In the popular TV show The Big Bang Theory, a character named Sheldon believes that when you see someone who is sad, lonely, sick, or depressed, the mandatory social convention dictates that you must offer them a hot beverage. He usually offers coffee, tea, or a herbal infusion to his sad friends, because as a man of logic with a lack of empathy (or sympathy), he knows no other way to comfort people. Other characters on the show usually don’t fully appreciate the fact that he just hands them a mug of hot tea with the words “there, there,” but what they might not know is that herbal teas and similar warm, soothing liquids offer a huge dose of comfort, relaxation, and plenty of health benefits. As fictional as Sheldon might be, he is without a doubt a very smart guy. Herbal teas really are a comfort.
We already covered the topics of tea and coffee, and we learned that only real tea comes from tea plant leaves that are dried and processed to certain levels we know as green, white, or black tea, but we are also used to using the word tea for herbal infusions. Technically, herbal teas are called tisanes. There are possibly hundreds of different herbal combinations you can try to experience a large number of benefits, allowing you to address your specific health issues by choosing the right herb or herbal blend. You can even grow and dry your own herbs at home, and in some cases you can simply handpick your herbs in nature, like nettle and chamomile. Herbal teas or infusions are naturally caffeine free, so they are a wonderful option for people sensitive to caffeine. The possibilities are almost endless with herbal infusions, so let’s talk about some of the most popular options and their health benefits.
After black tea, chamomile tea is the most consumed tea in the world. It is not surprising, considering how many benefits the chamomile plant, Matricaria chamomilla, has to offer. The word chamomile means ground apple, and some people agree that there is a hint of apple taste in the natural sweetness of chamomile tea. In ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt, chamomile infusions were used to speed up the healing of wounds, cuts, and burns due to its strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. For the same reason, it is often recommended as a natural cold medicine. Chamomile has a high level of magnesium, which has a soothing and calming effect on the body, not only relaxing your mind, but also muscles and other tissues. This makes it very helpful as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, and it helps to relieve menstrual cramps as well. Chamomile also works as a sleep remedy because of its soothing, calming effect on our nervous system. Chamomile tea can also be applied topically to treat acne, eczema, and even pink eye.
Peppermint tea is probably the second most used tisane next to chamomile. The name of the plant is Mentha Piperita and it is a cross between Spearmint and Watermint. Peppermint infusion has a refreshing taste and people like drinking it both hot and cold. It can also be mixed with other herbs or regular green tea, which is a very popular blend. Peppermint tea has a wonderful soothing effect on the digestive system, it has carminative properties, meaning that it helps with the movement of gas in the intestines. It also has analgesic properties, so it also helps with the pain itself by relaxing the muscles of the digestive tract, promoting healthy digestion, and regulating bowel movement. Peppermint tea is also associated with the relief of motion sickness (on a boat or a plane), reducing the chance of nausea and vomiting. The antiseptic and antibacterial properties of peppermint help to reduce bad breath and also prevent health issues connected with the immune system (like cold, fever, or coughs). Antispasmodic properties of this plant are responsible for relaxing the throat muscles during such illnesses, making you less likely to cough due to throat irritation. The same properties apply to the stressed nervous system: by reducing blood pressure and slightly lowering your body temperature, peppermint infusion helps you to unwind and relax. Peppermint essential oil has the same relaxing benefits and is often used in aromatherapy. Mentha Piperita contains trace amount of potassium, calcium, and vitamin B to help your body with nutrient absorption.
Nettle tea can be made with both leaves and roots of the nettle plant. Both parts of the plant have similar benefits, but some of those properties are stronger in one or the other. You can even purchase nettle in the form of powder (similar to matcha powder) and you can blend it into your smoothies and shakes. Nettle is a diuretic and has the ability to lower blood pressure, so if you already have a low blood pressure and don’t want to feel the urge to empty your bladder every hour, consume nettle tea in moderation. Nettle is very helpful for treating asthma and allergic rhinitis, relieving an itchy or runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing. Nettle root is used to help men with prostate issues, while the leaves are more helpful as an immune system booster. The leaves are also effective as a skin and hair conditioning treatment, especially for acne prone and oily skin and scalp, promoting the growth of stronger, longer, and thicker hair. Nettle is also used to treat urinary tract infections or kidney stones. The leaves are very high in chlorophyll, vitamin C, vitamin A, and some trace minerals.
My personal favorite tea is rooibos. It only grows in South Africa as a bush, and instead of leaves, this plant has small needles like a miniature pine tree. The needles are harvested green, but usually they are naturally fermented to achieve a specific rich red-brown color. You can purchase green rooibos as well, but the red version is more common. The taste of this tea is naturally sweet and mild with a hint of honey, it is caffeine free and contains 50% more antioxidants than green tea. Aspalathin is an antioxidant that is only found in rooibos and this antioxidant is very potent in fighting free radicals and preventing cancer. It is also rich in Quercetin which is known to stabilize mast cells and reduce allergic reactions. Rooibos is a good source of minerals like Magnesium, Iron, Potassium, Calcium, and Copper, and also contains high levels of alpha hydroxy acid that helps promote skin, hair, and bone health. Drinking rooibos also helps with absorption of Vitamin C and Iron.
OTHER HERBS AND TISANES
There is so much more we can learn about herbs and their benefits when we ingest them in the form of tea. Mentioning all of them would probably take a whole book, but here are some other interesting options you might want to try:
Raspberry leaf tea is an excellent caffeine free beverage that tastes very similar to black tea, and is extremely helpful for women’s health – it helps with hormonal balance, PCOS, infertility, endometriosis, and menstrual cramps. It is recommended for pregnant women, because it helps strengthen the uterus in preparation for childbirth. It is also a great remedy for hormonally related skin issues.
Lavender has a very calming effect on the body, both essential lavender oil and water infusion help you relax and treat insomnia. Lavender is great in blends with different herbs like peppermint, chamomile, or rooibos.
Tulsi aka holy basil is a plant that is extremely rich in antioxidants and mast cell stabilizing Quercetin. It helps with mental boost, mood balance, calmness, and reduces allergic reactivity. It has a rich herbal flavor, a bit sweeter than green tea, and without the caffeine. It is great in blends, but also by itself.
Ginger makes an awesome drink too! Hot water infused with fresh ginger (maybe with a bit of lemon and honey) is very comforting to the digestive system, helps with respiratory issues, reducing fever, muscle aches or pain, and even helps with blood circulation, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Ginger also has a very warming effect similar to chili peppers, so it can make for a perfect warming up beverage in colder months of the year.
Melissa aka Lemon Balm tisane is particularly good at preparing the body for sleep. If you struggle to fall asleep, this herb is your new best friend!
Passionflower is another herb that helps as a sleep remedy. It contains compounds that help by raising GABA neurotransmitters in the brain, helping you wind down, relax, and get ready for bed. It is not going to make you sleepy like lavender can, but it will help you to calm down. It has also been studied as a helpful anti-anxiety drug.
If you like and miss the taste of coffee, but caffeine is not your friend, there are a few options you can reach for. None of them will exactly replicate the taste of coffee, but they are pretty close, especially if you add some coconut milk and spices like cinnamon or ground cloves, you can make a perfect latté alternative without caffeine, dairy, or excess sugar. Coconut or almond milk has a naturally sweet taste (so does heavy cream, if you can tolerate dairy) and if you can’t find a store bought option without additives, you can make your own at home.
One of the favored options for herbal coffee is dandelion root. It has a rich earthy taste, no caffeine, and it can help with digestive issues. It is very popular among people with autoimmune conditions as a safe coffee substitute. If you can tolerate dairy, add a tablespoon of grass fed butter (replace with cacao butter for dairy free version), tablespoon of coconut oil, and tablespoon of grass fed gelatin to add some gut healing properties, blend well and then drink for an instant brain and body boost! You can mix the same drink using rooibos tea instead of dandelion root if you prefer the taste. Experiment with your own herbal blends to achieve the flavor and texture you like and you might soon realize you don’t even miss the taste of coffee.
Turmeric milk or Golden milk is another yummy, healthy beverage with many healing benefits. Turmeric root is known for strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. The root looks very similar to ginger, but has a vibrant orange-yellow color (watch out, it tends to stain skin, counter tops, and fabric). You might already have some turmeric in your pantry in the form of powder to use for cooking. Turmeric has benefits for digestion: it helps your body produce fat digesting enzymes, prevents the release of histamine in the body, and prevents gallstones from forming. Golden milk is made with coconut milk, turmeric powder (or grated fresh), cinnamon, and honey with a pinch of black pepper (which helps with turmeric absorption) and sometimes even a small piece of fresh ginger. I like mine a little less sweet and you will also come up with your own ideal ratios of ingredients with time. Try this basic recipe and build your version from there!
LIQUID GINGER COOKIE
Blackstrap molasses is a great source of iron for those of us who tend to be low on it. Susanne started making a warm drink with 1 tsp of blackstrap molasses, a sprinkle of ginger (fresh or dried), a dash of cinnamon, 2 tsp collagen powder, and hot water (it’s even nicer if you can add a splash of coconut or almond milk). It seriously tastes like having a ginger cookie in a cup!
See, comfort in a cup doesn’t always have to mean coffee. If caffeine is not a friend of yours, you have plenty of options to choose from in the world of herbs. Herbs and spices are not only for cooking, and there is more to them than rosemary and thyme. Try different options every day, create your own blends and infusions, enjoy them hot or cold, as a morning boost, and as a night time treat. Herbal teas and tinctures have been used for centuries for a reason. Go find out if you can benefit from the knowledge ancient healers already knew!