Brewing up a pot of tea is all sorts of lovely. To me it's a romantic ritual served in mismatched cups and saucers I've collected from grandma's house and thrift stores. But lately my tea time has shifted focus to the wonderful effect herbal teas can have on my health.
I enjoy a warm lemon, ginger and honey drink every morning. This wakes my body up and prepares it for all the eating action to come. Later on I boil up a couple of cups of green tea to sip at my desk mid-morning and after lunch. They warm me up from the inside out and the bitterness helps break down the food I've eaten. Plus green tea is packed with antioxidants that help maintain a balanced body. Before bed I drink a cup of chamomile to calm my mind and help me feel restful.
Dr Nicky Baillie, an Auckland-based herbalist and GP, says herbal teas gently nurture your body and are full of all sorts of benefits.
She says top-shelf teabags can deliver goodness, but the dried plant is preferred because you can make the tea stronger and the quality tends to be better. Dr Baillie says there's increasing interest in herbal teas as an alternative to modern medicine and plenty more research is going on to back up their benefits.
"It's great to be able to offer people something else," Dr Baillie says.
"There is a lot more interest as people become aware of the limitations of conventional medicines. A lot of the medications have side-effects... so people are looking at what else they can do."
Dr Baillie shares some her favourite herbs, and says they're very easy to grow yourself.
"All of them have some evidence behind them and they all have a long history of traditional use."
Peppermint: Sipping a cup of peppermint tea will do wonders after meals because it relaxes the digestive tract. It will make your belly feel less bloated and offer relief from over-eating. However, Dr Baillie warns people who get reflux should stay away from peppermint because it relaxes the sphincter.
Chamomile: The chamomile flowers have a mild sedative effect, so they will get your body ready for bed. Dr Baillie says a couple of spoonfuls can ease colic, anxiety and restlessness, and can be given to children.
Rosemary: Feeling a bit distracted in the afternoon? There are volatile oils in rosemary that can help boost mental concentration and memory. A couple of sprigs in a teapot every day will make your mind feel less foggy, Dr Baillie says.
Kawakawa: This New Zealand native, also called the pepper tree, has a healing effect. It has been traditionally used by Maori to ease sore stomachs and toothaches. Dr Baillie says it's an appetite stimulant and blood cleanser, so it can help fix skin irritations and bad circulation.
Licorice: This brew packs a punch for a sweet tooth - the licorice root is 50 times sweeter than sugar. It's packed with healing power and will soothe sore throats and chest infections. It will also help with any minor bowel inflation, like upset tummies, gastro bugs and constipation. But Dr Baillie says not to touch the stuff if you've got a history of high blood pressure or heart failure.
Ginger: Grated ginger root can work wonders for upset insides. It relaxes the digestive tract and helps wind pass through so it's great before and after eating. It can ease abdominal cramps and bloating, and will also quell nausea - a great tip for those who suffer from sea sickness or morning sickness. Dr Baillie says ginger tea is a great wake-up call because of its warming properties, and it will get the "digestive fire" going.
Lemon Balm: The fresh flavour of lemon balm has a mild sedative effect, like chamomile. You can grow the leaves in your backyard, pluck a couple and brew a pot before bed.
Stinging Nettle: This herb, typically grown on the English roadside, is loaded with nutrients including vitamins A and C, calcium, magnesium and iron. To get all the goodness out of the plant, Dr Baillie says you need to use a lot and brew it for a long time. She suggests popping a handful of dried nettle in a 1L jar, filling it with boiling water and leaving it overnight. In the morning you will get an earthy flavoured "nature's milk" that tastes better chilled with a bit of rosehip. Dr Baillie drinks a jar a day and says it helps beat hayfever and allergies.
Thyme: This pantry staple is a must-have on menu to fight off winter lurgies. Thyme is anti-microbial so will soothe sore throats and chest infections. To get the most out of your thyme tea, Dr Baillie suggests gargling it before swallowing.
To make the perfect tea: Drop your fresh herbs in a pot or cup and leave to infuse with boiling water for five to ten minutes. Alternatively, dry the herbs out on a tray and store them in a paper bag. Enjoy your tea at any temperature that tastes and feels good for you. The effects of tea can generally be felt about half an hour after consumption. Upper digestion can be soothed in about ten minutes, but bloating relief might take an hour or two.
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Are you a herbal tea fan? What are your favourite brews?By Nicky Park @Nicky_Park Email Nicky