There’s no denying it: the days are growing shorter and evenings are getting cooler. As autumn approaches, most of us find ourselves turning to hot beverages more often than those ubiquitous wine coolers of summer. Next time you reach for that latte, consider an herbal tea instead: herbal teas not only warm your insides; they also taste great, and they can help boost your health, as well.
Also called tisanes, herbal teas are caffeine-free and are usually made from dried leaves or flower petals. It’s fairly easy to make some herbal teas at home (there’s nothing quite like the invigorating fragrance of fresh peppermint leaves steeped in boiling water, and lemongrass emits its own heady aroma). However, if you’d rather not fuss with leaves and twigs in your own kitchen, there are a plethora of prepackaged herbal teas on the market, with combinations for virtually every condition or illness.
Here are a few of my favorite herbal sippers:
Peppermint: Long known for its ability to aid digestion, peppermint soothes the stomach while also relaxing the mind. It also combats cold and flu through general antiviral properties. And peppermint works beautifully to help clear stuffed sinuses this time of year; inhale the steam from your tea and clear out those nasal passages.
Ginger: Ginger tea is useful for most digestive issues, from nausea to gas and bloating. It helps stimulate saliva, bile and gastric juices; it also relaxes stomach muscles, moving food more effectively throughout the digestive tract. Ginger is a superstar when it comes to colds and flu as well: it decreases inflammation, increases blood flow and acts as a general anti-microbial compound. And ginger tea is probably the easiest tea to make at home: just peel and thinly slice 1-2 inches of ginger root, add to your teapot and cover with boiling water, then steep for 5 minutes. Sweeten as desired.
Dandelion: It’s not just an annoyance in your garden any more! Dandelion leaves and roots, when dried and brewed as a tea, provide a huge array of vitamins and minerals as well as many other compounds that are beneficial to your liver’s health. Dandelion stimulates bile production, which can help your liver digest fats more efficiently. Further, dandelion can help stabilize blood pressure. Not bad for what’s often considered a weed!
Stinging Nettle: Nettle is another plant often perceived as a menace in the garden, but one that offers amazing health benefits when sipped in a tea. Also chock full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, nettle tea is often recommended to improve functioning of the urinary system. According to the classic tome Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis Balch, nettle is also anti-inflammatory and useful to treat allergies.
Chamomile: Even everyday stressors can keep you up at night. Instead of tossing and turning, try sipping on chamomile tea: it’s one of the best methods to calm the nerves and relax your muscles. As a bonus, chamomile is also anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic and antispasmodic. If you’re allergic to ragweed, however, you might want to avoid chamomile, as both are part of the daisy family of plants.
Matcha: Although technically not an herbal tea (since it does contain caffeine), matcha is one of the healthiest green teas you can drink. Made from the entire leaf, matcha confers ten times the health benefits of regular green tea (plus a boatload of antioxidants—twenty times more than pomegranates or blueberries). I quickly learned to love matcha’s grassy green color and slightly bitter flavor, and now drink a tall mug of matcha each morning. Two good brands are MatchaSource and DoMatcha.