Since tea is my preferred vehicle for herbalism and ritual, I thought today I’d touch on my favorite type of tea during autumn: CHAI. It is full of benefits befitting the season: digestive, circulation-stimulating, warming, anti-inflammatory, immunity-boosting, and so many more. And chai is extremely grounding, protective, and COZY.
So I’m going to touch on a few of my favorite chai botanicals, digging in with a bit of research and preparation ideas.
I of course have to begin with the origins of chai. Even if what we think of as the “traditional fall spices” that are included in chai go way back, neither the spices nor chai have Western origins. Masala chai hails from India, a centuries-old traditional and health tonic drink. While recipes can vary widely, the main basis includes black tea and warming spices (the words masala chai literally mean “spiced tea”). The Western world recognized the benefits and amazing taste of chai spices long ago and has adopted and adapted them in many ways (which connects to a long and complicated history of colonialism we won’t get into here today). But regardless, chai and its related spices come to us thanks to their ancient origins in India.
There are so many non-traditional and revised spins on chai out there, either to incorporate different flavor profiles or to address varying health concerns. Milk and black pepper are common and traditional ingredients which helps to make the nutrients more bioavailable, but I sometimes enjoy chai without milk or with plant milk. Some versions include berries, fruits, or different herb or tea bases. My favorite base ingredient isn’t even tea—it’s rooibos! But in general, the essential components combine to aid digestion, immunity, and more, making chai a boon to holistic health.
I’ve recently done some research on the specific benefits of some of my favorite chai spices! Read on for a brief run-through of each:
Cinnamon – This warming, drying, pungent bark has anti-microbial, analgesic, antioxidant, and many other qualities and helps with digestion, cramping, regulating blood sugar, soothing sore throats and colds, and more. Folk tradition also holds to other benefits including protection, purification, energizing, healing, love, and prosperity.
Ginger – Another warming, drying botanical. Ginger is a healing powerhouse! It aids in everything from circulation, inflammation, digestion, pain, cramps, cold and flu, sore throats, nausea, heart health, energy, and many more. It is an energizing and synergy-boosting herb, in both health and folk tradition aspects.
Nutmeg – I had no idea of this until recently, but nutmeg is great for stress, anxiety, and insomnia. This pungent, warming, drying spice is also antispasmodic and anti-microbial, along with many other properties. It is also believed to aid in happiness, love, overall health, and psychic abilities, if that’s your thing.
Cloves – Cloves are great for your teeth and breath! They’re also known to be antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, analgesic, anesthetic, and expectorant. Whew! These fragrant little powerhouses aid digestion, colds and flu, arthritis, pain, headaches, and spasms. Cloves are thought to offer protection, purification, general healing, and mental aid.
Other common chai ingredients include cardamom, allspice, anise, fennel, black tea, and peppercorns. Flavor or health variations can include turmeric, rose, mint, fruit like apple or orange, astragalus, echinacea, reishi…it goes on and on. Don’t be afraid to put your own spin on your chai recipes!
Due to the hardy nature of the seeds, roots, barks, and such that make up chai, it’s often suggested to make a decoction with the herbs before combining with the tea component, rather than an infusion. A decoction is simple, though: just boil the ingredients on the stovetop for an extended period (it depends on how concentrated you’re going for, but it can be as little as 15-20 minutes), strain, and add to your brewed black or rooibos tea (if you’re not making a strictly herbal chai). Then top with plant or dairy milk if you like! A decoction tends to turn out more concentrated than a simple tea infusion, so that’s why you often add additional liquid to the mix after decocting. How much liquid you add depends on how long you simmer your decoction.
All that said, though, I often don’t have time to make a decoction and need a quicker cuppa! When this is the case, I grind the spices well with my mortar and pestle (you can use a coffee grinder, too) and steep for longer than I normally would with a simple tea infusion—as much as 10 or 12 minutes.
I could go on and on about chai—I feel like I already have in this post—but I think I’ll stop here for now! Are you a fan of chai? What ingredients do you like to incorporate? Which of the basic chai components is your favorite?