The ritual of making tea – selecting just the right tea to quench and satisfy the thirst, choosing the right pot and cup, boiling the water, brewing the leaves, savouring the aroma, and finally sipping the infusion – does something that little else in life does these days. It provides a brief pause in time to calm or stimulate; a moment to stop, relax, and think of the next step; a pause during which we can simply ‘be’ and not ‘do’. When you’re boiling the water, just boil the water.
Ordinary tea has a stimulatory and antioxidant effect, and is usually drunk with milk and sometimes sugar. However, it contains caffeine, and caffeine can cause insomnia and deepen depression.
When you drink a cup of herbal tea and enjoy its range of delicate and delicious flavours, you are actually consuming a herbal infusion, also known as a tisane. Herbal infusions look like tea and are brewed in boiling water like tea, but are made from a mixture of dried leaves, seeds, grasses, nuts, bark, fruits, flowers or other botanicals that give them their taste and contribute to an array of folk – and research- based health benefits. It goes without saying that one should not pick herbs exposed to roadside pollution or pesticides. Once the water has boiled, add one tablespoon of herbs for every cup of water. Cover and let the herbs steep for five minutes. Do not over-steep the herbs as the flavour may become too strong and taste medicinal rather than pleasant. Notice the steam wafting up. Savour the aromas rising out of the cup. Breathe easy. Remove the infusion and just sit with the tea for two minutes. Let it cool slightly and notice the colour of the brew. Enjoy the aroma in the air.
Feel the ceramic in your hand. If you want to enhance the flavour of your tea, honey or fresh lemon are good choices.
When consumed on a daily basis, herbal teas induce a calmer and more relaxed state of mind, support health by supplying minerals and vitamins, and help with stomach and digestive problems. They have cleansing properties and promote energy and wellness.
Below are some of the herbs and botanicals found in tisanes. Once I started listing herbal teas, my enthusiasm grew for the myriad wonderful plants we have been blessed with. Only the constraints of editorial space have kept this list so brief!
SOME HERBAL TEAS
- Borage tea is used to alleviate mild depression and fatigue. It relieves stress and imparts courage and confidence.
- Burdock tea has long been known for its power to regulate blood sugar. Holistic health practitioners frequently advise patients with liver problems to drink burdock tea regularly, to support the liver in cleaning the blood.
- Chamomile is known for its sedative attributes, and research also points to a host of anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. It can be used safely for small children and tense individuals. It’s a special favourite as a relaxant just before bedtime.
- Cinnamon has a calming effect, and is used to support healthy circulation and digestion and to balance blood sugar levels. It helps deal with anxiety and nervous conditions as well. Some even claim that it can relieve symptoms of the common cold.
- Damiana has been recommended as an aid to those who suffer from depression. It is also a diuretic and a stimulant. Damania tea and teas derived from dandelion flowers work well as expectorants, and improve liver function.
- Dandelion aids digestion and gives the liver a boost. The leaf is a diuretic rich in potassium, as is evident from its French name, ‘pissenlit.’
- Fennel teas are well known for helping with stomach cramps. But what many people don’t know is that fennel also helps with putting on weight, and is often prescribed to cancer patients by their doctors. Fennel tea stimulates the appetite.
- Feverfew is a useful tea for bilious headaches, and to take when a cold is starting.
- Ginger makes a wonderful herbal tea when the fresh rhizome is sliced into boiling water. It reduces nausea and cramping tummy aches, including menstrual cramps. Together with dill, fennel or anise, it forms a component of ‘gripe water’. Drink it in a hot toddy together with elderflowers, yarrow and mint at the first signs of a cold. It is also beneficial for people with allergies, increasing the blood flow and clearing minor blockages. Many allergy doctors recommend ginger tea to their patients for use every day.
- Ginseng stimulates vitality via the adrenal glands and helps the body stay healthy.
- Green tea has a multitude of health benefits. In 2012 an American study looked at giving a green tea extract called polyphenon-E to 42 patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. The people in the trial were not taking any other kind of treatment. The researchers found that a third of the patients had a reduction in the number of leukaemic cells and that their lymph nodes shrank. This was a small trial, but the results are promising. The substance in green tea that researchers think is most helpful is called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). EGCG is available as green tea extract, which can be taken as a supplement in liquid or capsules. Drinking green tea has also been found to lower total cholesterol levels, as well as improving the ratio of good (high-density lipoprotein, HDL) cholesterol to bad (low-density lipoprotein, LDL) cholesterol.
Why don’t other Chinese teas have similar health-giving properties? Green, oolong and black teas all come from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. What sets green tea apart is the way it is processed. Green tea leaves are steamed, which prevents the EGCG from being oxidised. In contrast, the leaves for black and oolong teas are fermented, which converts the EGCG into other compounds that are not nearly as effective in preventing diseases. New evidence is emerging that green tea can even help dieters. Researchers found that men who were given a combination of caffeine and green tea extract burned more calories than those given only caffeine or a placebo. Don’t drink green tea at night, as it contains caffeine, although only 20 mg per 250 ml.
- Hawthorn has been used to strengthen the heart and increase blood flow to the extremities, warming up cold feet and hands. It is also known to help with complications of the liver and is famous for being fast-acting.
- Lemon balm, also known as melissa, was said by Culpeper in the 17th century to renew youth, strengthen the brain and prevent baldness! It has a pleasant taste. Known for its abilities in dealing with many types of stomach problems, it also helps to lift the mood if you drink it regularly.
- Lemongrass is frequently used in teas for its calming properties. It smells and tastes wonderful and induces restful sleep. See our article on lemongrass on page 62 of our October issue.
- Parsley has a diuretic effect and is thought to help reduce uric acid levels.
- Peppermint tea is thought to have even more effective stress-relieving attributes than chamomile tea, and to help with stomach and digestive issues. It also helps to freshen the breath. All the mints are carminative, i.e. they reduce gas and rumbling of the gut. Pennyroyal, which belongs to the mint family, should not be used in excess as it can bring on menstruation.
- Rooibos tea contains no caffeine and is low in tannin, so it can be enjoyed all day long without any unpleasant side-effects. This also makes it a great tea for pregnant women and nursing mothers. Its many positive effects include easing irritability, headaches, nervous tension and insomnia. It also acts as an antispasmodic, relieving stomach cramps and colic in infants, and it can be used to treat hay fever, asthma and eczema, and to boost the immune system. Rooibos tea contains no oxalic acid, so people who are prone to kidney stones can consume it safely. There are so many minerals in the tea that it can almost be considered a nutritional supplement! These include copper, iron, potassium, calcium, fluoride, zinc, manganese, alpha-hydroxy acids (great for the skin) and magnesium.
- Rosehips are often combined with hibiscus leaves, making a red-coloured tea rich in vitamin C and antioxidants Rosemary herbal tea energises and elevates the mood, sending blood to the brain, aiding memory and healing liverish headaches. Use it sparingly if you suffer from very high blood pressure. It improves circulation while easing joint pains and headaches. It also contains antiseptic properties, so it can be used as a mouthwash to alleviate ulcers and used to gargle with, to relieve sore throats.
- Sage tea is strong and not very pleasant tasting, but can be very effective in reducing heavy night sweats. It contains oestrogenic steroidal compounds.
- Sarsaparilla is said to promote energy and healthy skin.
- Slippery elm helps relieve stomach cramps and other gastro-intestinal problems.
A vast array of herbal tea choices is available from teahouses and retailers.
In addition to their health benefits, you will find that tisanes are a taste treat and a pleasure to drink.
If you are thinking of beginning a regular tea regimen for medicinal purposes, make sure you familiarise yourself with the composition of your herbal tea mixture. While most herbal remedies are safe, always check with your health practitioner to en- sure that the herbs you are intending to use complement any prescription medications you are taking, and are appropriate for your medical situation.
You may discover that taking time to enjoy the tea ritual enriches all the others in your day. That’s not because the activities have changed. But you have.