood pressure in both African and Asian traditional medicine. In 1996, researchers in Nigeria confirmed this age-old wisdom by showing that hibiscus flowers reduced blood pressure in laboratory animals. Soon after, researchers in Iran showed the same benefit in people.”
Yet, as the same article adds, “Hibiscus tea is widely consumed around the world as a ruby-colored, lemony beverage (it’s the main ingredient in Red Zinger tea).” Like hawthorn berries, hibiscus flowers contain high levels of antioxidants.
According to Wikipedia, “Preliminary study has shown that drinking hibiscus tea may lower blood pressure in people with type 2 diabetes, prehypertension, or mild hypertension…. Hibiscus flowers contain anthocyanins, which are believed to be active antihypertensive compounds, acting as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.”
To make hawthorn berry and hibiscus-flower tea as a combination, add ½ to ¾ cups hawthorn berries to about a quart of water in a saucepan. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Then remove the pan from heat and add about ½ cup of hibiscus flowers. Cover and let steep for 5-10 minutes and strain. It’s now ready to drink, and is delicious hot with a little honey for sweetening. But the reason for making a whole quart is so that you can refrigerate the tea and drink it any time.
If this process seems like too much trouble, hibiscus flowers alone can be brewed like any other tea: Just put a handful in a teapot and add boiling water. Let steep for 5-10 minutes and drink.
While the Hibiscus sabdariffa is an annual flower that can be grown in the home garden, but it requires a long, hot growing season to have time to flower. Seeds are often available from Bountiful Gardens (http://www.bountifulgardens.org/).
Rosemary, Lemon Balm, and Lavender—Migraine and Headache Tea:
Rosemary is one of the herbs most commonly suggested for headache relief. It is said to relieve migraines by encouraging the healthy flow of blood to the brain, and is a general restorative. Maude Grieve, in A Modern Herbal, says that, “The young tops, leaves, and flowers can be made into an infusion, called Rosemary Tea, is a good remedy for removing headache and nervous diseases.”
Lemon balm is another excellent remedies for headaches, a perhaps especially migraines and headaches that involve nausea. It is alaso used to relieve anxiety, depression, and irritability. Maude Grieve tells us that, “It was formerly esteemed of great use in all complaints supposed to proceed from a disordered state of the nervous system.” According to John Evelyn, it “driveth away melancholy and sadness.”
Lemon balm has a delightful lemony taste, too. While the herb is commonly found in the bulk herbs section of health food stores, it is especially nice when used fresh. It is one of the easiest herbs to grown in the home garden and, since it is a little aggressive, you will likely always have plenty of it.
Lemon balm is my granddaughter’s favorite herbal tea. She always asks me to make her some using the fresh plant, when she visits in summer.
The only caveat to using lemon balm is that it interferes with hypothyroid medications—it is actually an herbal medicine for hyperthyroidism.
Lavender has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Grieve tells us that, “A tea brewed from lavender tops, made in moderate strength, is excellent to relieve headache from fatigue or exhaustion.” Ladies of the past, when in danger of being prostrated by some form of unpleasantness, used to cry (in novels, at least), “Where are my lavender drops?”
To make a tea for headache, use about one tablespoon each of dried rosemary and lemon balm (or about twice as much if you are using fresh plants), and one or two teaspoons of dried lavender buds, per cup of tea.
Other outstanding headache remedies, for those who would like to seek out more unusual herbs, are wood betony, which is traditionally used to relieve pain and as a tonic nervine, especially for headache and stress, and meadowsweet, which contains aspirin-likie substances that relive pain, but it works without stomach upset. It it anti-inflammatory and de-acidifies the stomach and the whole system. These can also be included the above headache tea—about a tablespoon of each, though you would probably need to increase the amount of water to two cups for this volume of herbs.
Red Clover Flowers and Cardamom—Bood-Cleansing and Relaxing Tea:
Red clover tea is best made from the fresh flowers, which can be collected from fields, roadsides, and vacant lots from spring to about midsummer. While dried red clover flowers are available from herb dealers and health food stores, some of the fragrance has usually been lost.
Red clover flowers are believed to cleanse the body of toxins, and they have been included in some herbal teas for cancer. Drinking red clover tea daily over a period of several months can rid the body of warts (some claim even venereal warts) and cysts. The tea is also soothing and calming to the nerves, and works as a mild sedative.
To make a tea from the fresh flowers, gather enough of the flowers to stuff your teapot full! If you are using dried red clover flowers, use them generously—perhaps filling the teapot about half full of flowers before adding spices and boiling water.
Red clover has a honey-like fragrance, but the tea frankly doesn’t have much flavor, and I think this tea is best enhanced with spices. My own favorite way to prepare it is to add about a teaspoon of ground cardamom to the teapot stuffed with fresh flowers. Other spices, or your favorite combination of spices would also work: cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg, anise, and/or star anise would be pleasant additions as well.
Chamomile also combines well with red clover flowers, or hibiscus flowers could be added to give the tea a lemony tang and a red color.
To use red clover tea to detox the body, it’s good to make up large batches and store in the refrigerator for a summer beverage.
Linden Flower (Tilia Europa—also called Lime Flower)--to Soothe Nervousness and Anxiety, and Settle the Stomach
Linden flowers are a traditional herbal medicine that is less commonly available from health food stores or herb dealers—although, as with even the most exotic and unusual herbs, you can find them online. But you are actually most likely to find dried linden flowers at Hispanic grocery stores, which oten have a small section of healing herbs.
Linden flowers are known for their delicious honey scent—to stand under a linden tree in full bloom is an intoxicating experience—and they are used as a non-narcotic sedative for anxiety and sleep disorders. Linden flower tea is an especially popular remedy throughout Latin America. It is also used as a digestive tonic, for migraine headaches, and to treat high blood pressure.
Linden flower tea has always had a bit of a romantic appeal to me. In Remembrance of Things Past, Proust tells of how his aunt Leonie breakfasted on lime-flower tea and petite madeleines.
He recounts its effects: “One day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea…. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses…. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me.”
Okay, it’s not that good. Proust was perhaps a little overly impressionable in some ways. But maybe Proust’s experience may show how well these herbal teas may not only soothe away some of life’s minor ailments, but also help heal through thoughtful and attentive care.
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