Winter Herbal Chai

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Winter is the time for drinking chai, and by chai I mean all the warming winter spices blended and infused into tea. This winter herbal chai has been my daily blend for the last month or so and it’s full of lots of goodies to keep the winter body well and balanced. Plus, it simply tastes delicious with no need for sweetener or diluting down with milk.

Like many herbal students, when I first began to study herbs, I was especially taken with all the more complicated ways to ingest or use them, not really factoring in how much value drinking them in tea can have. As it turns out, when the scientists decide to determine nutritional values of foods in the lab, herbs and spices consistently rank as especially potent sources of nutrients, but we never seem to eat enough of them to add much value. That is, until drinking daily cups of herbal tea.

 

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This blend has many of my favorites for assisting proper digestion (fennel, ginger, coriander, licorice), supporting the immune system (ginger, orange peel, astragalus), regulating blood sugar (cinnamon), and helping the liver detoxify heavy meals and daily toxins (dandelion root). Plus, it is a well-rounded combination of sweet, spicy, warming, and just enough bitter to balance.

One of the slightly less common and optional herbs in this blend is astragalus. Astragalus root is slightly sweet and warming, and it is best known for its ability to stimulate the immune system, thereby helping to prevent viral infections such as the common cold and flu, as well as assisting cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy by preventing immunosuppression (1, 2). Additionally, though not listed above, astragalus has also been shown in research trials to assist in healthy digestion and blood sugar regulation, so like most herbs, it’s uses are multi-faceted (1). Astragalus is a well-known and used herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and under that paradigm of medicine, it is not recommended to use when suffering an acute infection, because it is believed it can feed the illness. (1, 2).

 

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When it comes to brewing herbal teas, there are two general methods. The first is boiling water and then pouring it over the top of the herbs to infuse, as is traditionally done with black and green teas. (Dunking a bag of tea into warm water does not have the same brewing effect, mind). This method of boiling water over herbs is called an infusion and it’s usually done with blends that consist of leaves, flowers, and aerial parts like chamomile, holy basil/tulsi, lavender, and the like.

The second method is called a decoction and it is how to properly extract the flavors and medicinal constituents of roots, heavier spices, and sometimes dried berries or fruit. This method is a touch more time-consuming because the herbs are gently simmered on the stovetop in water for 20 to 30 minutes. This herbal chai involves the decoction method of course, due to the ingredients, and the best way to do it is to make a big pot and then reheat and drink the tea for a couple days or more rather than making multiple small pots each time.

 

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Herbal Winter Chai, makes 4-6 cups
If you do not quite have all the ingredients for this blend, don’t despair. I’ve listed them in order of most important in terms of flavor, so if after the star anise you’ve exhausted your immediate resources, make as is and enjoy. Licorice, dandelion, orange peel, and astragalus are more commonly found at well-stocked bulk shops or online from herbal shops such as Mountain Rose Herbs (my local favorite). Additionally, the orange peel does add a lighter, citrusy quality to this blend, and the flavors will be deeper and more spicy, more like a traditional chai, without.  

6 cups water
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. dried ginger
3/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1-2 petals star anise
1 Tbs. licorice root
1 Tbs. dandelion root
1 tsp. orange peel powder (optional)
1 tsp. astragalus root (optional)

  • Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan, covered with a lid, and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Use a tea strainer or fine mesh strainer to filter the tea into mugs or into a clean container to store it in.
  • Serve immediately or alternatively, store chilled and reheat over the next couple days.

 

References:
1. Braun, L. and Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs & Natural Supplements: an evidence-based guide. (Vol. 2). Chatswood, NSW, Australia: Elsevier. 
2. Winston, D. and Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

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summer calm herbal latte

summer calm herbal latte

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Did I tell you my summer term was a real whopper? I probably did because I complained and/or used it as a (valid) reason to opt out of a whole host of summer social activities that I wanted to partake in on many an occasion these past weeks. If I’m remembering correctly, I was singing the same tune last summer too so clearly I need to learn how to say no more to heavy lifting during the long seasons when I want to relax, socialize, and travel more. I somehow ended up taking three of the best but most time-intensive classes and most of my weekends for May/June/July were spent polishing off weekly deadlines and term checkpoints.

Realistically though, it wasn’t all bad. My herbal class textbook went along well with both my pathophysiology and personal life learnings, and I found myself scribbling this recipe for a summer calm herbal tea blend and latte in my notebook while reading the nervous system chapter on herbs on a day that I was also laying on the grass under the tree in our backyard, listening to the buzz of insects and children playing nearby, and feeling generally rather chill. So yeah, it wasn’t all tough going. I had a lot of relaxing afternoons where I could read or study from anywhere as long as I got it done. Many days, I chose outside in the backyard or the local forest.

And then it got hot and term project deadlines brought me indoors and reliant on the internet. And I forgot all about my recipe that includes a few nice herbs to infuse calm.

 

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Since we’re now closing in on just a few last weeks of summer and the back to school or work frenzy has got some of us a little higher strung, it’s definitely time to bring out this recipe. I might just be sipping on it a ways into the next season as well as it will be perfect for those cool, dark afternoons and evenings that are sadly coming our way. It’s got a few perhaps new-to-you herbs that are really good ones too.

 

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Skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora // One of the best anxiolytic/nervine herbs for calming a racing mind, or at least I think so! Skullcap is one of the original herbs used in herbal medicine in the United States, and has a rich history of use here since at least the early 1800’s. In addition to being useful for anxious, nervous, and stressed mindsets, it is also a great anti-spasmodic for tight, painful muscles–both of these reasons are why I love it so much! Personally, however, I think its flavor is one that “grows on you.” When I first began working with skullcap, I found its stronger flavor slightly off-putting, but now I use it so much I tend to really favor it.

Holy Basil/Tulsi, Ocimum sanctum // With a very long history of use as a revered herb in India, and used there as a rasayana or rejuvenative, Holy Basil brings about health and long life. It is known as an adaptogen, meaning it will restore stress levels back to a balanced state, and also has antioxidant and neuroprotective qualities.

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis // In the springtime on my trail runs, I often stop along the way and rub my hands in the lemon balm, especially if I’m in need of a mood lift. The fresh herb smells and tastes very lemony, but in the dried form, it is much more subtle, and acts like a gentle mood elevator. Some studies also show it enhances cognitive function, and may even relieve some symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease like forgetfulness and irritability. It’s also great for stress headaches and improving focus.

Lavender, Lavendula angustifolia // Lavender is a mild nootropic herb, which means it “acts on the mind,” helping cognitive function. Additionally, it is good for nervous headaches, exhaustion, or anxiety. The essential oils in the flowers have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well, and I find their aroma just lovely.

 

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Summer Calm Herbal Latte, makes 1 large drink (18-ounces)
In the last step, I like to combine the steeped tea and warm milk in a liquid measuring cup and then have about a mug and a half of latte, as it tends to be the perfect amount for me. 

1 Tbs. summer calm herb blend (below, or herbal tea of choice)
3/4 cup nut milk
1 tsp. coconut butter
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • Add herb blend to a tea ball or basket and then pour 12 ounces freshly boiled water over the herbs, cover or cap the mug or pot to capture all the beneficial essential oils, and allow to infuse for at least 10-20 minutes.
  • While the herbs are steeping, gently warm the nut milk, coconut butter, and vanilla extract on the stovetop or in a microwave safe dish.
  • Remove the tea ball or basket and carefully combine the tea and nut milk blend.


Summer Calm Herbal Blend

Dried herbs are best purchased in small quantities in bulk from a natural foods store, if you have access. Alternatively, an excellent place to source them online is from Mountain Rose Herbs.

2 parts skullcap
2 parts holy basil
2 parts lemon balm
1 part lavender flowers

  • In a jar, or other glass container, combine the dried herbs in parts, either by volume using tablespoons or measuring cups, or by weight. Then gently shake or stir the herbs, cap, and label with ingredients and amounts for future reference.

 

Herbal Allies // Ginger, Licorice and Chamomile Tea

Herbal Allies // Ginger, Licorice and Chamomile Tea

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I’ve spent the last three early mornings lingering over the breakfast table, laptop, morning books, and empty porridge bowl all pushed aside. Just me in the early morning stillness facing east towards the bright sun shining into my eyes, a big smile on my face. William came in this morning and asked me what I was doing. Chameleon-ing, I told him. I’ve been soaking up as much of the early morning sun and warmth as I can.

We’ve finally been getting a good stretch of sun and warm days here and it feels just about right as May is the best month, to my way of thinking. Given I’ll be making my way into a new decade in a few days, I’ve been figuring a good way to begin my birthday week celebrations is by starting each day basking in the sun with a mug of tea. It feels like the best sort of end of a decade indulgence.

 

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The other thing I’ve been doing lately is drinking this ginger, licorice, and chamomile tea. It is usually my evening/after dinner drink of choice as the licorice root is naturally sweet, chamomile is soothing, and ginger is warm and zesty.

In my herbal class last term, we experimented with different methods of making herbal tea. Certain herbs, like flowers or leaves, are better prepared by infusing them in freshly boiled water, as I’ve done here. Others, like roots, will have more of their beneficial constituents released by decocting them in gently simmering water for 15-30 minutes. The thing we learned though, is that though medicinally speaking, some methods of extracting might be better, either way will be fine depending on preference. It is something like the people that pour warm water into a mug and then dunk their tea bag in. When I’m offered tea prepared in this way, I often cringe and hesitantly accept, because it’s not the way I prefer my tea (i.e. strong, long-infused, and exceptionally hot, especially if it’s black/Irish tea). But I understand we all have our personal tastes and what might be ‘wrong’ in the recommended way of things may be just what a person needs.

So going against the grain here, I’ve found that I actually enjoy licorice and dried ginger root prepared in the easy infusion method of pouring boiling hot tea over and letting sit for 10-15 minutes, rather than simmering away on the stove. Luckily for me, the chamomile prefers this method too.

 

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I’ve chosen these specific three herbs because they particularly spoke to me to be infused together, but after thinking about their medicinal actions, I came to a good conclusion why:

Ginger // Common fresh or dried ginger is probably my most often used herb/spice, right after cinnamon. It is good in this tea as it is gently warming and pungent, and balances the sweet flavor of the licorice and slightly bitter properties of the chamomile. Freshly grated ginger root can also be used here. Ginger is exceptionally beneficial in controlling inflammation and muscular pain, increases circulation, and also aids in digestion.

Licorice Root // Despite the connotation with licorice candy, licorice root does not taste anything like the red or black ropes I loved to eat as a child. Licorice is an excellent herb for balancing the adrenals, balancing blood sugar, and helping decrease stress and inflammation. It is also soothing to the mucous membranes and GI tract, and makes for a good addition to an evening tea when we are winding down and might be craving extra sweets. Note: licorice should not be taken by those with high blood pressure. 

Chamomile // Chamomile  is an indispensable herb for evenings for so many reasons. Well known as a gentle, calming tea, these delicate yellow flowers help relieve irritability, stress, anxiety, insomnia, upset stomach, and much more.

 

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Ginger, Licorice, and Chamomile Tea, makes 1 12-ounce mug
Dried herbs are best purchased in small quantities in bulk from a natural foods store, if you have access. Alternatively, an excellent place to source them online is from Mountain Rose Herbs.

1 Tbs. dried chamomile flowers
1 tsp. dried licorice root
1/2 tsp. dried ginger root

  • Add herbs to a tea ball or basket and then set in a mug or tea pot. Pour 12 ounces freshly boiled water over the herbs, cover or cap the mug or pot, and then allow to infuse for at least 10 minutes and up to four hours. Drink warm or cold.