Now’s the time to curl up on the couch with a steaming cup of your favorite herbal tea — or at least to fill your to-go mug with the brew as you dash off to work. Need a little inspiration? Here are the teas our favorite contributors (and staff!) like best, with our good wishes for a healthy, happy holiday season.
Amy Mayfield, whose favorite teas are spearmint and peppermint, is the editor of Herbs for Health.
My all-time favorite tea herb is lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora). Mainly, but not exclusively, for the taste, which is lemony but not sour. It’s the most heavenly lemon scent in nature, with no harsh overtones. It blends well with a wide variety of herbs to enhance the flavor of even foul-tasting medicinal blends. The herb helps reduce stomach irritation (gastritis), aids digestion, reduces allergies from pollen and dust, relieves coughs and mucus, supports liver health and, when sipped regularly, reduces cavities.
—Christopher Hobbs, herbalist and acupuncturist, Davis, California
I can often find some lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) near the ground, on the south side of the barn, even at Christmas in a mild winter. Fresh, it’s one of my favorites. But it loses its aroma quicker than most of the other mints in my garden. Hence, the same lemon balm is about my least favorite as a dried herb. For that reason, I frequently tincture the lemon balm — I think it’s a good sedative nightcap beverage for those long winter nights — and add a shot of tincture to a glass of lemonade (which contains some sedative compounds as well). Besides, like the prescription drug Tacrine, it may slow the ravages of senile dementia.
—James Duke, Ph.D., herbal medicine expert, Fulton, Maryland
My favorite tea herb is lemon verbena because, even when dried, it holds its fabulous lemon flavor — just perfect for brightening up those cold winter days.
—Kris Wetherbee, herb enthusiast and freelance writer. Oakland, Oregon
My favorite tea herb is lemon balm. It has a light, lemony flavor that mixes well with other teas. Lemon balm helps me relax, improves my mood and helps when I’m feeling stressed. This is very important since stress can be at the root of many diseases.
—Cindy Jones, Ph.D., Sagescript Institute, Lakewood, Colorado
Lemon verbena, because it has such a lovely aroma and an earthy, refreshing, just-the-right-amount-of-lemony flavor.
—Sara Katz, co-owner of Herb Pharm, Williams, Oregon
My all-time favorite wintertime tea is ginger (Zingiber officinale) — it really helps keep me warm when I’m sitting for long periods editing.
—Jody Berman, Herbs for Health technical editor, Boulder, Colorado
Trying to decide my favorite tea is like trying to name my favorite song — I feel positively promiscuous in my affection for music and for tea. I drink tea of some description all day, every day — peppermint, wild berry or Brawley’s Clipper Gold tea that a friend orders from Ireland. But the one I return to over and over is ginger. I love putting squeezes of ginger in just about any tea I drink. Tummy-soothing, warming, joint-friendly ginger. With all its health benefits, what’s not to love? I also do what I can to help head off creeping creakiness by drinking turmeric tea quite often — Yogi Tea brand with honey and ginger, of course.
—K.C. Compton, Herbs for Health editor in chief, Lawrence, Kansas
My favorite herbal combination right now is rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and peppermint. I love the flavor of rooibos, and it’s a good antioxidant, energizing but not stimulating like caffeinated drinks.
—Elson Haas, M.D., author (www.elsonhaas.com), San Rafael, California
My favorite herbal tea is ginger. I love the zingy, spicy flavor and the fact that it goes well with so many meals — enhancing digestion, assimilation and circulation. It’s packed with enzymes and numerous nutrients with powerful properties.
—Rachel Albert-Matesz, food and health writer, chef and co-author of The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook (Spring 2004), Phoenix, Arizona
My current favorite tea herb is rooibos. I stopped drinking black tea several months ago because of the caffeine, and have found rooibos is a good substitute. It’s delicious simmered for 10 minutes with fresh gingerroot, a piece of cinnamon stick, a few cloves and a couple of cardamom pods. This makes delicious chai! I add sweetener and milk or soy milk.
—Laurel Vukovic, herbalist and author, Ashland, Oregon
My favorite is tea (Camellia sinensis). I used to drink chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and peppermint (Mentha ¥piperita), and still do. But there’s been so much research on the antioxidant benefits of tea that I switched for my health. Tea contains some caffeine, but compared with coffee, which puts me into orbit, tea has a very modest stimulant effect and doesn’t keep me from sleeping. I wondered why until I read studies showing that, in addition to containing less than half the caffeine of coffee, tea also contains compounds that are tranquilizing. I drink 2 to 4 cups of tea a day, hot in cold weather, iced in summer.
—Michael Castleman, frequent Herbs for Health contributor, San Francisco, California
My favorite tea at the moment is Heart’s Ease Tea. Combine the following dried herbs and store the mixture in a glass jar: 2 parts hawthorn flowers, leaves and berries (Crataegus spp.); 1 part lemon balm; 1 part milky green oat tops (Avena sativa); and 1 part linden blossoms (Tilia ¥europaea). To prepare, pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 teaspoons of the dried herb mix. Cover tightly and let infuse 20 minutes. Strain and drink 3 to 4 cups daily.
This tasty tea is helpful for tension and heartache associated with sadness, emotional stress and/or depression. The herbs included in Heart’s Ease have been traditionally used to support heart health and strengthen the nervous system.
—Rosemary Gladstar, herbalist, author and teacher, East Barre, Vermont
I make a blend that has become a favorite. It’s a wake-up tea without caffeine that I call Great Day Tea. Mix 6 parts organic carob (Ceratonia siliqua) and 3 parts peppermint with 1 part each jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum), ginger and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Store the blend in a glass jar. To make a cup, steep 1 tablespoon of the mixture in 10 ounces boiling water, covered, for 5 to 15 minutes. Strain and enjoy. Drink 1 to 2 cups, as desired.
—Amanda McQuade Crawford, medical herbalist and author of Herbal Remedies for Women (Prima, 1997), Ojai, California
My top favorite is the mix of herbs that create the exotic taste of chai. Each herb in the mixture is distinctive, but together they’re aromatic and comforting. I like my chai with some heavy cream mixed in and whipped cream on top, a sprinkle of cinnamon completing the presentation. Sipped slowly on a comfy couch with a good friend, it’s true bliss in a cup.
—Marci O’Brien, Herbs for Health, art director Timnath, Colorado
My favorite tea herb is orange mint (Mentha aquatica var. citrata), also known as bergamot mint (I’ve also seen it labeled eau de cologne mint). I cut and dry it during the summer for winter tea. I love the fragrance and the flavor — it’s reminiscent of Earl Grey tea, which is flavored with the essential oil of bergamot (Citrus bergamia). This tea, however, does not contain caffeine. It blends well with other herbs, such as the lemon-flavored ones, mint and also green tea.
—Susan Belsinger, culinary herbalist, Brookeville, Maryland
My favorite is probably spearmint (Mentha spicata). It’s a little mellower than peppermint. It’s easy to get peppermint “mints” at restaurants, but spearmint — ah, that’s a smoother, yummier taste, at least for me — with presumably all the carminative benefits of peppermint, although there’s very little research on it.
—Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council, Austin, Texas
Orange mint definitely tops the list of my favorite tea herbs. The first time I tried it, I was hooked. It has just enough of an edge to its flavor that it says, “This is no ordinary cup of tea.” But it’s also not so overwhelming that you can’t have four or five cups on a cold morning. The runner-up is peppermint, which I also could not live without.
—Dawna Edwards, The Herb Companion editor, Denver
My favorite tea is chamomile, both for its pleasant, sweet aroma and taste plus its powerful, yet often overlooked, healing medicine.
—Connie Grauds, pharmacist and Herbs for Health editorial adviser, San Rafael, California
My favorite tea herb (and, potentially, favorite herb of all time) is passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). It extracts wonderfully in water and makes for the perfect mind soother during the day or before bed. I’ve always thought of it as an herbal sweater on a cold day.
—Jennifer Rabin, herbalist and freelance writer, Portland, Oregon
One of my favorite tea herbs is chamomile because it’s so versatile. The growing season is long, and it can be harvested throughout the season. It can be used for everything from colicky and teething babies to insomnia, menstrual cramps, depression and digestive upsets. And even though it’s a bitter herb, it tends to be warming first, so what could be better on a cold winter’s night? The aroma is so lovely, too. Prepared equal parts with peppermint in a strong infusion with a bit of honey and some steamed milk, it makes a wonderful and uplifting tea latte.
—Nancy Brillaut, herbalist, Tucson, Arizona
My favorite all-around tea herb is chamomile — plain and simple bulk chamomile steeped for 10 to 15 minutes (but sometimes I forget to strain it and it steeps longer). I love it with a bit of honey. I guess being a mom all these years, it became a relaxing and nutritive staple for me. It doesn’t promote sleepiness unless one drinks a few cups — one cup just feels cozy and settling; very calming, centering and relaxing. It’s nice combined with the smallest pinch of peppermint for variety. I add the peppermint when I am working and sipping tea — then it has a bit of a refreshing feel.
—Aviva Romm, president of the American Herbalists Guild, Canton, Georgia
My favorite tea herb is fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). The feathery plant with yellow flowers produces seeds with a lovely anise flavor that is great for digestion. Here in Germany they call it kindertee (children’s tea), as it is often drunk by nursing mothers to settle the stomachs of colicky infants.
—Nancy Allison, freelance writer, Waldkirch, Germany
The tea I love to drink most often is nettle (Urtica dioica). It provides a multitude of minerals; benefits the bones, teeth, hair, blood, kidneys and adrenal glands; and has a pleasant rich, green flavor.
—Brigitte Mars, author of Sex, Love & Health (Basic Health, 2002) and Addiction-Free Naturally (Healing Arts, 2001), Boulder, Colorado
My favorite tea herb is gotu kola (Centella asiatica). It’s a mild herb, so it’s quite suited for tea, as the dose is high and the active ingredients are water-soluble. It’s mild tasting, and it heightens awareness and memory. It is such an effective herb. For chronic nerve conditions, it rejuvenates with great results.
—Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, herbalist and author, Seattle
I’m a big believer in watching for what nature is offering. I think the plants that come to you naturally are the ones meant for your health and well-being. So, whatever is growing the best each year is what I make a special point to harvest and save for winter brews. This year it was licorice root, chamomile, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and mullein (Verbascum spp.).
—Randy Kidd, holistic veterinarian, McLouth, Kansas
One of my favorite tea herbs is calendula (Calendula officinalis). It’s often overlooked as a beverage herb, partly because it has such mild flavor, but it’s for that very reason that it’s a good medicinal addition to any tea formula. Calendula is used therapeutically for every body system, from digestive to respiratory, and has a history of use for everything from cancer to cradle cap. It’s best known for its use in skin complaints, from burns and psoriasis to acne and diaper rash, and it makes an excellent addition to the bath. Calendula was one of the original “pot herbs” used in making soup stock; the petals (minus the calyx) can also be added to other recipes such as casseroles or muffins.
—Mindy Green, author of Calendula (Keats, 1998) and other publications, Minneapolis
My favorite herb tea is Good Earth Original. When I was a teen-ager in Boulder, Colorado (in the 1970s), I would sit in the Good Earth Café for hours drinking cup after cup, often around the big communal table where everyone was invited to the conversation. It still feels like a privilege to me every time I lift it to my lips.
—Bryan Welch, Herbs for Health publisher, Lawrence, Kansas
I usually just stick with black tea. However, lately I’ve been drinking Celestial Seasonings’ Echinacea Complete Care wellness tea. It contains vitamin C and zinc, and it has a tasty Eucalyptus Mint flavor.
—Kyle Christensen, Herbs for Health editorial assistant
Every spring, I plant plenty of extra sage (Salvia officinalis). When it flowers in early summer, I dry the leaves on covered screens in the hot Texas shade. Though something of an acquired taste, sage tea is worth getting on good terms with; its volatile oils have astringent and antispasmodic actions that make it ideal for the scratchy throats and upset tummies of winter’s cough and cold season. Mellow its bitter pungency with a generous spoonful of honey or rich maple syrup.
—Kathy Azmeh-Scanlan, pharmacist, Austin, Texas
The light anise and subtle floral tones of sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) round out most herb tea blends and seem to give them a “polish” or finish. Teas that have even a pinch of this underrated herb as part of their mix boast a natural, gentle sweetness. I use sweet cicely in a ratio of about one fifth or sixth of the total ingredients in a tea blend. Sweet cicely leaves dry beautifully and can be rubbed to a fine powder just before popping into the pot. Although it may not be the solo note in the cup, sweet cicely supports and intensifies the orchestrated effect of blended tea herbs.
—Pat Crocker, culinary herbalist, Neustadt, Ontario, Canada