Herbal Teas: a better beverage with no caffeine, sugar, or alcohol
Herbal teas are staples in my pantry for afternoon pick-me ups, a tasty treat when I'm not really hungry, and for adding nutrients or anti-inflammatory properties to my diet (especially when it's been less than perfect). After talking about my favorite store-bought snacks a few weeks ago, I thought I'd follow up with a detailed list of the herbal teas I love so you can experiment with adding them to your pantry as well.
A Word of Caution: Herbal Teas can be Medicinal
I can't write this post without a brief disclaimer: What's written here is for informational purposes only (not intended to treat or diagnose any medical condition). However, herbs are powerful plants and even consumed as a food (not a medicine) they can have medicinal qualities like relaxing your muscles or thinning your blood. While that might be a good thing in your particular situation, it might also be a bad thing (particularly for pregnant women or those with health conditions or on medication), so please consult with a medical professional before consuming. Also keep in mind that you could have allergies to certain plants (especially if you have other plant and pollen allergies) so exercise caution.
Favorite Varieties of Herbal Teas
Since I mostly don't take herbs as medicine (without consulting a professional) and instead treat them as part of my diet, I like to mix up the teas I consume to not get too much of an active ingredient in my diet.
Here are a few of my favorite teas--the ones you'll always find in my pantry.
- Ginger tea: a spicy pick-me up that's good for digestion (it's a carminative so it reduces gas) and anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting. I have this any time of day, but especially when I have a cold or am feeling run down.
- Turmeric tea: I'll DIY this with fresh turmeric or buy tea bags that are often mixed with ginger, cardamom or other Indian spices. Turmeric is known for it's anti-inflammatory properties, so after getting a sports injury this spring, I've been loading up on this herb.
- Nettle tea: I buy dried nettles from Oriana's Oriental Orchard at the Logan Square Farmer's Market and brew them into a dark tea. Nettles are believed to be good for seasonal allergies and anemia.
- Hibiscus Tea or Jamaica: I've shared my Cold-Brew Hibiscus Iced Tea and it's my favorite way to have this tangy, ruby-red flower. Hibiscus is high in Vitamin C and Iron.
- Rooibos tea: A South African bush, rooibos has a naturally sweet, almost tobacco-y quality. It makes it a perfect "dessert" tea, especially when combined with natural sweet flavors like vanilla or chai spices. I have a peach rooibus that makes a delicious unsweetened iced tea in the summer too.
- Ginseng tea: This Korean herb nicknamed "the king of herbs" is thought to help with concentration, immunity and lowering blood sugar levels.
- Ashwaganda tea: An Ayurvedic herb, Ashwaganda is gaining popularity as an adaptogenic herb that can reduce anxiety. I've bought the dried herb twigs whole and prepare my own tea from them (not super flavorful compared to these other options).
- Mint tea: Often a mix of peppermint and spearmint, mint is both refreshing and relaxing and good for relaxing the smooth muscle of the digestive tract.
How to Prepare Herbal Teas
I learned last year at an Herbalism workshop at Angelic Organics Learning Center that herbal teas are prepared in one of two ways: an herbal infusion or an herbal decoction. An herbal infusion is when you pour hot or boiling water over herbs and let them steep to gently extract the flavor and medicinal properties. A decoction is when you boil the herbs and water together for a 5-30 minutes (or more) for extraction. A decoction is useful for woody, stemmy or whole dried herbs whereas an infusion is more appropriate for tea bags and delicate, breakable herbs.
Favorite Brands and Where to Buy
As you can see in the photo above, I do a mixture of ready-to-go tea bags (great for carrying in my purse) and whole herbs that I prepare myself. Specialty tea producers that I like are Rare Tea Cellar in Chicago and Mountain Rose Herbs particularly if you are looking to buy in bulk. My favorite widely available, store-brands are Numi Organic Tea, Rishi, and Traditional Medicinals and I typically pick them up at Whole Foods or at the Dill Pickle Food Co-op in Logan Square. If you ever have the opportunity to pick up dried herbs or herbal teas at the farmer's market, go for it! You'll likely get the most local and high quality product available there.
What are your favorite herbal teas and brands? Let me know in the comments below!
Interested in learning more about herbal teas? Check out one of my Global Healing Kitchens cooking classes where we learn a regional, traditional herbal tea preparation in each class.