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Herbs and Herbalism

Herb Profile: Tulsi

Hello, Herbology Faeries! It has been busy around these parts and I’ve had less time for the blog than I would have hoped this past month…but I am back today with another herb profile. Today we’re talking about an herb I lean on a LOT for support and grounding: tulsi!

Tulsi, or Holy Basil, is a pungent, aromatic, and somewhat warming herb. Though tulsi has reached herbal popularity heights in Western herbalism, it is a sacred plant in India and is native to subtropical climates. It thrives best grown in warm, sunny regions.

It’s easy to see why tulsi is so revered in India and beyond. Tulsi is an herb that does it ALL. It is a relaxing nervine and an adaptogen, meaning it addresses stress, anxiety, depression, and overall health and functioning. Tulsi is also incredibly helpful for pain, infections, viruses, heart health and blood pressure, allergies, high blood sugar, digestion, cognitive health, the immune system, and more. It is one of those herbs you can’t go wrong with as a daily tonic. (Some suggest caution if fertility is a priority for you, as tulsi may affect that.) Not only offering these health benefits, tulsi is also grounding and soothing to the spirit.

Tulsi represents spiritual and physical health, the well-being of the home and community, and mindfulness and the body-mind connection. Maia Toll says very aptly in her book The Illustrated Herbiary that tulsi reminds you to “come home” to your body and to honor your body and your spirit. If you ever feel like you need a reminder that you are enough, tulsi is definitely the ally to seek out.

You can use tulsi in teas, tinctures, oils, honey, and even as a culinary herb to flavor foods. Tulsi pairs excellently with spicy botanicals like ginger and cardamom, or with cooling herbs like mint and hibiscus. Honestly, though, I’ve rarely felt there was a combination of herbs that didn’t blend well with tulsi.

Instead of offering a recipe, I’m going to suggest a couple of simple options to help you get to know tulsi. The first is to purchase some tulsi and make a strong cup of hot tulsi tea. In my opinion, this herb stands so well on its own and is so incredibly grounding and nourishing, you will benefit from getting to know it on its own. I’m not kidding—sipping a strong mug of hot tulsi is like wrapping up in the softest blanket. It is pure comfort.

The other option I’m suggesting is this: if you need the simplest, cheapest, or most low-energy means of introduction to tulsi, you can find boxed tulsi tea without too much trouble. Traditional Medicinals sells a delicious Tulsi with Ginger tea, Numi makes a Tulsi blend, and Pukka has a Tulsi Clarity tea—you might even be able to find one of these at the grocery store, depending on your location. Trying a store bought variety of herbal tea is a super accessible, and no less legitimate approach!

So, are you a tulsi / holy basil lover already? If not, are you planning to give this amazing herb a try?

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Sources:

• Rosalee de la Foret, Alchemy of Herbs

• Herb Mentor’s Holy Basil monographs 

• Sarah Farr, Healing Herbal Teas

• Maia Toll, The Illustrated Herbiary

Categories
Herbs and Herbalism

Herb Profile: Dandelion Root

I’m back with another herb profile about one of my very favorite herbs, this time being dandelion root! Dandelions may evoke visions of sunny spring days for many, but I’ve come to associate dandelion root with cozy, grounding autumn and winter brews. It’s such a simple and beneficial herb to use, and it’s definitely one of my main staples.

(Dandelion leaves are used as well as the root—in teas, as salad greens, in pesto, and more. The flowers are even used in making wine. But the root is my favorite part to work with, so that’s my focus for this post.)

The bitter and yet somewhat sweet dandelion root is usually harvested in the autumn. (If harvesting your own, make sure it is from an area free of weed sprays!) It can be used in a myriad of ways, but for teas and tinctures it is usually used dried and sometimes roasted. The roots tend to be cooling and drying, and offer benefits such as liver function aid, digestion aid, inflammation modulation, nutrition, and overall balancing and grounding.

Many herbalists prefer dandelion root in tinctures, but my favorite ways to work with it involve teas. Dandelion makes an excellent addition to or replacement for coffee! Roasted dandelion root and chicory, with or without additions like cacao nibs and cinnamon, make an excellent and healthy coffee alternative. I also love pairing dandelion root with herbal chai mixes—it adds an earthy grounding element and all kinds of healthy benefits.

One of my favorite dandelion root tea blends is one shared by The Herbal Academy, called Grounding Gratitude Tea. The mix of dandy root and tulsi, which offers a mildly stimulating, calm energy, along with warming ginger, is one of my go-to teas to make me feel at home in my own body.

So, are you a dandelion root fan? What is your favorite way to work with this lovely plant ally?

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Herbs and Herbalism Recipes

Herbal Spiced “Wine” Tea

Aside from chai, another beverage that I associate with autumn and winter is spiced or mulled wine. The warm, soothing-yet-spirited drink is rich with digestive, warming, and immune-supporting spices. Not to mention how festive and rooted it feels to share this deep, tart ruby liquid with others at a gathering in the colder months.

But! I very rarely imbibe actual spiced wine. Instead, I mix up a similar potion replacing the wine element with extremely beneficial harvest berries and botanicals. They add the same vibrant garnet color, along with nutritional and healing properties, without the alcohol content. An herbal substitute for mulled wine is also quicker and more convenient when you want this type of pick-me-up (any time of day!) and it can be shared with anyone.

You can make your own preferred version of spiced “wine” tea with various ingredients and methods! I’ll share my recipe with you here so you can either use it yourself, or use it as a starting point to concoct your own recipe.

Spiced “Wine” Tea

Rosehips: These tasty red jewels are ready for harvest in October in many locations. You can use fresh or dried (I always have dried rosehips on hand). They add a tart cherry type of flavor, vitamin C, and minerals that aid in heart health, circulation, pain relief, cholesterol and blood pressure health, and even pain.

Elderberries: Dried elderberries impart a deep berry flavor and amazing immune-boosting benefits. Aside from their antiviral properties, elderberries also have anti-inflammatory benefits. I am always conscious to be moderate with the amount of elderberries included, in case of possible digestive discomfort. (I’ve never experienced this side effect myself, but I’ve read that it can happen so I use caution.)

Hawthorn berries: Hawthorn berries add nearly magical benefits of not only boosting heart health in a physical sense, but also soothing and strengthening the emotional heart and aiding with anxiety.

Hibiscus: This is a go-to base ingredient in fruity, berry-flavored teas for me. Hibiscus is an excellent heart ally and gives the tea a full-bodied, cranberry-ish, and even wine-ish taste.

Orange peel, dried or fresh: Obviously vitamin C is a big part of spiced wine. But so is rich, strong flavor! Orange in some form is almost essential to this type of brew.

Spices – cloves, cinnamon, allspice, ginger: You can’t have spiced wine without your warming, grounding, immune-boosting spices! These add taste, physical and mental health benefits, warming cozy comfort, and synergy between ingredients. Of course, you can get creative and use your own favorite combination of mulling spices!

Optional – rooibos: Rooibos is an herbal ally I adore and use often to fill out and add body to teas while providing wonderful benefits. (See my rooibos profile post for more on this herb!)

You can play around with your favorite berries (even adding fresh or dried blackberries or cherries!), spices, flavorings, and even splash in apple cider for a fruity kick or ginger ale for a fizzy twist. It’s up to you how you concoct your festive, warming brew. Then enjoy it all autumn and winter on quiet afternoons or cozy family gatherings! Or take a thermos of it on your outdoor autumn adventures!

What additional or different ingredients are you going to try in your spiced “wine” tea? I’d love to hear so I can try them, too!

Categories
Herbs and Herbalism Tea

Autumn Chai for Health & Grounding

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.

Origins

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.

Components

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!

Preparation

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?