Tea Time

Evocative, flavorful and a delight to the senses, herbal teas add to the richness of life.


| November/December 2007



tea pot


iStockPhoto.com/Tyler Stalman

One winter, a friend gave me a luscious blend of herbal tea she harvested in Alaska’s Chilkat Valley. As I opened the small bag, the amazing fragrance and colors of rosehips, berries and spruce tips carried me away to a rich Alaskan summer’s day. Sipping the tea, I thought of my friend searching the Alaskan valley for these marvelous herbs, and I appreciated being able to share a taste of her experience.

Experiences are what herbal teas are all about. They evoke thoughts of places and times, while soothing or invigorating us along the way. Herbal teas also can nourish, detoxify, cleanse, calm and strengthen our weary bodies.

Herbal teas, or tisanes, are made from plants other than the well-known tea plant (Camellia sinensis), from which green, black and oolong teas are made. Leaves, flowers, buds, fruits, seeds, shoot tips, barks or roots might be used, depending on the plant. The teas receive minimal processing—other than washing, chopping, drying and sometimes brief roasting—prior to brewing.

Tea Techniques  

Infusion and decoction are the two main brewing techniques for tea. With infusions, herbs are steeped in hot (boiled) water. Infusions are suitable for delicate plant parts, such as leaves, flowers and succulent shoot tips. Tougher elements like woody bark, stems, seeds, hard berries and roots usually are prepared by decoction, which involves simmering the herbs for about 10 minutes or longer. For either method, 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herbs (or 1 tablespoon fresh) can be used per cup of water. To avoid any unpleasant tastes, use nonreactive pots and crockery, such as ceramic, glass, porcelain or stainless steel.

Hibiscus: Fight High Blood Pressure with a Nourishing, Brightly Colored Tea  

We’ve long admired hibiscus flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa) for their exotic beauty. A tart and tasty brew comes from the seedpods of the tropical variety known as ‘roselle’. After the petals have fallen, the seedpod develops within a fleshy red calyx from the flower’s base. These red pods are rich in vitamin C, calcium, niacin, riboflavin and iron, and also in certain anthocyanins whose antioxidant strength rivals that of quercetin and vitamin E. Hibiscus extracts have long been used to lower blood pressure in individuals with mild hypertension. Hibiscus relaxes the walls of blood vessels and acts as a diuretic, but unlike most diuretic drugs, it does not deplete the body of potassium.

Hibiscus tea is good either hot or cold. In the Middle East, this brew was a favorite of the Egyptian pharaohs, and today it is a preferred beverage at weddings. In the Caribbean, a cold Christmas drink called sorrel is made by boiling hibiscus seedpods and then adding sweetener.





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