One of the great pleasures of winter is finding a warm spot to enjoy a good book and a cup of tea. I’ve been drinking herbal teas since long before I studied naturopathy. I remember falling in love with the acid tang of dried hibiscus flowers brewed up with generous slices of fresh ginger, in drafty shared houses on cold Wellington days.
While most herbs have a medicinal edge, there are many that are safe to drink regularly as a refreshing alternative to black tea or coffee. Chamomile is calming to both the mind and gut but has a pleasant apple-like taste. Peppermint makes a perfect after dinner drink to help digest heavy food but the zippy essential oils in the leaf can also help get you through the afternoon lull.
Of the common teas available over-the-counter in Australia there are only a few to treat with caution. Licorice root can potentially raise blood pressure in those with hypertension, while drinking the odd cup of tea is usually not a problem it is best to stick to no more than one a day. Though for those with low blood pressure, a sweet tooth or during times of stress, licorice makes a perfect addition to your herbal tea collection. The other plants to be aware of are those containing caffeine. The most prevalent in this group are guarana, yerba mate and green tea (the unfermented form of regular black tea). Caffeine is best avoided at times of stress, if you have difficulty sleeping, with any kidney or liver problems or anxiety.
The quality of the herbs has a huge impact on the flavour of the tea. Tea bags tend to contain the lowest grade of herbs and can often taste dusty and lacklustre. Choose loose leaf, organic dried herbs, adding a heaped teaspoon per cup and brew in a teapot or clean coffee plunger. Allow your tea to sit for a few minutes to let the flavours impart. Roots and spices, like ginger, fennel and cinnamon need steep a little longer.
For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, don’t forget to keep a pitcher of herbal tea in the fridge. I like to add apple juice as a sweetener instead of sugar. Chamomile goes well with this juice – brew up a pot of 4 teaspoons of herb with 4 cups of water. Allow it to sit, covered, until cool. Add 4 cups of organic apple juice and chill. Serve as a cooling and relaxing drink on a hot day.
Gill has a wide range of organic teas in stock, including peppermint, chamomile, hibiscus and a variety of unique blends.