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Teas With Special Preparations


Latin Name: A symbiosis of Gluconacetobacter xylinus, lactobacillus and any of a variety of yeasts.
Parts Used: A mushroom-like zoogleal mat, also known as a slime growth (Yum!)

Preparation: Fill a large-ish container with sweetened black or green tea. Place the kombucha on top and cover well to keep dust or other particles from entering. Allow to sit for approximately two weeks. During that time, the kombucha will eat the sugar and turn the tea into what tastes like a slightly fizzy, mildly vinegary apple cider.

A side product of this process is a daughter kombucha growing on top, which you can then use to produce more kombucha. Because of this, it’s generally far cheaper to make your own kombucha tea.

Yerba Maté, photo by Felixe

Uses: Various medical studies suggest kombucha has antioxidants and helps to clean the liver. People also claim it sharpens eyesight, improves skin elasticity, aids digestion and increases energy.

Yerba Maté

Latin Name: Ilex paraguariensis
Parts Used: Leaves and (sometimes) stems

Uses: Primarily known to boost your energy, this herb also functions as a gentle pain reliever for headaches, neuralgic pain, and depression, and can even be useful in treating diabetes.

Preparation Method: The traditional method for drinking yerba is with a mate, a traditional cup made of wood or a hollowed out gourd. Fill the maté about half full with dried plant matter, add sugar if you wish, and then slowly pour hot, but not boiling water over the herb and drink with a metal straw called a bombilla. Some people like to add other fresh herbs underneath the dried, such as mint, lemon balm, or sage. You can refill and reuse the maté over and over, even sharing with other people, until the bitter taste of the herb dilutes.

Herbal Misunderstandings

Unfortunately, there’s much misinformation about many of the herbs used and sold widely around the world. That probably doesn’t matter much if you’re taking one of the milder herbs to cure something minor, but if you’re experiencing a serious medical or mental health condition, you need to know what you’re taking and why. When taking herbs that have potentially serious side effects, always research the herb and check with your doctor if you are pregnant or taking other medications.

Saint John’s Wort

Latin Name: Hypericum perforatum
Parts Used: Leaves and stems.

Saint John’s Wort, photo by leewrightonflickr

Uses: It’s widely talked about as an anti-depressant, which often leaves people thinking they can take St John’s wort regularly to life their mood. While in part true, St John’s wort is better used for nervous system related conditions and as a powerful antiviral. It can also help in a variety of medical conditions from cold sores and shingles to migraines to relieving and preventing viral flus. It works on viruses by temporarily changing the nature of the cell wall, thus making it more difficult for viruses to enter the cell. This is ok short term, but you do not want to take this herb daily for longer than two weeks.

Saint John’s wort can help alleviate stress and help you relax, usually if related to anxiety and nervousness, but since there are so many other herbs – such as chamomile, lemon balm, valerian, and catnip – that have similar properties, it’s generally best to use these more gentle herbs and save the St John’s wort for when you really need it.

Preparation Method: Steep the herb in hot water and drink as a regular tea. You can also make a tincture by allowing the herb to sit in alcohol for two weeks, decant the liquid and use by the dropperful in other teas.


Latin Name: Cannabis sativa
Parts Used: Leaves, stems and seeds

Uses: This very old herb is known to come originally from China and has an impressively wide range of applications. It has been used to cure depression, jaundice, ease pain and colic, menstrual pain, migraine, headaches, asthma, glaucoma, nausea and vomiting, epileptic seizures and is also used in cancer treatments.

Photo by ElPablo!

Preparation Method: Since THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is not water soluble, you cannot simply steep the herb in hot water to release its medicinal properties. It must be vaporized, heated in fat or smoked to receive the full benefit of the herb. It should be noted, though, that smoking generally has negative side effects that outweigh the medicinal benefits. You can also cook or steep the tea in milk. This is the basis of making bhang, a beverage from the Indian subcontinent made with milk and ghee and used during the festival of Holi.

Kava kava

Latin Name: Piper methysticum
Part of Plant: Root

Uses: I include this herb on the list mainly because so many people do take kava kava without knowing the implications and indications

Originally used and prepared by shamans in the Pacific islands as both a spiritual and medicinal herb, kava kava is best known in modern days to relieve depression. While that is most definitely a possible use for the herb, the idea of taking this narcotic-like substance daily to relieve stress and anxiety is simply dangerous. Kava kava’s effects range from a feeling of well being to more serious side effects such as paralysis and unconsciousness. You should only use this herb if you know what you’re doing, and it is not to be taken while pregnant. I’ve never found a time or reason that kava kava is preferable to another herb, thus this is the only herb on the list with which I do not have personal experience.

Preparation Method: The roots must be ground to a pulp and then soaked in cold water to draw out the active ingredients.


What are your favorite herbal remedies? Let us know in the comments!

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Diet + Nutrition


About The Author

Leigh Shulman

Leigh Shulman is a writer, photographer and mom living in Salta, Argentina. There, she runs Cloudhead Art, an art & education group that creates collaborative art using social media to connect people and resources. You can read about her travels on her blog The Future Is Red

  • Nick Rowlands

    Super-informative! But – catnip? Really? I’d be kinda worried about subsequent cat molestation…

    • Leigh Shulman

      Oh, Nick. What are we going to do with you?

  • Eva Sandoval

    Brilliant article, Leigh! I’m a big fan of brewing ginger tea, and I’m always interested in knowing what other kinds of things I can brew to make myself feel better.

    • Leigh Shulman

      Thanks, Eva. Glad you found this useful. I’d love to know if and when you try any of these and how they work for you.

  • Julie

    Red clover- that was so abundant where I grew up. Any of these common in the sidewalk cracks of NYC, Leigh?

    • Leigh Shulman

      I also remember fields of red clover growing up. Little did I know you can just eat the flowers straight. But not so much in NYC. They’re, well, a bit dirty.

      I took one botany course where we visited parks all over the city. Pretty much everything grows there. From this list, you can find mullein and nettles. Also wormwood, plantain (the plant not the banana-like thing), dandelion (really good for digestion), yarrow (stops bleeding and a really cool looking plant), jewelweed (for poison ivy and usually grows right next to it), pokeweed (poisonous but good for liver functioning in very small amounts) and burdock (aka gobo). Clearly, I can go on and on about this.

      A guy named Wildman Steve Brill runs tours in NYC parks if you’re interested in learning more. Or maybe next time I’m in NYC and it’s warm, we can take a walk in the park with Mariel. (My favorite park is Van Cortlandt just north of the city.

  • MaryAnne

    About ten years ago I came down with adult onset chicken pox during the first Christmas I’d had back home in years (thank you, young relatives who gave it to me!). When you get it as an adult it is AWFUL. My cousin is an herbalist and assembled some teas for me: I bathed in calendula tea, which eased the awful pox and helped to prevent scarring, and I sipped a tea made with catnip and marshmallow (not the fluffy candy but rather the root), which were for soothing and calming and for helping my troubled lungs (adult chicken pox can lead to pneumonia and other complications). They worked. I totally missed my first Christmas at home in years as I was quarantined (sigh) but I emerged unscarred and unscathed. My doctor was amazed by the fact thaI I had no scars at all at the end. Apparently being submerged 24/7 in calendula top infused bathwater did it.

    Yay tea!

    • Leigh Shulman

      Calendula is one of my favorites! I’ve used it for many things, but hadn’t thought about it for chicken pox. Good thing to know.

      And glad to hear it helped along with the catnip and marshmallow (which is one herb I haven’t used very much.)


  • Anne

    What a great, informative piece! I’ve been drinking sage tea (despite my taste buds’ protests) to combat a sore throat for years, and it definitely works. I’ve never tried nettle tea, but it’s next on my list after reading this.

    • Leigh Shulman

      I wonder if nettles grow in Korea. I bet they do. At least in some variety or form. You’ll have to let me know.

      Not sure what it is about the spices that are good for sore throats. A friend of mine recommended oregano essential oil when I came down with a bad sore throat about five hours before taking a really long international trip.

      Tasted absolutely horrendous. But I also didn’t get sick.

      They’re definitely better in sauces.

  • Marie

    This is such a nice piece, Leigh. That photo of the clover took me back to being a child and taking time out from playing to sip “fairie candy” from the petals. So sweet! I’ve never had it as tea, but I can just imagine, yum! And, allegedly, you can plant catnip in the far reaches of your garden to entice cats away from the veggie areas where they often like to leave, um, presents. I love herbal lore.

    • Leigh Shulman

      I love that image of fairie candy. Totally brings me back to 10 years old, too.

      I’ll have to remember the catnip tip when we build our garden here (we’re about to move to a new place… again). Although, I’m not sure how many cats are around. I wonder if it would work for ants, because we have loads of them.

      Many people suggested putting calendula around your garden to get rid of ants, but our ants just dissembled the plants and ate them. I wonder if catnip would help instead.

  • Alouise

    I love drinking tea, but I never knew that you could use catnip for tea. Really interesting read. I use ginger tea all the time now when I’m sick. Last time I had a cold I just drank ginger tea and used a nettie pot, and my cold was over in just a few days. Plus I didn’t feel groggy and stuffed up like I would’ve if I’d just stuck to routine of pharmaceutical drugs.

    • Leigh Shulman

      Yep. Catnip. It’s a weird one, but definitely helped Lila when she was a cranky teething baby. (I should have probably added that I don’t use the same bags of the stuff you can buy for cats. And our cats never actually reacted to the catnip I got for human consumption).

      Neti pots are fantastic. I tend to get a lot of allergies whenever we move to a new place and the neti pot has been beyond helpful. I bet some warm mullein tea would be amazing in one. I use St John’s wort tincture when I use mine, although to be honest, I’m not sure why. I can’t think of any real reason it would help clear my head, I just felt like doing it one day and it seemed to make a difference.

  • Carina

    Hey Leigh,

    What a fantastic article. Thanks so much for posting it! I’ve been toying with getting into different teas and things for a long time, but never have had the push to do it. The only one I currently use regularly is ginger tea (because it’s just so damn delicious).

    I always boil my ginger tea, often for a very long time to get it super gingery. You mentioned not to boil these teas – am I doing it wrong? I also recently got a juicer and have been putting ginger juice straight into hot water – will that work the same?

    Thanks for the great article, and I’m sure I’ll be referencing it again and again.

    Oh, and by the way, I’m getting married on our farm this spring, and we just planted a whole field of red clover just to have a pretty landscape. I didn’t realize I could feed it to my guests!


    • Leigh Shulman

      Hey Carina,

      Congrats on your upcoming wedding. The clover will be beautiful!!

      As for boiling ginger. That’s absolutely fine. When I say don’t use boiling water, I’m referring more to the leave teas. They can get burned. That’s particularly the case with Yerba mate.

      But ginger? Boil away. You can even let the water boil half down, add honey and let it boil more to make a syrup.

      Happy nuptials!!

  • Jessie

    Excellently informative article! I almost feel like printing it out and tacking it on my kitchen wall.

  • Karin-Marijke

    Hi Leigh,
    Thanks for the interesting article. Reminds me of my days I had my own vegetable garden with lots of plants [sage, peppermint, camomile] that I used to make tea.

    I think it would be good to point out, though, that by putting honey in your tea [or in any hot liquid for that matter], the honey looses its nutritious / medicinal values. For honey to be healthy you need to eat it cold. Honey in tea remains good for the taste though.

    • Leigh Shulman

      Hey Karen,

      Your vegetable garden sounds lovely. I haven’t lived in one place long enough in recent years to plant one. We’re moving to a new place soon, though, and I plan to make one there.

      As for the honey. Yes, boiling water will destroy the medicinal properties of honey, which is why it’s important to always use raw honey and not boil the water. Hot water, though, should be fine when adding a teaspoon to an already steeped tisane. But cooking the tea with honey, even if it never boils, also removes the medicinal value.

      Thanks for you comment.

  • Heather

    Leigh – excellent informative article!

    What are your thoughts on drinking yerba mate during pregnancy and nursing?

    • Leigh

      Hey Heather,

      Thanks for the compliment and great question.

      I can tell you what I’ve read research-wise, what others do and what I would personally do.

      I haven’t read anything in the research that suggest mate is bad during pregnancy. I’m sure if you drank huge amounts, particularly if you’re not used to drinking it, there could be some issues because mate is a stimulant and contains a long list of phytochemicals.

      Then there are countless women all over South America who drink mate before, during and after pregnancy without incident. Many say it’s an integral part of a healthy pregnancy.

      Me? I tend toward being very conservative when it comes to pregnancy, so it’s likely I’d forgo it altogether because mate and coffee aren’t something I want badly enough. Were it something I absolutely had to have, I’d do the following

      While I’ve done some research on mate, I wouldn’t call it exhaustive, so first I’d start reading and researching. Then, assuming all is well according to what I find, I’d take just a little and see how it goes. If all is then well, I’d drink it more regularly although not in large amounts.

      The body is also very sensitive during pregnancy, so it’s possible you’ll have some kind of reaction telling you that it’s either something you should be drinking or not. Sometimes this can be reflected in hating the taste. Other times, nausea. It’s really important to listen to that.

      Ultimately, everyone has to make his or own decisions when it comes to herbs, because there really isn’t a clear governing body on how to handle them. If you’re ever unclear, it never hurts to get an opinion from an herbalist with more extensive training and experience.

  • darmabum

    Very nice piece. Ever since sipping black tea with a green cardomom pod floating on top in the Qisaqwani Bazaar in Peshawar 21 years ago, I’ve laced my green tea with cardomom seeds. Have also had a great black tea with rose petals in it . . . Love tea. Thank you for the article!

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