The Healing Power of Tea
I love tea. One of my favorite daily things to do is to make myself a cup of tea and take a moment to slowly sip it. However, when I first started practicing as a Naturopathic Doctor I gave little respect to the humble herbal tea. It was when I did a residency at a first nations health clinic in downtown Toronto that I truly learned the healing power of a cup of tea. In naturopathic medicine we often use tinctures, which are alcohol extractions of plants. Tinctures are a wonderful way to extract the medicinal ingredients from a plant and deliver them in a concentrated form. To protect the patients at this clinic however, alcohol in any form was prohibited and only medicinal herbal teas were allowed. I had my doubts that a blend of dried herbs was going to be as helpful as alcohol extractions, but that was all I had to work with.
Over time I was astonished to see patient after patient returning feeling so much better after having had their daily herbal teas. I witnessed these teas regulate blood sugar, improve insomnia, balance hormones, and aid in digestion. There was something special about asking someone to take the time daily (usually a few times a day) to boil some water and steep a tea. To slowly sip and nourish themselves with simple dried plants. I recognized that there was something more to these prescriptions than just the herbal blends I was putting together. The entire process was helping these patients. Moving forward, I knew I would always have medicinal teas as part of my naturopathic practice. To this day they reside in my office.
Making That Perfect Cup
There are so many different herbs that can be used in medicinal teas that I could write an entire book about them, so I will save the individual teas for future articles. A few things to remember when making that “perfect” cup of tea.
- Quality of Herbs: The plants that you select for your tea are foundational. You want them to be fresh and high quality. I always recommend organic or wild-crafted – you don’t want to place a plant covered in pesticides in hot water. Be wary of the “sale bin”. If a tea has been sitting on a shelf for two years then there probably isn’t a lot of medicinal ingredients left in it.
- Temperature of the Water: Teas that are made from leaves and flowers do not need to be steeped in high temperature water. Ideally these types of teas benefit from being steeped in 150-170F water. Teas that are a blend of roots and bark are best simmered in boiled water (212F).
- Always Cover and Steep: When you are steeping your tea, the steep time again will depend on if you have delicate leaves or hardy roots. Regardless though you must always cover the tea. So brew your tea in a teapot or cover your mug. If you can smell your tea as it steeps (e.g. peppermint), then you are losing precious medicinal compounds to the air. Cover it up and let those fall back into the water.
- Make it a Ritual, Not a Routine: Try to connect to the nourishing process of making a cup of tea. Take a moment, sit, and sip it slowly. Breathe in. Don’t look at your phone or computer, just be present with that simple cup of medicinal plants.
Author and monk, Thich Nhat Hanh (I love his book “Peace in Every Step”) talks about how he does a “tea meditation” every day. I think he is really onto something here. So consider taking a moment, daily, to do a little self-care one mug at a time.