Last week saw UK publication of my first book, Infuse: Herbal Teas to Cleanse, Nourish and Heal, co-written with Karen Sullivan, which will come out here in the US on May 3rd. Compiling the more than seventy recipes was a delightful way to spend several weeks last summer. I wanted the teas to taste delicious and bring all kinds of herbal benefits: from relaxing bedtime brews to teas to treat allergies, relieve aching muscles, balance blood sugar and even improve memory.
Taking a few minutes each day to make and enjoy a delicious cup of herb tea is a lovely way to care for yourself, mentally and physically. They’re easy to make, cost very little and you can enjoy many different health benefits with even a small selection of dried herbs.
You may have a selection of herbal teabags in a cupboard, but consider blending your own from dried herbs. Most commercial manufacturers break the herbs down to almost a powder to get them into the tea bag — this causes the herbs to oxidize, impairing their flavor and medicinal benefits. If you’d like to experiment with making herbal tea blends at home, here are my top five dried herbs to create a basic tea apothecary, and a few tips to get the best results.
Chamomile – everyone knows that chamomile relaxes and helps with sleep, but did you know that a strong brew (1 tablesoon dried chamomile flowers to a mug of boiling water) works brilliantly to relieve tension headaches? It also has benefits for digestion and reduces bloating and discomfort after eating, making this a perfect herb to include in a caffeine-free evening tea.
Damiana – I’m always surprised that this Mexican herb is not better known. With a strong, distinctive taste and a gently stimulant action for mind and body, it makes a terrific caffeine-free replacement for coffee in the morning. It also has something of a reputation as an aphrodisiac, so may add a little oomph at bedtime too.
Elderflower – visit parks and wildplaces to harvest your own elderflowers in springtime, and hang smallish bunches enclosed in a loose paper bag upside down in a cool dark place to dry. The tea can be drunk hot or cold to reduce fever and alleviate hayfever symptoms. Or prepare a delicious elderflower cordial by making 250ml of sugar syrup, removing it from the heat and immediately adding a handful of fresh elderflowers. Allow to cool, strain, bottle and store in the fridge for up to a month. Dilute with still or sparkling water, or add a dash to cocktails.
Lemon Balm – easy to grow for fresh herb teas, and easily dried to ensure a year round taste of summer, lemon balm has a fresh lemony taste and makes a delightful tea herb. It has a unique ‘cheering up’ quality to lift your spirits, is calming and soothing for digestion, and has a useful anti-viral action to prevent and treat colds, flu and coldsores.
Liquorice – you either love the taste or can’t stand it. If like me you adore the aniseedy flavour, a little dried liquorice root (and you don’t need much) is a great addition to herb tea recipes for coughs, viruses, digestive discomfort and all kinds of inflammatory conditions. Its sweetness masks more bitter herbs, making it a great addition to children’s teas. My son adores making liquorice and peppermint which has a yummy, sweet flavor his friends love. Avoid this herb if you have high blood pressure, as it may exacerbate it.
Linden flower – also known as lime flower (and in France, where it’s hugely popular as a tisane, as tilleuil), the trees bearing these curious looking blossoms grow widely in the UK and Europe, where its gorgeous scent sweetens midsummer city streets. Harvest and dry your own for a blast of summer sunshine all year round or buy it ready dried. I don’t need a medical excuse to enjoy this lovely tea, but I particularly reach for it when I want to feel relaxed and calm and when my child has a fever. It has a reputation for lowering cholesterol and maintaining good arterial health.
Meadowsweet – I adore the aroma and taste of this herb, it really does smell like a sweet summer meadow. The leaves contain salicylates, the chemical which gives aspirin its anti-inflammatory action making it a terrific choice of you have arthritis or other inflammatory conditions. It also relieves indigestion making it a perfect after-dinner tea. Believing that most illnesses have inflammation at their base, I drink a tea with meadowsweet most days.
Peppermint – if you have it, fresh mint is easy to grow and makes a delightful tea, but dried is good too. Drink it on its own to relieve indigestion and help reduce a fever or combine it with other herbs to add a minty freshness to your brews.
Sage – another herb which can be plucked fresh from the garden or dried for convenience. Truthfully, sage really doesn’t taste as good the other herbs listed here. But it’s SO useful. On its own or with other herbs and a good spoonful of honey, it works a treat on sore throats. And if you allow it to cool before drinking, it’s the best remedy I know to reduce menopausal hot sweats.
Skullcap – my go-to remedy for stress and anxiety. I love the way skullcap calms the nerves without being sedative, making it perfect for stressful situations such as exams and presentations. It also helps reduce circular thinking, so I often add it to sleep teas when the problem is waking in the night with an overactive mind.
- Always use fresh, preferably filtered water and bring it just to the boil and allow it to cool for a minute or two before pouring to avoid scalding the herbs.
- Choose organic or wilcrafted herbs if you can. If you have a garden or even a sunny windowsill, consider growing a few herbs for a supply of fragrant fresh leaves.
- Sniff herbs when you are buying avoiding any which smell ‘off’. Look for herbs which are recognizably leaves/flowers or whatever and a good colour. For example, chamomile should have lots of yellow flower centres and tiny white petals.
- Store dried herbs in airtight containers. Coloured or opaque jars or tins can be kept on a cool shelf, but if you’re using clear glass, keep them in a drawer or cupboard as light damages dried herbs.
- See here for a list of resources where you can buy good quality dried herbs. It’s also worth asking at your local herb or health food store.