By Savayda Jarone, herbalist
Each season brings different flavours and medicines to my tea pot. Winter is the cozy season for maximizing comfort with tasty food and drink. The cold and dark provide more indoor hours, more time to dig out my cookbooks to learn new recipes, to try new ingredients, and to play with tea blends.
Tea blending is an art and science for me, combining the desire for both therapeutic value and pleasure. The pleasure feature of the equation is expressed through complimentary flavours, colour, texture fat from cream or butter, and just the right sweetener. Using loose herbs, instead of tea bags, allows for creativity, freshness, and personalization of tea blends. Most herb shops like mine and health food stores offer bulk herbs to work with. A selection of fifteen herbs and spices, many of which may already be in your spice rack, gives you lots of creative combinations.
Last winter I taught an online course on the medicinal uses of common culinary herbs and spices, and I became better acquainted with the delights of spiced teas. In the winter I add at least one spice to my tea blends to add extra warmth to the brew—spices are inherently warming. I use ginger, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, fennel, star anise. These spices offer strong flavour and in general act as digestive stimulants.
I am also attracted to eating more citrus fruits in the winter. When I do, I try to buy organic so that I can make use of the peelings for teas and medicine making. Citrus peels, especially orange and lemon, are high in antioxidants and cancer fighting compounds. They are also bitter, which is a good flavour addition to improve digestion. They round out the flavour of tea blends very nicely. They can be used fresh or dry; I have some drying in a basket by the wood stove; a dehydrator works well too.
If you are a black tea drinker like me, try combining varieties of black tea, and add herbs to the brew. I am currently using an Irish breakfast blend with extra Assam. Sometimes I add depth with a smoked tea called Russian Caravan, plus rose petals. I serve this blend with lots of blend and honey to counteract the high tannin content.
A tasty, hot tea provides an opportunity for a break during a work or study session, and it can be a great excuse to have a friend over for a visit. Elevate the tea experience by using your special tea set, maybe pick up some cookies, and make tea part of your winter rituals.
I wish you all the comfort and joys of winter. Here are some tea recipes that reflect some basic, universal health needs for those of us living in our northern climate. And they’re all rich in flavour to enhance the pleasure aspect of tea drinking.
Breath of Life Tea
Mix equal parts:
Balsam fir needles
Mullein is a lung tonic and is helpful in cases of lung congestion and cough, hyssop is also helpful for coughs and asthma. Balsam fir must be harvested during a forest walk, which is also good for our lungs : -)
Sunshine in My Cup of Tea
Calendula 2 parts
Holy basil 3 parts
Rosemary 1 part
Orange or lemon peel 2 parts
Ginger root or powder 1 part
The bright orange and yellow blossoms of calendula remind me of the sun. Holy basil is very tasty and is very sustaining to the nervous system, rosemary clears the mind and helps chase away the winter blues. Citrus peel reminds me of sunshine, and the heat of ginger feels like sun rays in the tummy.
2 tsp. Damiana
2 tsp. Rose petals
1 Tbsp. orange peel
a pinch of cayenne powder
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 cup water
1 cup milk of any kind - dairy, soy, almond, rice, oat
Simmer the damiana, rose and orange peel in the water for five minutes. Strain. Add the cayenne, cocoa and milk and return to the boil, stir and watch that it doesn’t boil over. Sweeten to taste with honey. This one is best shared with the special person in your life, all winter-long and especially on February 14th. Damiana is a relaxant that stimulates certain desires.
6 parts cardamom
4 parts cinnamon
2 parts fennel
1 part clove
1 part black peppercorns
The secret to making good chai is to grind the whole spices in small batches in a coffee grinder – this will triple the aroma and flavour. To make chai, simmer 1 tsp. of the spice mix per cup of water, covered, for five minutes, include 1 tsp. black tea or rooibos tea (caffeine free) in the pot. Strain. Return to the pot and add an equal amount of milk of any kind and return to the boil. Sweeten to taste with honey.
This tasty traditional tea of India makes an excellent after dinner tea, or for after coming in from the cold.
Immune Power Blend
Elderberries 3 parts
Hibiscus 1 part
Star anise 2 parts
Orange peel 1 part
Juniper berries 1 part
Simmer ingredients in water for 15 minutes (1 tbsp of the mixture per cup of water). Strain. I like to sweeten this one with pomegranate syrup, available at Middle Eastern and Indian grocery stores. This one has a very strong flavour, drink ½ cup as needed if you feel a cold or flu coming on.