Have you noticed, like me that Tea is the new coffee?
We’ve filled the bohemian boots of 2017 replacing brackish tea-bagged water with a new-found respect for Herbal and Bespoke Tea concoctions. Tea Houses and fine china are muscling their way back into cafe’s like untapped treasure, because nothing makes for a better coffee-chaser than a smooth brew of Detox Tea.
It’s the Yin Yang of cafe couture.
It might be safe to assume the hot water and tea bag gig is now an isolated event confined to petrol stations and McDonalds?
Let’s hope so.
After all the hoo-ha of technology and social media, climbing the corporate career ladder and juggling the ordinariness of suburban life we’ve come to the screeching realisation that we’re missing out on smaller, slower and more intimate moments - like drinking Tea. Let’s face it, we have some lousy coping mechanisms for the quickening of our existence: impulsive punchy habits that keep us moving with the frenetic pace of living like coffee, alcohol, pills, spin classes. We snap, gram, and tweet every dull moment living our version of a Hollywood motion picture…
But we are losing the primordial skill of being Slow. Slowing down. Being Still. A talent we mastered thousands of years ago tucked away for long enduring winters; entire ice-ages waiting for a change in season, a ray of sunlight and the promise of food. For all that might kill us today, I think the prospect of waiting in a space of nothingness would be the hardest to suffer.
Why? because if we’re not running at Life with well-squatted butt cheeks are we getting anywhere at all? At least nowhere anyone cares about.
Being slow is not productive, conducive or active enough for our post-modern busy-ness but I think it’s the experience of stillness we seek, and where coffee is about speeding up and increasing productivity - Tea is a tender gesture of self-love. It doesn’t tick a ‘to do’ box. It’s is about ritual and restoration.
Tea has un-earthed a tiny little loop hole in our society and it’s precious - Time.
The tea loitering in most household pantry’s [a.k.a lipton, bushells, madura, english breakfast] are the closest brush we’ve had with the vast history and tradition of tea - a long way from the fields of Sri Lanka, India and China. Should you dig deeper beyond black or green tea, there’s a world of remedies to discover with many botanicals. You can literally use the humble cuppa to manage urinary or respiratory infections like coughs and colds, and even to treat worms!! Ewww.
We’re now seeing a resurgence of traditional Herbal Tea Wisdom in the market and that excites me, because I’m one of those herb geeks whose alchemy HEALS people. There’s an art in designing tea with a therapeutic objective - the right amount of compounds to affect a response in the body, and a flare for visual and sensory appreciation. It’s not only a skill but a deep respect for the botanical properties of the ingredients, and the quality of herbs you use. How herbs are grown and harvested bears a monumental difference in the quality of the blend and the effectiveness of the remedy. It might also be said that how we prepare, brew and sip our tea is all part of the therapy of stillness - a stillness that invokes a biological response in the body too.
Where major tea company’s entice your senses with apple, strawberry, or lolly-like aroma’s traditional Herbalists will keep their intentions aligned with a purpose, and perhaps this is the small but significant divide between Tea and Tea Therapy. So if you’re interested in a therapeutic outcome you might like to ask your self, what is the intention you have in purchasing a Tea? If your intention is beyond flavour alone you may be pleasantly surprised.
Before we plunge into the pelagic depths of herbal wisdom, it would be wise to consider the chemicals used in the cultivation of plants / herbs that are not organically grown. These nasty residues remain in the plant material and ultimately become a part of your tea. Understandably, smaller 3rd world countries like Sri Lanka are producing enough Ceylon tea for the world’s thirst and demand often results in less desirable agricultural methods. If you are a herbal tea buff and are looking to treat a condition that requires botanical therapy, then organic medicinal grade herbs are essential.
Blending herbs (or plant therapy) to effect a treatment is to participate in a tradition that dates back to the time of Cleopatra, steeping plant material in hot water extracting alkaloids, volatile oils and compounds that heal, warm, soothe, stimulate or sedate the body.
Pungent roots, stems and barks generally have a stronger flavour and require longer brewing. Some roots such as Liquorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has a delicate sweet undertone that can be used to balance the astringency found in leafy plants such as Green Tea, Sencha or White Peony Leaf. It’s a neutral to cool herb, its actions are expectorant, anti-inflammatory and adaptogenic (tonic). Other favourite and well-known roots are Dandelion, Ginger, Turmeric and Maca all with distinguishable pungent, bitter or sweet flavours that greatly influence the foundation of a tea.
You can add seeds like Fenugreek and Fennel that act to soothe mucous membranes, ease digestion and even stimulate breast-milk flow. They add an earthy and robust flavour that are both pleasant and warming.
Most florals are delicate and lose their pigment - briefly staining the colour of the water at the start of brewing. They contain natural emollients and antioxidants - soothing irritated tissue; and a distinct fragrance that adds a feminine and nurturing twist to most blends. Some favourites of mine are Rose, Lavender, Calendula, Blue Mallow and Corn-flower.
Leaves contain a legion of compounds and flavours we all recognise like the classic Peppermint and Spearmint with their high content of volatile oils (menthol). Lemon-balm, Ginkgo and Brahmi are some of the leaves used in herbal preparation to effect a healing response as a result of their tannins creating astringency and volatile oils that provide antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Many household culinary herbs like coriander, parsley, thyme, sage, basil and mint are pungent and strong in favour due to their volatile oils, and it’s this pungency where the quality and effectiveness of the herb is. We can go beyond sprinkling these greens on our evening meal to using them medicinally to support the health of our body.
Sore Throat Remedy:
(Make as a gargle and use morning and night after brushing teeth)
1 tsp of dried Thyme leaves
1 tsp of dried Sage leaves
A pinch of slippery Elm powder
1/2 tsp of Manuka honey OR Blackstrap Molasses
Brew as a tea and steep for 7-10 mins. Allow to cool to room temp before gargling
1 tsp Peppermint
1 tsp Ginger root
1 tsp of Calendula petals
1 tsp of Marshmallow root
Steep for 7-10 minutes and allow the cup to cool slightly before drinking.
Thyme and Allium sativa Cough Syrup
1 White Onion
4-6 sprigs of fresh Thyme
Raw manuka honey
*A slice of fresh Turmeric (optional)
Halve onion and place in to a small bowl. Add other ingredients and drizzle 1-2 tbsp of honey over the top. Cover, store in a cool place and leave for 24 hours. During this time the onion will sweat and blend with the honey and other ingredients making a home-made cough syrup suitable for children with sore throats and dry cough. Take a tsp at night before bed.
You don’t need to be a fancy-schmancy, cauldron burning, toad simmering, high priestess to blend your own medicinal tea. You only need to play with dried herbs and seek to balance the flavours you like. Then you can begin to learn about what those herbs do - and likely uncover your natural affiliation towards them. I suggest visiting your local health foods shop and gathering a few basics like ginger, calendula petals, peppermint and liquorice root and start to build upon these. Your tea cupboard will start to look less like the packaged tea aisle in Woolies and more like the experimental and adventurous cupboard of a fancy-schmancy, cauldron burning, toad simmering, high priestess…..and that’s totally in right now.
Melanie Lock ND BHSc co-founder of The Hollow Store, 20 years experience working as a Naturopath and traditional Herbalist specialising in Nutritional and Emotional counselling. Public Speaker, Magazine contributor, Herbal Tea creator and Mama to 2 boys in Port Macquarie on the beautiful NSW mid-north coast.