a guide to herbal teas
Here’s the thing: strong coffee, chilled champagne and single-malt whisky are all fine drinks with their own time and place—no argument there. But they’re not exactly kid-appropriate. And there are moments in life when what you really need—more than anything—is a nice sit-down, a warm cup of tea and the company of your little ones. And not just any old tea. Like an alchemist finding juuuuuust the right potion to catalyse a miraculous transformation, you need to know how to select the particular tea a particular moment calls for.
Something soothing when you’re frazzled. Something invigorating when you’re flat. Something spicy and warm, or cooling and fresh, or floral and fruity and fabulous. Depending entirely, of course, on the mood and the season.
Human cultures throughout the ages have known that the right kinda cuppa can help cure any malady. Here, we’ve pooled all that worldly wisdom onto a few tidy pages. So why not boil the kettle right now, kick back and sip your way through our guide to herbal teas.
Peppermint originated in Europe and the Middle East. And although you’ll now find it all over the world—perhaps even in your own herb garden—you won’t find anywhere with more peppermint than Morocco. More than 90 per cent of global production comes from this North African country alone. Little wonder it’s such an ubiquitous part of life there.
Moroccan mint tea is steeped with dense sprigs of leaves, mixed with a very generous amount of sugar, and served as a sweet tea in gorgeous little stained-glass cups with every meal. And before a meal, after a meal, and between meals...basically any time you sit down for longer than five seconds. But hey, who’s complaining?
Peppermint tea is a great reviver, thanks to the refreshing nature of the menthols that give it its characteristic icy taste. The stimulatory effect of that cooling sensation is what creates peppermint tea’s associated sense of ‘alertness’ and invigoration. It also helps to clear nasal and sinus passages (potentially relieving headaches). Peppermint tea can also help settle a tummy upset caused by indigestion and gas. Though, it isn’t a good choice for reflux or heartburn, as it can relax the esophageal sphincter, making the problem worse. It’s a bit too strong for babies and small children, but fine for kids over the age of five.
Camomile (or ‘chamomile’, if you have a thing for silent ‘h’s) tea is made from the dried, daisy-like flowers of the camomile plant native to Europe. Two species are commonly used in herbal preparations. German camomile and Roman camomile. Though the German variety is slightly stronger and better understood.
Camomile is considered a calmative, and it’s commonly used to help with insomnia and stress. Although these effects have yet to be proven in humans, some animal studies do show that small amounts of camomile can ease anxiety and improve sleep. Those with a ragweed allergy should consume with caution. But otherwise it’s safe for kids of all ages. (Perhaps that’s why, in Beatrix Potter’s classic children’s book The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Peter’s mother gives him a cup before bed after he’s been chased around the vegetable garden by angry Mr McGregor!)
Camomile tea has a light, earthy flavour with a hint of apple. Enhance that flavour further by serving with a slice of red apple or a small amount of honey to draw out the sweetness. In small quantities, it is considered safe for children, though pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised against drinking it, as it can increase the risk of miscarriage. Because camomile can have an anti-inflammatory effect, it’s also recommended that you don’t combine it with aspirins or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, or sedatives, antibiotics or anti-anxiety medications.
Echinacea is a type of herbaceous daisy, native to North America and used traditionally by Indigenous people of the United States as a folk medicine. The evidence for echinacea’s ability to treat colds and flus is mixed, and in any case, preparations vary so significantly that it’s impossible to confirm any large benefits broadly.
That said, if you’re drinking echniacea tea simply because you enjoy the flavour (a strong, woody/floral blend with a slightly sweet tinge, often compared to meadowsweet), then by all means, go for it! Just bear in mind that it can have side effects. As long as you’re not consuming more than 1–2g of echinacea root, it generally won’t do you any harm. But people with asthma or allergies to plants in the daisy family should be cautious, as it can cause reactions ranging from mild skin rashes to anaphylaxis. You should also be careful taking it with certain types of medications, as it can increase side effects and decrease effectiveness. This is especially an issue for anti-psychotics, muscle relaxants, immunosuppressants, immune-boosters and blood pressure drugs. It’s not recommended for kids under twelve or pregnant/lactating women.
What’s that you say? You feel like something slightly spicy but sweet, warm like a Christmas hug and woody like a stroll through the forest? My friend, what you’re looking for is cinnamon tea. You definitely need some cinnamon tea in your life right now.
Cinnamon—the inner layer of bark from the Cinnamomum plant—is native to South Asia (primarily India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) and has a peppery-sweet flavour. You’ll find it prepared as a tea in powder form or in teabags. Or, you can easily make your own at home by boiling up a couple of cinnamon quills (throw in some cloves for good measure) and mixing with warm milk and honey to taste. It pairs very well with citrus flavours. Try serving it with a slice of orange (no milk) for an extra-zesty kick, or with fresh apple for a festive feel.
Although early research suggested cinnamon could play a small role in helping to lower cholesterol and control blood sugar, more recent reviews show this isn’t the case. People with liver disease should also be cautious. Cinnamon contains varying amounts of a chemical called ‘coumarin’, which can cause or worsen the condition in high doses. Cinnamon tea is safe for kids in small amounts.
Ginger tea—like ginger everything, really—comes with a characteristically warm bite and a zesty aroma. Again, you can find it pre-prepared in teabags, but it’s hard to top freshly brewed homemade ginger tea. Simply simmer peeled and sliced ginger root for ten to twenty minutes (depending on how strong and tangy a flavour you prefer), along with a squeeze of lime juice and honey or agave nectar to taste. Occasionally, ginger tea is brewed on milk—and frankly, that should happen more often. We guarantee there’s no better kind of tea for dunking ginger nut biccies into.
Ginger itself originated in the tropical rainforests of southern Asia, and it features heavily in Indian, Sri Lankan, Japanese and Chinese cuisines. It’s also been used traditionally within those cultures as a folk medicine, primarily as a digestive aid. A number of modern studies have shown ginger can help relieve nausea and motion sickness. It’s safe for kids of all ages and worth a shot at settling an upset stomach—at the very least, it’ll perk you up.
So okay, yes, dandelion tea looks a lot like cheap instant coffee. And sometimes it's even called ‘dandelion coffee’. But trust us, it is nothing like Blend 43 or International Roast.
Dandelion tea is as delightful as the name suggests. It’s made from the roots of the dandelion plant, which are dried, roasted and ground into granules that dissolve in hot water. (It is possible to brew a tea directly from the roots themselves, though this won’t result in quite as richly flavoured a beverage.) It tastes sort of like coffee, but with more of a rich honey overtone than a bitter aftertaste. And is often used as a caffeine-free alternative. It’s safe for kids, too, so this can be a fun way for them to have what feels like a ‘grown-up’ drink.
The dandelion plant itself is native to North America and Eurasia, though it now grows widely throughout the world as a wildflower (or a weed, if you want to be blunt about it). Although the entire plant is edible, its use as a coffee-style hot drink appears to have originated in Canada in the mid-19th century. Dandelion extract is currently being researched as a potential treatment for some types of cancer and as a liver tonic. However, the tea itself isn’t recommended for any medical uses, and should be consumed with caution by people with daisy allergies or taking medication.
Ahhhh, elderflower. The most world-weary and wise of all the flowers! Just kidding. But for reals: elderflower (also known as elderberry) has been around a pretty long time, used in traditional medicine throughout North Africa, Europe, western Asia and North America. It was particularly widely used in German folk medicine to help fight colds and flu, and more recent preliminary research suggests it might indeed help to reduce those symptoms.
The tea itself is brewed from the fresh or dried flowers of the elderberry shrub. It has a light, fragrant, ‘summery’ flavour that pairs surprisingly well with peppermint and cinnamon, or with other floral teas such as hibiscus and rosehip. (Though elderflower’s subtle taste can be easily overpowered, so blend carefully). It’s also delightful as an iced tea, garnished with mint and lemon.
If you’re brewing elderflower tea from scratch, take note: other parts of the elderberry plant, especially the raw berries, are poisonous. Pregnant and lactating women are advised to avoid elderflower tea, but otherwise it’s considered safe for all ages.
Need to settle in, wind down, switch off? Need a helping hand getting dreamy? Sit tight, we gotcha. Just pour yourself a cup of lavender tea, take a long deep breath and draw in that heavenly floral aroma. Peace is on its way.
Lavender tea is made by steeping the lovely violet buds (dried or fresh) of the Lavandula plant in hot water, which extracts the trademark musky scent and flavour with a hint of citrus. (You can also make a milder lavender tea using the green leaves rather than the flowers.) It’s lovely served with honey and a slice of lemon, and it blends well with other gentle teas, such as camomile.
Lavender’s soothing smell helps to promote relaxation, and so it’s widely used to help with insomnia and to reduce stress and anxiety. It’s a lovely brew to have at night before bed; just don’t drink so much that you’re up all night peeing...kinda defeats the purpose, ya know? Lavender tea is considered safe for all ages in moderate amounts, though it shouldn’t be taken in conjunction with sedative drugs.
Rooibos tea (also known as ‘bush tea’) has been a big deal in South Africa for ages, and finally the rest of the world has caught on. Dutch colonisers on the Western Cape of the country began brewing the needle-like leaves of this low-lying mountainous shrub (actually a legume—who’da thunk it?!) centuries ago, and attempts to cultivate it elsewhere have all since failed.
This caffeine-free alternative to regular black tea has a refreshing grassy/nutty/smoky flavour (sounds weird but trust us: this is a great combo) and a lovely rust-red colour. It can be enjoyed with or without milk and sweeteners, or straight-up with lemon and honey. It’s great blended with vanilla and is fantastic served iced with fresh fruit (strawberries and apple go particularly well—especially when used as a cocktail mixer).
Because rooibos is lower in tannins than regular tea, those with sensitive stomachs may also find it easier to digest. Rooibos is suitable for children and adults of all ages.
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
First things first: tulsi, or ‘holy basil’, is indeed a type of basil (a member of the mint family), and it is indeed holy. Hooray for truth-in-advertising! It’s native to the Indian subcontinent and considered a sacred plant in certain strands of Hinduism, used by devotees for medicinal and religious purposes. In fact, the tulsi plant itself is thought of as a manifestation of the goddess Lakshmi and thereby to possess spiritual powers. In ayurvedic medicine, tulsi is considered useful for a number of conditions, but it’s primarily used to help cope with stress.
To make tulsi tea, simply steep fresh or dried holy basil leaves in freshly boiled water for a few minutes, and then strain. The spicy flavour has hints of mint, liquorice and clove, which can be sweetened to taste with honey or sugar. Tulsi tea is generally safe for all ages. Though it should be avoided by people on blood-thinning medications and by pregnant and lactating women.
Fennel is thought to have originated in southern Europe and the Mediterranean. Though it’s now cultivated all over the world, primarily in the US, France, India and Russia. (And here’s a fun fact of the day for you: fennel—despite looking like a bulbous variety of celery and tasting like an aniseed-flavoured radish—is actually a flowering member of the carrot family! Who knew?) Anyhow.
Fennel makes for a fabulous tea, which is easily whipped up at home. Simply grind up some fennel seeds using a mortar and pestle, and then steep them in boiled water and strain on serving. Its mild, liquorice-ish flavour is a great palate cleanser, so fennel tea (while great any time of day) is perfect to sip between courses.
The Ancient Romans and Egyptians used fennel as a digestive aid. And some people may well find it can help relieve flatulence and ease constipation. It’s also commonly found in herbal tea blends purporting to help increase milk supply in nursing mothers, though evidence for this effect is lacking. Fennel tea is considered safe for all ages.
Fennel tea not hardcore enough for you? Okay then, hot stuff—let’s step it up a notch. Get going with a cup of aniseed (not to be confused with star anise) tea for an even stronger, richer variety of that liquorice taste, with a warm hint of tarragon on top.
Aniseed—as the name suggests—refers to the seeds of the anise plant (also a flowering member of the carrot family, for what it’s worth). Though the tea itself can be made from the seeds (crushed), or the leaves, or a combination of both, depending on how strong a flavour you desire.
Simply steep your blend in either boiling water or milk, drain and then serve with honey or sugar to sweeten to taste. Aniseed tea was also used by Ancient Romans and Egyptians as a digestive aid, as well as to help relieve respiratory problems like bronchitis and asthma. Though modern evidence for these benefits is lacking. Anise can mimic the effects of estrogen, so it’s best avoided by people taking hormonal medications or therapies. It’s not recommended for infants and young children.