With all the recent excitement about the health benefits of green tea, few people are taking advantage of the medicinal properties of many delicious herbal teas. Such teas are an excellent option for digestive ailments, including nausea, indigestion and stomach ulcer... and acute conditions, such as the common cold and the flu, anxiety and insomnia.
Even though herbs that are available in tea bags can be used for these purposes, you’re much more likely to get medicinal benefits if the herbs are fresh, used in therapeutic amounts and steeped long enough. That’s why I recommend infusions (for teas made from flowers, leaves and fresh stems) and decoctions (for teas made from roots, tubers or dried stems).
To make an infusion: Steep the herb in a covered pot of boiled water for 10 to 15 minutes.
To make a decoction: Simmer the herb in water for eight to 12 minutes. The typical "dose" is two teaspoons of herb per cup of water. For most medicinal purposes, one cup of tea should be taken on an empty stomach or 30 minutes after a meal, four times a day until the symptoms subside. All plants needed to make herbal teas are available at most natural-food stores (unless noted otherwise).
My favorite infusions...
Chamomile has antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and mild sedative properties that confer medicinal benefits if the tea is consumed or the scented steam is inhaled. For anxiety or insomnia, add a cup of chamomile tea directly to warm bathwater and sip another cup while enjoying a relaxing soak. Chamomile is also helpful in reducing indigestion and intestinal gas and in healing stomach ulcers.
Elder flower contains healing compounds -- including flavonoids, tannins and glycosides -- that help "break" a fever and reduce mucus production, so it’s ideal for the common cold or the flu.
Spearmint has a milder flavor than its cousin peppermint but often is more effective in easing nausea and vomiting due to its healing compounds, such as bitters, tannins and volatile oils.
My favorite decoctions...
Ginger root contains plant compounds -- such as volatile oils and alkaloids -- that help ease motion sickness, improve digestion (if taken after a meal) and reduce mucus that accompanies a cold or the flu. Buy fresh ginger root in your grocery store -- peel, slice thinly and simmer (as described earlier).
Dandelion root helps the gallbladder produce bile. I recommend dandelion root tea for people with high cholesterol, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (in which fat accumulates in the liver of a person who drinks little or no alcohol) or gallbladder disease.
Licorice root is an excellent antiviral agent that fights many viral ailments, including bronchitis and the common cold.
Caution: Avoid using licorice for more than 10 days if you have high blood pressure -- the herb can affect blood pressure levels.