Home for the big festive break. Time for rest and relaxation. Right on cue you get the chills, a sniffle, tickly throat, sore head – the works. Sound familiar? This used to be me every year. After a while I realised this was partly due to pre-holiday stress – and dehydration. Thus began a quest to make drinks more interesting, not only for variety, but also for seasonal health benefits.
I have now accumulated an intriguing store of assorted herbal teas. Very probably, so have you. It’s like an alternative bookshelf, their names and labels are curious, and make for a good browse. Go check, you might surprise yourself with what’s lurking there!
This Winter, with a teaching reason to focus on teas, I have become a fan of 3 in particular. They all share powerful immune boosting qualities relevant to common health challenges this time of year, being anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and high in anti-oxidants. Namely:
- Tulsi (aka Holy Basil, or Thai Basil)
- Olive Leaf
- Pau d’Arco (aka Lapacho)
They all originate from different continents, where they have long been respected for their medicinal properties. With a regular intake of 3-4 cups per day, they are reputed to help you avoid common symptoms of seasonal infections, or manage them better. This is by no means all that they are capable of however (individually, a long list of health benefits are attached to each plant which you may be interested to research for yourself).
The mildest in flavour is Pau d’Arco. In appearance, it looks like fine wood shavings – which it is, being derived from the dried inner bark of the taheebo tree found in Central and South America. Despite it’s rich mahogony colour, it brews almost translucent, and you might be hard-pressed to describe it as flavoured at all, it is so subtle. For this reason, it is often mixed with other ingredients: you can combine with ginger or cayenne if feeling feverish, otherwise it is a good companion to virtually anything else. Pau d’Arco contains a good spectrum of helpful minerals, such as, iron calcium, magnesium, manganese, iodine, boron and barium. It is known for being an effective expectorant and to relieve any type of cough (cold, flu or smoking related). When buying, check the source is of the Tabebuia species (synonyms such as lapacho, lapachol, or ipe roxo exist, and unscrupulous suppliers may include other types of bark).
A little more pronounced in flavour, though hardly distinctive, is Olive leaf. The pale, slender, bay-brittle leaves brews to a light straw colour. The longer you brew it, the more prounounced its flavour which is softly grassy with a little lingering bitterness. On it’s own, it is fairly neutral, but it is easy to tease out a bigger flavour with the addition of lemon or honey. One of its active compounds is elenolic acid which inhibits the growth of various viruses, including those associated with the common cold ( the Rhinovirus family). Traditionally used for treating fevers and for reinforcing the immune system. Find out more about the multitudinous benefits to olive leaf and video tasting notes.
The tea which delivers by far the biggest punch in this trio is Tulsi. An indigenous herb of South Asia, it belongs to the mint family and has the dense matt darkness of nettles. It has been long respected in Ayurvedic and Western medicine as a balm for body, mind and spirit. It acts as an adaptogen (stimulates your body’s natural regulation mechanisms). The active compounds include eugenol, a natural antiseptic which kills germs and eases pain, and rosmarinic acid which can reduce swollen joints. To my palette it has the warm and enveloping taste of cloves. It is soothing and invigorating at the same time. Great on its own, or mix it with other big flavours such as cardamon or ginger.
You can buy all the herbs in teabag form, which might be a good first step to explore their flavours and benefits. For quality and efficacy, I would encourage you to seek out the whole forms. Yes, the brewing process is a little more involved in that they will need to be simmered in a pan for 10-20 mins and then strained. However, if you treat this stage as a break from whatever else you are doing, it’s no hardship, in fact make it a positive ritual. You are giving yourself a bit of essentail self-care – and who’s to argue against that?
A first port of call for health supporting foods Detox your World
A fine blended option for Olive leaf teabags
Pau d’Arco from Rio Health Direct
English olive leaves (grown in Sussex) from Rare Tea Company
Holy Basil from Jekka’s Herbs via Canton Tea Company
Tulsi (in powder form) from Detox Trading