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3 Healthy and Refreshing Herbal Teas for Summer

3 Healthy and Refreshing Herbal Teas for Summer
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BY STEVE NUBIE

It’s hot and everyone’s stocking up on soft-drinks.  Unfortunately, they’re also stocking up on sugar, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavors.  Here how to beat the system.

I’ve had an herb garden for close to 40 years.  I’ve used the herbs to cook, repel insects, as home deodorizers and then I discovered herbal teas.  I’ve experimented with various herb blends and kept an eye on health benefits while pursuing great taste and refreshment.

There are plenty of prepared iced teas you can buy at a grocery store and they all look and sound good… until you read the label.  Most are loaded with sugar and just as many use artificial flavors.  The iced teas made with leaf-tea tend to be very expensive and they leave any medicinal or health benefits up to you to determine.

However, I have to confess something.  I do like my tea sweet so I explored alternatives that were not as problematic as refined sugars or artificial sweeteners and flavors.  Honey has become my sweetener of choice although real maple syrup has snuck into my glass from time to time.  I don’t overdo it, but a touch of sweet makes it all better for me.  You could also add a squeeze of lemon but there’s an herbal alternative called Lemon Balm that you should consider.

To begin with, let’s look at some herbs that can make healthy and refreshing iced teas:

Chamomile 

This is the go to herb for many tea infusions and makes a wonderfully flavored iced tea.  The flowers are the only part of the plant used for the infusion and chamomile is known for its calming effects and as a sleep aid.  It is an annual and spread profusely from year to year so be careful where you plant it.

Lemon Balm 

Lemon Balm is a member of the mint family but it’s not as invasive as mint in the garden.  Mint spreads rapidly and can take over anywhere it’s planted, but Lemon Balm tends to stay in one place.  It’s a perennial herb and the leaves have a strong lemon flavor when crushed between the fingers.  It makes a great tea on its own, but is often combined with other herbs to add its lemon accent.  Like all mint varieties it is a proven aid to digestion or an upset stomach and a mile pain reliever.

Celery Seeds 

Celery seeds carry the strong and specific flavor of celery.   It’s an aromatic and refreshing flavor and can also be combined with other herbs like Rosemary to make a strong and flavorful tea.  Celery seeds are a proven diuretic and were often used in earlier times to treat inflammation and conditions like arthritis and gout.

Mint 

From Spearmint to Peppermint, mint is another traditional source for tea.  It has a natural sweetness but you can always help it along with the natural sweetener of your choice.   Mint also has been used to treat coughs and congestion.  It’s especially soothing as an iced tea to treat a sore throat.

Willow Bark

It’s not an herb but worth considering.  The inner bark of the Willow tree next to the heartwood can be used to make an infusion.  It needs to be combined with other herbs and a touch of honey because it’s a bit bitter on its own, but the medicinal benefits are significant.  There is an element in Willow bark called Salicin.  It’s the active ingredient in aspirin and Willow bark is a proven and natural pain reliever.  White willow offers the most concentration of salicin, but all willow trees present it.  In fact, it was a German chemist who first standardized the use of Willow bark as a pain reliever.  His last name was Bayer and the aspirin that resulted still bears his name.

There are other herbs that lend themselves to iced teas including Rosemary (a member of the pine family and sage.  It really depends on your tastes and your willingness to experiment.  Both rosemary and sage have health benefits related to gastrointestinal health and an overall calming effect.

Infusion 101 

Anytime you make tea you are making an infusion.  An infusion is the process of soaking something in hot water to leach out flavors and elements.  There are 4 simple steps to making an infusion.

  1. Chop the herbs coarsely if their fresh and drop them into a bowl.  If their fresh simply spoon the desired amount into the bowl.  A teaspoon of dried herbs will usually do for a cup or a tablespoon of fresh herbs chopped.  For iced tea, we’re going to make a quart so you’ll need to multiply by 4 given that there are 4 cups in a quart.  Fresh herbs will release more natural oils and be more flavorful and offer more benefits.
  2. Bring water to a boil and pour into the bowl.  Let the combination steep for 10 to 15 minutes.  You don’t have to worry about the water getting lukewarm because we’re not making hot tea, we’re making iced tea.
  3. Strain the infusion through a strainer to screen out the herbs and pour into another bowl and refrigerate.  You could add ice at this time but it will dilute the tea.  Add the ice right before you drink it.
  4. Taste and add a sweetener like honey or real maple syrup if you like plus as many ice cubes as you like.  You can garnish with a sprig of an herb if you want to impress your family and friends.  To make a larger quantity just add more herbs and water.

Iced tea recipes 

You really don’t need a recipe for an iced tea.  You can experiment on your own.  If you’re making the tea from herbs in your herb garden and you don’t like the taste, just toss it and try again.  However, I’ve had some success with some simple combinations you might want to try:

Supermint Iced Tea with Lemon Balm

Flavorful and refreshing with health benefits related to digestion or sore throat.  

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 tablespoons of fresh mint or 3 teaspoons of dried mint
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon balm or 1 teaspoon of dried lemon balm
  • 1 quart of boiling water
  • Honey or natural maple syrup to taste (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  • Chop the fresh herbs or simply add the dried herbs to a bowl and infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.  Strain and sweeten if you like.  Pour into glasses and add ice and garnish with a sprig of mint or lemon balm if you have the fresh herb on hand.

Celery seed and cherry iced tea

Okay, cherries aren’t an herb but when combined with celery seed they make a full flavored iced tea with exceptional health benefits related to arthritis, gout and other types of inflammation. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 tablespoons of celery seeds
  • 2 cups of cherry juice (either fresh squeezed or buy a natural, store brand)
  • 2 cups of water

DIRECTIONS

  • Add the celery seed to a bowl and pour the boiled water/cherry juice combination over the seeds.  Let steep for 15 to 20 minutes and strain into another bowl.  Refrigerate and pour into a glass and add ice.  Garnish with a stalk of celery or a couple of cherries on the stem if you have either.  Taste and add a little honey if you like.

Willow bark cocktail

It’s called a cocktail because it’s a robust combination that offers pain relief and refreshment. 

To harvest willow bark cut a thin, vertical strip of bark from a willow tree down to the heartwood.  The strip should be about 1 inch wide and 6 inches long.  Carefully scrap the inner bark from the strip with the edge of a knife and collect.  This inner bark is called the Xylem and comes off in thin, transparent strips.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Your collected willow bark
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh mint or one teaspoon of dried mint
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon balm or one teaspoon of dried lemon balm
  • 1 tablespoon of chamomile flowers
  • Honey to taste
  • 1 quart of boiling water

DIRECTIONS:

Add all of the ingredients to a bowl and steep for 20 to 25 minutes.  Strain into another bowl or one-quart mason jar and refrigerate.  Pour over ice in a glass and taste.  Sweeten to suit your taste with honey.

It’s great to have it both ways 

Iced tea doesn’t have to be a store-bought sugar bomb with artificial flavors.  When you infuse and brew your own natural, herbal teas you’ll enjoy the fruits of your simple labor and even if you don’t need the health benefits they all taste great and refreshing on a hot, summer afternoon.

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Steve Nubie
Steve Nubie has been writing professionally for 38 years. He is a published author with 10 books to his credit, has written for CBS Entertainment for the Twilight Zone series, and has written hundreds of articles for magazines and the Internet. He has served as Chief Creative officer in the marketing and advertising industry, was an Executive career-coach, is a chef and has traveled extensively living in Asia for two years, and London for two years.