Warming Herbal Teas for Winter
by Vanessa Tortolano, Wellness Staff
As the outside temperature drops, it is time to turn up the heat within our bodies. In Traditional Chinese Medicine certain herbs and spices are considered warming. For many centuries humans have used hot water to extract properties from plants and herbs for various reasons. Teas are a very easy and useful way to warm the body up quickly and a great way to learn about herbs. Teas can be made from a single herb or a mixture. I prefer to do my own mixes using the bulk herbs and teas found here at the Co-op.
The good and the bad of tea bags
The easiest way to prepare an herbal tea is to use a tea bag. There are, however, pros and cons to tea bags. On the positive side, herbs do not need to be measured out and herbs in tea bags are more finely ground than in loose teas so they release more water-soluble healing constituents. On the flipside, not all healing ingredients in herbs are water-soluble. Some herbs are in the essential oil form, which are released when the herb is crushed or ground. So a great herb that has to be crushed and ground to go into a tea bag leaves most of its healing properties at the factory where the tea was manufactured.
To make teas from loose herbs always use a non-metallic container for brewing. You may use metal for boiling the water (stainless or glass is best) before pouring into the container to brew. Do not use a metallic tea ball for medicinal herbs. Metals, especially iron and aluminum, are prone to leaching, which can cause unknown chemical reactions. We carry straw tea baskets, disposable single use bags, as well as a hemp and cotton re-usable tea bags. And, if you want to get really fancy, we have special ceramic tea mugs in the housewares section that have a strainer, mug and lid. You will also find teakettles, brewing baskets, and my favorite, the French press.
Making the tea
Now, depending on the herb, you either want to boil the herb in the water or pour the boiling water over the herb and steep. All mints, leafy herbs and flowers do better when you pour hot water over them, cover them and allow them to steep. After you boil the water, allow it to cool about five minutes before pouring over the herbs. This is so the volatile oils will release without burning or overheating. Roots such as ginseng and ginger need to be boiled in the water. Bring the water to a boil, add the root and reduce the heat and simmer for a half an hour (in some cases longer, depending on the herb). After the steeping process, strain, sweeten if you like and serve.
A primary warming herb is ginger. Ginger is good for many things such as digestive disorders, nausea, upper respiratory conditions and cleansing. The best ginger tea is made fresh by grating a finger of ginger and simmering in boiling water for about 10 to 15 minutes. If you add ginger to the “Master Cleanser”—lemon, maple syrup and a dash of cayenne—you will not only heat up, you may even sweat out some toxins. The Master Cleanser was created by Stanley Burroughs in the 1970s and is used for deep cleansing. When I make it and let my kids taste it, they call it “fire water.”
Ginger can make you sweat for sure. When I had a fever, my mom used to simmer a big chunk of grated ginger in three cups of water for about 15 minutes or until the water was golden and then pour it into a hot bath. She would put me in the hot bath for no less than 15 minutes. When I was done, she would dry me off and wrap sheets completely around me, put me in bed and cover me with blankets. In the morning I would wake up drenched in sweat and kind of sticky sour from all the toxins oozing from my pores, but the fever would be gone!
Another great tea is chai. Chai is naturally warming because of the black pepper, cardamom, ginger, clove, fennel and anise. You may also want to try some combos such as licorice, cinnamon and peppermint. Or, try something like ginger, spearmint and lemon. So, get a mug, some herbs, and get warm.