Explore these twenty four commonly used herbs for tea blends and the health benefits of these plants.
Sipping a cup of herbal tea is time well spent for reflection, pleasure, and enjoying the health benefits of plants that have long served humanity. As we inhale the steamy aromas when a teacup touches our lips, we have the opportunity to take in the plant virtues that have been transmuted from the earth and the sun. The following is a list explaining the qualities of many of the herbs commonly used in herbal tea blends.
Alfalfa leaf (Medicago sativa) is an excellent source of chlorophyll, vitamin C, and minerals; the herb has a neutral flavor and helps improve anemia and digestion.
Anise seed (Pimpinella anisum). Anise is a member of the parsley family and has a pleasant, licorice-like flavor. Anise improves digestion, freshens the breath, calms flatulence and nausea, and helps coughs due to its expectorant properties.
Blackberry leaf (Rubus fruticosus) has a flavor similar to black tea and is a source of blood-building iron. Blackberry leaf has astringent properties and has been used to treat diarrhea. Its refrigerant properties make it cooling to a fever.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a member of the mint family. Though we’re more familiar with the herb’s effect on cats, for humans catnip is a pungent, mild sedative that can help calm restlessness, aid sleep, and soothe an upset stomach.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) has slightly bitter, apple-scented blossoms that help relieve stomach distress and headache. Chamomile is regarded as an excellent calming and anti-inflammatory agent.
Chicory root (Cichorium spp.), when roasted, provides a delicious coffeelike flavor—without the caffeine! Chicory is mildly cleansing to the liver and colon.
Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum) improves the flavor of any herb it’s combined with, because it’s naturally sweet. Cinnamon improves circulation and provides a feeling of warmth.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Raw dandelion root improves liver function. When the roots are roasted, they have a rich, earthy, coffeelike flavor. The leaves are rich in iron and are an effective potassium-rich diuretic.
Elder flowers (Sambucus canadensis) have a mildly bitter flavor and increase perspiration by gently dilating the pores. Elder flowers are also excellent for the prevention and treatment of colds and flu.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), another parsley family member, is naturally sweet. Fennel helps stabilize blood-sugar levels, thus curbing appetite. The herb relaxes the smooth muscles of the digestive tract, which improves a wide range of digestive disturbances, including flatulence and indigestion.
Gingerroot (Zingiber officinale) is a pungent herb that’s a supreme digestive aid. Ginger relieves nausea, improves circulation, warms the body, and has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Hibiscus flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa) have a tart flavor and are rich in vitamin C. Hibiscus has a cooling effect, which makes it an excellent choice in herbal iced teas. It provides a beautiful rose color to a tea blend.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), according to German studies, acts on the portion of the brain governing the autonomic nervous system and helps protect the brain from excessive external stimuli, thus having a calming, anti-anxiety effect. Lemon balm not only tastes pleasant but has antiviral properties, making it suitable for colds and flu. It is considered an excellent herb for children as well as adults.
Lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora) is a favorite garden plant. The aboveground portion, with its lemony bouquet, has antiseptic properties and has been used throughout history for digestive disorders, colds, and flu.
Mullein Leaves (Verbascum spp.) are added to tea blends for their ability to relieve congestion, thus helping coughs, hay fever, and sinusitis. Mullein has a bittersweet taste, reduces inflammation, and soothes irritated mucus membranes.
Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) is extremely rich in nutrients, including iron and beta-carotene. Nettles improve kidney and adrenal function, benefit allergies, and have a salty flavor. Though you may have gotten stung by stinging nettle, drying or heating the plant deactivates the sting. Oatstraw (Avena sativa), the young stem of the oat plant, has a pleasant, sweet flavor. Oatstraw is highly nutritive—it’s especially high in calcium—and supports the nervous system, helping to relieve depression, insomnia, and stress.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) has a spicy, cooling flavor. Long regarded as a remedy for stomachaches due to its ability to reduce hypercontractability of the intestinal muscles, it helps relieve nausea and flatulence. Peppermint has antiseptic and diaphoretic properties, making it a great choice for colds, flu, and fevers.
Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) is rich in nutrients, especially calcium, magnesium, and iron. It has long been regarded as an excellent tonic for women during menstruation and pregnancy. However, raspberry is also nourishing for men and has a pleasant, black tea-like flavor.
Red clover blossoms (Trifolium pratense) are considered helpful for aiding all of the organs of elimination, benefiting the kidneys, cleaning the blood, expelling phlegm from the lungs, and improving health in general. Its flavor is mildly sweet and salty.
Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) tastes much like black tea but contains no caffeine and is low in tannins. Rooibos, a traditional South African beverage, is a rich, reddish brew that is high in vitamin C, minerals, and antioxidants.
Rose hips (Rosa spp.) have a pleasant, tart flavor, contain vitamin C, and have mild antiseptic properties to help ward off colds and flu.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) has a milder, less medicinal flavor than peppermint but still aids digestion and headaches and has mild antiseptic properties. It also makes a delicious iced tea.
Yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis) is a member of the holly family. The herb’s astringent leaves are enjoyed for their mildly stimulating, nutrient-rich (vitamins C and B, calcium, and iron) and digestive-enhancing properties. Yerba maté contains the constituent mateine, which is similar to caffeine but less likely to interfere with sleep, cause anxiety, or be addictive.
Whether buying herbs in bulk from the health-food store or using dried ones from your garden, store herbs in glass jars or non-plastic airtight containers and label the containers with their contents. Storing herbs in light and heat will quickly deteriorate their quality. Keep teas in a cupboard, where they can be protected from light and heat, to better preserve their flavors and therapeutic properties. Nature will provide more herbs next year, so it is best to purchase no more than you are likely to use within the year.
When making tea, always use fresh, cold water. Avoid aluminum cookware—aluminum is a very soft metal and tends to come out in the brew. The best choices are glass, cast iron, stainless steel, or unchipped enamel. Bring water to a boil, remove from the heat, and add about 1 heaping teaspoon of herb tea per cup of water, or simply add 1 tea bag. If using a teapot, fill it with boiling water first and allow it to stand for 3 minutes to warm the pot. Drain the water before adding the herbs and hot water. If you are using fresh as opposed to dried herbs, triple the amount—fresh herbs contain high levels of water and are less potent than dried. Allow the herbs to steep, covered, for about 10 minutes. Remove tea bags or strain after the tea has steeped to prevent bitterness. Honey or lemon may be added for flavoring.
Nature provides a wealth of flavors, nutrients, and healing properties when we enjoy herbal teas. There are many to sip and savor!
Brigitte Mars, A.H.G., an herbalist and nutritional consultant from Boulder, Colorado, has been working with natural medicine for thirty years. She teaches herbal medicine through the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies. Brigitte is the formulator for allGoode Organics and the author of Addiction Free Naturally (Healing Arts, 2001), Herbs for Healthy Hair, Skin, and Nails (NTC, 1998), Natural First Aid (Storey, 1999), and Dandelion Medicine (Storey, 1999); www.brigittemars.com.
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