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A Cup of Wellness: Herbal teas offer comfort during cold, flu season

Jan 7th, 2011 | Category: Features, Skills

by Marnie Jones

It’s not uncommon to look at a hot cup of tea as just a modest soother of the winter sniffles; something to sip to relieve a sore throat, to calm a cough, or to warm the bones. To Linda Quintana, owner of Wonderland Tea and Spice, herbal teas are recognized as offering much more than just temporary relief.

Linda Quintana, of Wonderland Teas, shows some of her cold remedy tea. PHOTO BY MARNIE JONES

Quintana, in business in Bellingham since 1973, recommends teas as a comfort against the common cold and as a primary defense. With a wealth of knowledge accrued from a lifetime of wildcrafting and harvesting herbs, she fully believes in their power for healing. Osha root, with its anti-viral and throat-soothing properties; rosehips, with their abundant vitamin C and their anti-inflammatory effects; mint, with its stomach-soothing and mood-calming properties—all have a place in Quintana’s herbal apothecary, along with rows and rows of their common and obscure neighbors. “Yarrow, elder, rosehip, hyssop, ginger, mint,” Quintana lists . . . this, in the first 30 seconds of our conversation.

Herbs with antiviral properties abound, and Quintana knows them all. These few, listed right off the bat, come to mind because of their well-established, time-honored performance as staunch immune defenders.

As Quintana explains it, herbal remedies are not just for those already ill. Transitional teas, or teas that ease us into the cold, damp weather so commonly associated with our beautiful corner of the world, can actually fortify our immune systems and give us resistance before germs can establish a hold “You want herbs,” she says, “that increase circulation.”

To take a warm cup of yarrow and elderflower tea is to stimulate blood flow, promote healthy capillary action, and create a warming vigor that defies a damp chill. By adding these healthful herbs to our diet when, or even before, wet weather sets in, Quintana and other herbalists believe we can really change our overall health for the better. We don’t have to wait for the flu to strike; instead, we fortify our immune system and boost our circulation in advance of the viral attack.

Like Quintana, with whom she once apprenticed, Christie Tomlin of Bellingham’s Birchwood Botanicals turns to elderberry for the treatment and prevention of colds and influenza. Touting it as an antiviral which, when brewed with yarrow, mint, and rosehips, does excellent work clearing congested sinuses and lungs, Tomlin relies on elderberry as a key ingredient in her winter tea blends. An apple cider based “winter elixer,” which includes farm-fresh garlic and cayenne pepper, helps prevent infection before it sets in.

With a variety of tinctures, elixers, teas, and syrups on offer, Birchwood Botanicals and Wonderland Tea and Spice both offer numerous approaches to treating the common cold. When asked about the relative merits of teas versus tinctures, however, both Tomlin and Quintana tout the advantages of the former. “Teas are hot,” reminds Tomlin, “and you can add honey and lemon.”

These additions, along with botanicals such as mint and rosehips, can lend additional benefit to the remedy. “Tinctures are easy to use and pack in your purse,” Tomlin admits, “but teas are really best.”

Quintana agrees, and both advocate for the hydrating, soothing, and warming properties of herbal tea. The hydrating  power of water, along with the warming, slow delivery of a sipped beverage, allow for the herbs in a healthful cup of tea to take full effect. There’s nothing, I’m assured, like a good cup of tea.

While locally-grown, pesticide-free, organic, or specialty herbs are well and good, the botanical agents involved in soothing cold symptoms have been recognized even by some major national brands. “Traditional Medicinals’ Gypsy Cold Care is a great tea,” admits Wonderland’s proprietor. “I sell a cold remedy tea, but theirs is a great tea too.”

I, for one, give Quintana the edge—she travels the West Coast in search of her perfect ingredients. Wildcrafting herbs, a skill she learned during an interior-Alaskan childhood, comes naturally to Quintana, and she returns from vacations with botanical treasures in hand. She has a Pacific Northwest harvest route, too, and while she can’t, for reasons of climate, source all of her medicinal herbs locally, she does aspire to source them regionally. With growers in Oregon and across Washington, she seeks herbs with the very best advantages—the perfect combination of sun, soil, and pesticide-free growing conditions that will allow each plant to reach its maximum health and potency. Take mint, for example—”a high water table can pull essential oils from the plant,” Quintana says. “You need drier soil. You need more sun.” For these reasons, she seeks mint grown in the Corvalis, Oregon area. “It’s some of the best mint.” In the Pacific Northwest, I ask? “No, I’d say in the whole United States.”

Like Quintana, Tomlin of Birchwood Botanicals places importance on sourcing. With a garden of her own, she grows herbs using organic principles. She, too, places effectiveness—the best ability of the plant to promote health—as a top priority. “I’m not certified organic,” she tells me, “but organic is good. Local is good.”

It’s time, as the days are shorter, to look at tea in a new light. We just might be healthier for it. PHOTO BY MARNIE JONES

Above all, Tomlin and Quintana seek plants with vigor, potency, and effectiveness. Healthy plants, designed by nature and trusted by untold generations to do the very important, very valuable, and very real job of protecting us from the ailments so common in the winter months.

It’s time, as the days are shorter, to look at tea in a new light. We just might be healthier for it.

Following are some tea remedies:

Cold Remedy Tea

Equal parts:
Ginger root
Lemon balm

Directions: Simmer first 5 ingredients for 20 minutes, then remove from heat and mix in remaining ingredients to steep for another 10 minutes. Strain and enjoy warm.
–Submitted by Charlotte Sather of Wickersham

Changing Seasons Tea

Combine dried ingredients:
1 oz elderflowers
1 oz rosehips
½ oz mint
½ oz. hyssop
½ oz yarrow (omit for ages 5 and under)
½ oz lemonbalm
½ oz sage

Steep for not more than five minutes, using two teaspoons tea per 8 to 10 ounces of hot water. Add honey if desired, and enjoy warm.
Recommended dosage: ¼ cup tea for small children, ½ cup for a child age 8 to 10, and one cup for a teen or adult. Drink up to two cups per day.
This tea is recommended for upper respiratory infections with sneezing, chills, ear congestion, or a light cough. It is good as a preventative remedy, taken as the seasons change.
This herbal tea is recommended for children (ages one and up) and adults. Omit yarrow for very young children, as it can be dehydrating.
The ingredients can be grown or harvested in the Northwest, or sourced from local vendors.
–Submitted by Linda Quintana of Wonderland Herbs Teas and Spices, Bellingham

Sore Throat Tea

This is a tea my grandmother served to me as a child when I would have a sore throat. She also gave me heaping teaspoons of honey throughout the day to further coat my sore throat.
1 cup of hot water
juice from 1/4 of lemon
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon honey

Boil water, stir in ingredients.
–Submitted by Katie Baker

Raw Garlic Tea

Garlic helps sore throats and other respiratory infections. You can also drink this tea when you have the flu or a stomachache, but without the garlic.
1 cup hot water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 inch fresh peeled ginger,
chopped or mashed
1 tablespoon honey
juice of 1/2 lime

Place garlic, ginger, lime juice, and honey in a mug, and pour in hot water. Stir until honey is dissolved. Drink the tea, swallowing the garlic pieces whole or chewing them.
–Submitted by Katie Baker

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