The Summer Afternoon Cuppa

Every so often, I will share my weekend cups of tea on Instagram and one thing may have become a bit apparent: I’m trying to drink less caffeine on the weekends, particularly in the afternoon. So I’ve started creating some lovely non-tea herbal and fruit infusion on the weekends.

One of my favorite herbs for an iced tea is red raspberry leaf. Long lauded as a remedy for all manner of “women’s trouble,” I like it for it’s dark, tannic bite that is reminiscent of black tea, without the caffeine. Mixed with a sweeter herb, like peppermint, and served over ice with a touch of local honey, this makes a lovely afternoon infusion.

I’ve also found a fondness for flower-based infusions. Red clovers have a grassy flavor and impart a pink color to an infusion. Mixed with lavender, the herbal-floral quality of the lavender mixes with the clover and makes a delightful infusion, particularly with a bit of honey and lemon.

Finally, sometimes I take my afternoon infusion hot. One of my favorite simple cups is an infusion of fresh mint leaves from my garden, steeped for a five to ten minutes, and served simply in a tea cup, with no additions. The brightness of the mint and the warmth of the water are perfectly comforting and invigorating, without being overly stimulating.

Of course, all of these are best enjoyed outdoors, if the weather permits, or else curled up next to a sunny window with a good book.

The Power of a Cup of Tea

Boyfriend is my rock, my support, the one who can calm me down no matter what. But even he needs his helpers. He’s the one who reminds me that I haven’t eaten for a while and seem like maybe I need a snack, or that I need some more sleep, or maybe I should get up and go outside for a while to recharge. And his number one go-to remedy?

“Sweetie, do you want me to make you a cup of tea?”

If it’s first thing in the morning and there’s no food in the house for breakfast because it’s shopping day, he offers me a cup of tea first. If it’s a work morning and I’m lounging in bed rather than face another day at the office, he makes me a cup of tea. He always makes sure to put enough water in the kettle when he boils it to make coffee, so I don’t have to wait as long for my tea. And if I’m having trouble falling asleep or sad or cranky or just generally stressed, he always first offers to make me a cup of herbal tea.

And that tea has so much more power than the leaves and water in it. Sure, some teas have medicinal properties. The caffeine can be a pick-me-up. The herbs can be soothing or calming or sedating. The water is hydrating, which can perk me up sometimes. But there is so much more to that offer of a cup of tea, and the tea itself.

The warmth of tea is part of the experience. I almost never drink tea iced unless it’s very very hot and I’m in the mood for a cold beverage. Hot tea is not the same. Hot tea is comforting from the moment you wrap your hands around the warm mug and inhale the scent of the tea. It sounds cliched, but it is a bit like a hug.

And tea takes time to make. You have to fill the kettle, and wait for it to boil. If I’m having a cup of proper tea, you need to measure the tea leaves into the strainer, time the steep, and remove the leaves. Tea isn’t something that Boyfriend drinks himself unless he’s sick, so it means something that he’s willing to drop what he’s doing and take the time out to make me a cup of tea. And it almost always makes me feel better.

The other week, I had gotten in touch with my inner flapper and overindulged in cocktails and champagne at a party the night before. I woke up after staying with a friend, unable to even look at food (my own lovely homemade scones, with just a touch of lemon), but I knew I could handle a cup of tea. Moroccan mint with a dab of honey soothed my stomach and perked me up enough to nibble on half a scone and make the drive home. Once there, I curled up on the couch with more tea (ginger), and some heartier food (curry, oddly enough). Thus fortified, I catnapped through the day to recover. Something about the warm tea made it easier to sip than a glass of cold water.

So I suppose the point is, consider tea. And if you have a day when you feel down or sick or sad, make yourself a cup of tea. Or if you have a loved one who is down or sick or sad, make them a cup of tea. It will help.

Cottage Herbalism

I don’t remember how I first learned about herbs and herbal remedies. Probably my mother made a tea of some sort. But at some point I developed an affinity for herbalism. I’ve taken a few classes, but am mostly a self-study, and at this point in my life, have settled into a kind of casual, cottage herbalism, as I like to call it. A kind of timeless healing that eschews potent herbs or attempts to break in and heal aggressively in favor of gentle remedies that supplement a healthy lifestyle and modern medicine when needed.

My favorite remedies are herbal teas. I often buy blends from Traditional Medicinals, although I dislike that they use stevia and liquorice to flavor many of their blends, so I also love the single-herb tea bags from Celebration Herbals and Alvita. I find that using simples (single herbs) to start is good to make sure you don’t have any adverse reactions. And a basic herbal book is nice to keep track of any obscure contraindications, like avoiding parsley and rosemary in medicinal quantities during pregnancy.

But my herbalism is relaxing and soothing. It is a cup of chamomile-lavender tea before bed to soothe strained nerves. It’s a brew of ginger root for an upset stomach or red clover, echinacea, honey, and lemon for a cold. I once developed a really nasty, flat-on-my-back-on-the-couch cold the day before an audition that I really, really wanted to go to. I drank echinacea, honey, and lemon tea 4-5 times that day and was easily well enough to audition.

From there, I occasionally turn to tinctures and extracts when I need a bit more support. My favorite company right now is called Urban Moonshine. They primarily make delicious herbal bitters, which I take to help digestion sometimes. They’re also tasty just added to a glass of sparkling water. But their tonics stand out to me. They keep their recipes simple and don’t use very potent herbs, but their Joy Tonic, a blend of linden, rose, and motherwort, helps balance me during the high stress times of my life.

I used to make some simple tinctures of my own, but I’ve fallen out of the habit. It’s not difficult, and you can use either fresh or dried herbs. The important part is to use a lot of herb, steep it for at least a month, and shake it often. A few years back, I made a set of tinctures that served most of my needs. Hypericum (St. John’s Wort) for low times, Viburnum (Crampbark) for PMS, and Leonurus (Motherwort) for stress. While I’ve largely replaced these with the Joy Tonic (and a little ginger tea for cramps), they served me well for a long time.

And, of course, I have my own Gardener’s Herbal Tea blend, which I haven’t drunk as faithfully, but may end up back in my morning routine. The nettles will help calm my sinuses, and the other herbs will support a rather frayed system from the stress of preparing for my show’s opening weekend.

Do any of you have favorite gentle herbal remedies? Anyone experiment with casual herbalism, rather than trying to be very medicinal about things?

Gardener’s Herbal Tea

Yesterday it was lovely and grey with a dramatic cloudy sky. After going out for lunch, I decided to stop off at my favorite little herb shop to get provisions and then went home to make up a new batch of my personal herbal tea blend, which I like to call gardener’s herbal tea.

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It’s made up of nettles, oat straw, red raspberry leaf, and rose hips, all of which could be grown in the garden, although I purchase mine these days. One of these days, I’ll have my own little yard and garden and perhaps will be able to grow the herbs myself. It makes a nice cup of morning tea. I brew it for an hour in the mornings to really get the essence out of the herbs. The nettles give it body, while the raspberry leaf offers tannin, the oatstraw mellows the cup, and the rose hips give it a bright tart note that really brings the flavors together.

I like to start the day with an herbal cup when I know I shall be drinking cup after cup of caffeinated tea at work. The herbs are supporting to the body in general, and I find my skin looks clearer and my demeanor is brighter. Nettles are packed full of good minerals, although they do taste a bit like strong spinach. Oat straw is supposed to be mellowing and calming. Rose hips are a great source of vitamin C, and red raspberry leaf is good in general for women’s concerns.

Each morning, while Boyfriend showers, I go down to boil a kettle and start my tea. I use my tea cozy to keep the brew warm while I then start my day, shower, dress, and make breakfast. It’s usually been almost an hour before I sit down to my pot of tea. It looks lovely, the rose hips tinting it a litle rose color. I sit and sip my tea and then am ready to start my day properly.

To mix the tea, I gather my herbs. I eyeball the mix by volume, using probably an ounce or two each of nettles, oat straw, and raspberry leaf, and then pouring the rose hips, about four ounces, on top. I can either shake them up in the jar to mix, or mix it up in a bowl. I use about a quarter cup of herb for a pot of tea. I hope you will give my herb blend a try!