Herbal tea has long been thought to promote good health, and chosen as a good alternative to high caffeine beverages. There is now growing research to support the health claims. An example, sage tea may be beneficial for people with diabetes (study at University of Minho, Portugal, 2006). And this, thyme tea may prevent age-related changes in the brain (study by Youdim and colleagues, published 1999, "Biochemical and Biophysical Research").
Most garden herbs are very high in antioxidants. Using them in cooking is a no-brainer way to add health benefits to our everyday meals. Drinking herbs as tea concentrates our exposure to these benefits. The different herbs each have their unique benefits.
(It should be noted, that you should consult your medical provider before dosing yourself up with any substance, natural or chemical, that would be a change to your ordinary routine. Herbs as teas can be contra-indicated, in some circumstances, such as pregnancy or while taking some prescription meds.)
Some of these herbs, you may not think of to use in tea. Their flavor might be quite pungent, when made strong, but when made as a weak tea, often with a little honey and/or lemon, they are quite delicious, and can fill a medicinal need.
These are the herbs that I've harvested from my garden this year. I've included the web address to livestrong.com, for more information on specific herb tea health benefits.
My herbs are grown without pesticides. All I need to do is wash, then dry them. With the smaller-leafed green herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary), I leave the stems on for tea. With the larger-leafed herbs (sage, black currant, lemon balm, mints, basil), I remove the leaves. The larger woodier stems are not as pleasant in tea. With lavender, I also remove the flower buds, and discard the stems. Once dried, I store each herb in its own airtight container.
Thyme tea is an enjoyable beverage in its own right. When blended with honey, ginger, lemon and cinnamon (as in this recipe, here), thyme tea is an excellent beverage for cold and flu season. The key ingredient thymol, as stated above, is known to inhibit age-related changes in the brain (it could possibly help in the prevention of Alzheimer's, researchers are hoping -- current studies going on). In addition, Thyme tea is used in Europe for treatment of bronchitis and coughs.
Rosemary has long been reported to increase memory. Simply inhaling the fragrance of rosemary was said to enhance memory. As a tea, rosemary is believed to be a powerful antioxidant, protecting the body from heart disease and cancer, as well as benefitting digestion, and enhancing cognitive abilities.
Rosemary tea, made with 1 teaspoon herb to 8 ounces of boiled water, and steeped for 5 minutes is refreshing sweetened with honey and a slice of lemon added. The flavor of rosemary also lends itself to combination with black tea and lavender buds.
I have two types of sage in my garden. Common Sage and Golden Variegated Sage. Variegated sage has a milder flavor. So this is the sage I cut for tea. When I make a tea for pleasure, I like it mild (about 1 teaspoon dried sage leaf to 1 cup of boiling water), and a little honey added.
Medicinally, sage has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It's good as a tea or gargle for sore throats.
For a sore throat tea, steep 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon dried sage leaves in not quite boiled water for 10 minutes. Add honey and lemon juice. Strain. Also good for mouth sores.
One of sage teas most interesting uses, could be in helping to manage diabetes. More research needs to be done, but so far, it looks like it lowers blood sugar in mice.
Oregano tea has been in the news recently for its possible effect as a weapon against colon cancer. It's also an antiseptic and may be effective at slowing the growth of malaria and candida -- yeast infections. Taken as a tea, it's pungent and slightly bitter. Best with some sweetening. Use 1 teaspoon dried leaves to 1 cup of almost boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes, then remove leaves and sweeten.
Black currant leaf tea is an anti-viral, and said to help fight influenza. Its also an anti-inflammatory. It could be beneficial to many of the -itis diseases, like hepatitis and arthritis. Made as a tea, I prefer it with a hint of other berry flavor, some orange peel, and a bit of black tea. I like to add a teaspoon of dried cranberries, roughly chopped to 1 teaspoon of dried black currant leaf, a pinch of orange zest, and a small bag of black tea. I steep this tea in a mug of boiling water for 5 minutes, then strain. Black currant tea is one of my favorite herbal teas. I am harvesting as many leaves as my shrubs will produce.
Lemon balm tea has long been said to be a sleep aid. It helps with relaxation. Lemon balm has calming effects, and may decrease anxiety and improve memory in Alzheimer's patients. As part of the mint family, lemon balm tea is also excellent for upset stomach. As a tea, I like lemon balm with peppermint, lemon and sweetening. I use about 2 teaspoons dried leaves to 1 mug of almost boiling water, and steep 5 minutes.
Everyone knows that peppermint tea is good for upset tummies. But it's also good for increasing mental focus (kids have exams coming up? make them a cup of peppermint tea while they study). In addition, mint is high in menthol, which as most of you know is an ingredient in those decongestant rubs used when you have a cold. Peppermint tea can help break up congestion and is very helpful when you have a cough or head cold. And if this isn't enough to make you want a cup of peppermint tea, its a great all natural breath freshener. I like it just plain.
For drinking hot, I keep all my mints separate. I like them mixed with different ingredients. Spearmint is not as strong as peppermint, and I like it brewed with black tea, then blended with orange juice and a little sugar. Medicinally, spearmint tea is effective with upset stomach. It may also be beneficial in balancing hormones in women, and be useful as an anti-inflammatory.
Pineapple mint is my favorite mint to mix with lemon or lime juice and sugar, in a tea. It has a hint of pineapple flavor to it. As with all of the mints, pineapple mint contains Vitamins A & C, as well as traces of manganese, calcium, potassium, copper and iron. And pineapple mint is also good for indigestion and stomach upset.
Lavender tea is another of my favorites. I make it somewhat weak (about 1 tsp. of buds to a mug of water), and drink it plain. It is lightly sweet on its own. It has a nice, clean taste.
Medicinally, lavender tea is good for relaxation, reduction of migraines, and digestive issues.
Sweet basil tea, not to be confused with Holy Basil tea, is often used for headaches, anxiety and digestive issues. The fragrance from the oils in the basil are said to have a calming effect on the body. It's also delicious made as a beverage.
Brew basil tea, along with a strip of lemon peel and some black tea. Strain and enjoy. Or, try a ginger-basil infusion. Steep 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves with two to three thin slices of fresh ginger, in 6 ounces of boiling water for 5 minutes. Fragrant and warming.
Those are my herbal teas for winter. It's a nice variety. And many of the herbs have practical use in cold and flu season.