I love making tea. The ritual of it is grounding, and it can feel almost like a divination--a Oija board type experience. Here’s what I mean: when I open up my cupboard of herbs, I let my hands decide. Which herbs will they choose? I try to keep my mind out of the way as much as possible. My hands do the measuring too: a pinch of this, a handful of that. No two pots of tea are ever the same. I do, however, tend to go through phases where I used the same herbs over and over in various combinations.
Lately, my life has been characterized by transition and change. I’ve found that heart-centered nervine herbs ease tension in my chest and soothe my mind. Here are some of my favorite herbs for tea right now (and maybe always, to be honest):
Rose- the queen of all flowers, the most luxurious and delicate of scents, the very symbol of love and of the heart. Rose is wonderful for the emotional heart as well as the physical. As a cooling, astringent nervine, rose soothes cardiovascular inflammation and calms a racing heart. Rose also eases heartbreak.
Tulsi- another queen, to be sure. Tulsi is one of my favorite herbs. Of all time. I feel noticeably more relaxed and focused when I drink tulsi tea. And if I drink tulsi regularly, I find that my mood is more stable and I am generally more calm and collected.
Melissa- the fruity, lemony flavor of this herb brightens my day, uplifting my spirit. For me, Melissa is like rose-colored glasses in a cup. I feel a little lighter and more cheerful when she is around.
Hawthorn leaf- Like rose herself, hawthorn is another rose family herb. It is no wonder that hawthorn, too, is wonderful for the emotional and physical heart.
Linden- I couldn’t talk about calming nervines for the heart without mentioning linden. In Burlington, Vermont, linden is one of the most cherished scents of the summer months. In mid June, after the apple trees and lilacs have long since lost their fragrant blossoms, a sweet smell wafts all over town on warm sunny days. Behold the sweet, fragrant medicine of the linden flower. Drinking linden blossoms in winter transports me to the Summer and evokes feelings of hope and joy.
My tea blends have evolved over time, and I gain experience with each new pot I brew. I love discovering new combinations of herbs, and learning how each herb influences my mind and body when I drink it regularly. Like everything in herbalism, experience comes with time. The key is not being afraid to play around. I’ve made some pretty disgusting tea blends along the way, but more often I’ve made surprisingly magical blends that I can return to again and again.
Here is a basic recipe for making any herbal infusion. This works bester for leaves and flowers. For woodier parts of a plant, like bark, roots, and seed pods, a decoction will be the best way to make a tea.
2-3 TBS dried or fresh herbs of your choice. This can be a single herb or multiple herbs
1 quart near-boiling water
What are your favorite herbs to drink as tea?
In the depths of New England winter, it can seem like the green of the landscape has all been replaced by white and grey. The perennial herbs sleep below blankets of snow, the limbs of oaks, maples, birches, all bare. We’ve spent the past Autumn harvesting and making medicine to store for the winter and carry us through until the new growth of Spring.
Behold, the sleepy winter forest, which holds gifts of strong medicine: cedar, juniper, hemlock, spruce, and pine, to name a few. For me, it is the white pine in particular, bows drooping with the weight of heavy snow, that represent the quintessential image of Vermont winter. White pines have long been a dominant presence of the New England landscape. As a slow growing, long-lived tree, they reach mid-life at 200 years old and can easily reach heights of over 200 feet. These majestic giants, although logged extensively since the beginning of colonial conquest and exploitation, can still be appreciated in many Vermont woodlands.
White Pines, along with many other evergreen trees of northern New England, hold potent remedies in their needles. If you have ever tasted a cedar tip or a hemlock needle, then you know the instant sensation of aroma and flavor that comes from crushing a tiny needle between your teeth: aromatic, warm, piney, and a little sour.
The unique flavor of evergreens tells us much about their medicinal properties. Aromatic: they are rich in essential oils with antimicrobial and immune stimulating properties. Warm: they increase circulation and help break a fever. Sour: they are high in vitamin C and other phytochemicals.
Many of the evergreen trees can be used as warming winter remedies. They can be made into tea, added to a bath, or used as a sinus steam. I’ve even been known to boil fir branches from my Christmas tree to fill my house with their lovely aroma.
Here I will share with you a recipe for White Pine Syrup. You can substitute pine with a variety of evergreens, just make sure you positively identify any tree before using. There are a few evergreens that are poisonous, such as the yew. Also, I prefer to use windfallen branches. If you harvest directly from a living tree, please be respectful and only take what you need. Never overharvest and always ask permission and thank the tree for it’s gifts.
White Pine Needle Syrup
1 cup fresh or dried (but still green) pine needles
2 cups water
1 cup honey or sugar
Rinse pine needles with cold water and coarsely chop
In a pot, combine pine needles and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Let simmer for 1 hour.
If the water level becomes low, add a little more.
After 1 hour, check to see if the water level is approximately half the original volume. Reduce further or add more water accordingly.
Remove from heat and let cool.
Strain while water is still warm.
Combine 1 cup of tea with 1 cup of honey or sugar. Mix thoroughly.
Bottle, label, and store in the refrigerator.
Take 1 tsp of syrup 2-3x/ day at the onset of a cold. You can also make herbal soda with the syrup by adding it to seltzer--about 2 oz per 16 oz of seltzer, or use it in cocktails. Get creative--the sky's the limit.
Evergreens remind us that even in winter, we are supported by the abundance of nature and the healing properties of the plants all around us. So get out those snowshoes or cross country skis and go explore the forests and woodlands in all their winter wonder.