I have been a naturopath and herbalist for over 20 years. I absolutely love the way herbs both enhance our wellbeing and treat illness. In this regard they are unique. For thousands of years people have munched on therapeutic plants to ease their aches and pains. Even animals have an instinct for herbs. The elephants in Sri Lanka seek out gotu kola leaves, which also happen to be recommended in Ayurvedic medicine for longevity and memory. All ancient civilisations have used herbs for medicine, from the Babylonians to the Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese.
Although the tradition of herbal medicine may have been intertwined with myth and old wives’ tales, modern herbalism has kept up with the times. As more herbs are put under the microscope, we are finding that they stand up to rigorous scientific investigation, confirming their centuries of use. For instance, St. John's wort, long used for those of a melancholy or nervous disposition, has been reported in medical journals to be as effective as antidepressants but without the side effects. In fact, doctors in Germany write out several million prescriptions for St. John's wort each year. As a rule, herbs are less toxic than pharmacological drugs, but they also may take longer to work.
Good health is more than merely the absence of disease. A patient may come in with a clean bill of health from their doctor, nothing amiss on their blood tests, but nevertheless do not feel one hundred per cent. Herbs increase our inherent ‘vital force’, the spark within, helping us feel bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Herbs work to improve and assist the body’s innate functions, rather than override them. For instance, I use echinacea to improve the functioning of the immune system, helping my patient to resist infection. Other herbs, including the ‘tonic’ herbs, such as Siberian ginseng, licorice and withania, have the ability to help the body return to its inherent homoeostatis, or equilibrium. They can be as helpful in an overactive (hyper) state as in underactive (hypo) states. For example, the Ayurvedic herb withania is an excellent remedy for improving energy, as well as helping you to sleep.
In the 21st century, when people are yearning to connect with the earth, what better way than to use plant medicine? Herbs are the way forward for our health and our planet. They have few side effects, improve the body’s ability to heal itself, are biodegradable, sustainable and delicious too!
A couple of cups of herbal tisane each day is a simple way to improve your health and wellbeing.
As a herbalist, I usually create a blend of three or more herbs. We call this 'synergy', where the sum of the parts is greater that the whole. Combining several herbs that have a similar activity or work on a certain organ or system in the body will bolster the other herbs, better than using one herb on its own. For example, if I were to treat a patient with a sore throat, I might use a combination of licorice, echinacea and thyme; licorice because it is soothing to mucus membranes lining the throat, echinacea because it is anti-inflammatory and helps the immune system, and thyme because it is antiseptic.
If you are new to herbal tisanes, why not buy small packets of each herb you like the sound of and create your own blends. Some of the more 'therapeutic' herbs don’t taste so great, so it's a good idea to include one or two of the more pleasant herbs such as licorice, peppermint or ginger, or add honey which covers a multitude of sins. Always be governed by your own tastes. It's really not worth making or drinking a herbal tisane you dislike.
Fresh herbs contain more of the essential and volatile oils of the herbs, and for this reason generally smell more pungent. However, fresh herbs by their nature are seasonal and are not always available. Herbal tisane blends traditionally use dried herbs, and are often prepared in a combination that tastes good and is therapeutic. A good compromise is to have the base made from dried herbs and add fresh herbs you have handy such as fresh root ginger, peppermint leaves, lemongrass or sprigs of thyme.
Avoid self-diagnosis. If you suspect you are ill, it's always wise to check with your health care practitioner rather than self-diagnosing and prescribing.
Best Herbal Tea blends
The following blends are based on tisanes I find very useful in my herbal practice. They taste good and do a good job. Please feel free to add your own signature to these blends. If you have difficulty finding one of the herbs in these recipes, it is fine to do without or substitute it with another herb.
Best-ever stress blend. This blend is wonderful when you have a lot on at work or school. It's also good for times of emotional stress, such as when dealing with relationship difficulties or looking after sick or frail relatives.
Withania, rooibos, zizyphus, Siberian ginseng, licorice, ground cardamom
Best-ever sleep blend. Although the hops and valerian make this a less-than-sublime tasting brew, hopefully you will sleep the night through. If you have problems getting to sleep, drink a couple of small cups after dinner. If you have problems with waking through the night, drink it closer to bedtime.
Hops, valerian, lavender, withania, zizyphus, cracked rooibos, licorice, hibiscus, crushed ginger
Best-ever memory and concentration blend. Perfect for students and those who need to keep their wits about them at work.
Gotu kola, licorice, ginkgo, bacopa, Siberian ginseng, rosemary, ginger, red rose petals
Best-ever digestion blend. Although not often a topic of conversation, as a herbalist I know that a lot of people have digestive problems, including bloating, reflux, constipation and flatulence. These herbs help a host of tummy problems.
Ginger, chamomile, peppermint, licorice
HAIR OF THE DOG
Best-ever hangover blend. Just the thing for the morning after the night before. It also makes a pretty good detox brew.
St. Mary's thistle, dandelion root, ginger
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mim Beim is a renowned Naturopath and has released a range of delicious Beaming With Health Herbal Teas to assist a variety of health conditions. For more information visit www.beamingwithhealth.com.au