3 system-supporting herbs that are always in my tea cabinet

It’s no secret that I start every day with a cup of black tea, but that’s not the only warm, comforting drink you’ll find in my mug! From late morning through bedtime, I ping-pong back and forth between my favorite herbal blends. But these infusions aren’t just a soothing and delicious way to stay hydrated! Herbal blends can be both nourishing and nurturing, with qualities that promote wellness, mood, healthy sleep, energy and more. Read on to learn more about three system-supporting herbs I’ve been leaning on lately, with suggestions of blends I love, how to brew herbal tea, and more.

First, a quick lesson on herbal tea.

I was surprised when I learned this: it turns out, there’s technically no such thing as herbal tea. A true “tea” is always made from the camellia sinensis plant, traditionally found and harvested in India and China. That same plant can result in black, green, white, pu’ehr, or oolong tea depending on how it’s processed. Herbal “teas”, which are typically made from a combination of leaves, bark, spices, flowers, and fruits, aren’t actually teas at all and are more accurately referred to as tisanes or infusions.

So are the companies that sell you “herbal teas” ignorant of this fact or trying to pull one over on us? More likely, they’re just using common language to make it easier for consumers to know what they’re buying. For myself, I try to use the correct terminology out of respect for the tradition of true tea, without being obnoxious about it (in other words: when I write about tea, I will usually refer to herbal blends as “tisanes” and “infusions”, but if you ask me my favorite herbal tea, I’m not going to wrinkle up my nose and say “Don’t you mean TISAAAAAANE?”) And if once in a while I use the phrase “herbal tea”, just know that it’s shorthand for a beverage containing roots, spices, leaves, flowers, or fruit, but NOT camellia sinensis.

I’m still learning more about tea, herbs, and natural healing every day and there is so much I don’t know! My goal is really to let more people know about the power of tea, tisanes, infusions – or whatever you want to call it when a little hot water is transformed into a nourishing, comforting, wellness-supporting beverage by pouring it over leaves, buds, barks, and roots 🙂

Here are three herbal teas tisanes I’ve been enjoying quite a lot lately:

  • Dandelion is known to support liver and kidney function, and I’ve become rather attached to Wholesome Cleanse from Flying Bird Botanicals, which features organic dandelion root as its #1 ingredient. I recently finished my third tin of this blend and finally just purchased a big refill bag. Wholesome Cleanse comes in both pyramid teabags (which better allow water to flow around the leaves than the traditional flat pouches) and loose-leaf, my preference. The product linked above is an adorable small tin of just 6 bags; great for travel or if you just want to try it out – you can also buy larger quantities and tins of loose-leaf through the manufacturer.

    Brightened by a generous squeeze of lemon, Wholesome Cleanse is my frequent after-dinner “cocktail” of choice. Warning, though: I’ve become wary of drinking it too close to bedtime because of its diuretic effect. This started to make sense when Eric informed me that the French word for dandelion is “pissenlit“, which can be translated to “pee the bed.” We jokingly call this my “pee the bed tea” and when I drink it too close to bedtime, I’m prone to multiple midnight trips to the bathroom. On the other hand my doctor told me that my labs indicate that my kidney function is “spectacular,” and I will happily accept that gold star with a nod to copious consumption of dandelion root!
  • Turmeric is technically a spice, not an herb (it comes from a root), but it is also used in herbal medicine so I’m including it here 🙂 Whatever category you put it in, turmeric is a powerhouse, known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant properties. It’s also a delicious ingredient in tisanes like Justea Turmeric Ginger and Good Medicine Ginger Love*, both favorites in my tea cabinet. These blends bring together the complimentary properties of warm ginger, bright citrus, and earthy, peppery Turmeric. Good Medicine Tea also sells a Turmeric-based Golden Milk Powder, which can be a great way to amp up the healing power of your herbal blend, or used as a warming, tasty enhancement in smoothies, broths, lattes, and more. *use code MOR for 15% off your first order at Good Medicine Tea!

    If you’re newer to herbal infusions or want a travel-friendly option, I’m also a fan of Tazo Turmeric Bliss. It has a sweet, approachable flavor that also works well chilled, and packs easily into my carry-on for on-the-go brewing.
  • Holy Basil, or Tulsi, is known for its stress-relieving, immune-supporting qualities. I find that its astringent flavor pairs very well with mint and citrus. Some tulsi-forward blends to try: Queendom Reign from Modestine Tea, the Tulsi Citrus Soother from Light of Day Organics (Michigan’s only tea farm – and yes, they do grow true tea, here in Michigan!) and Nomadic Mint from Good Medicine Tea.
Photo by Alison Marras on Unsplash

How to prepare herbal tisanes

The general rule is to steep one teaspoon of the herbal blend in just-boiling water for 5 minutes or so. This is more art than science, however, as different blends will require longer steeping times for the fullest effect. Flavor preference comes into play, too: I like my herbal infusions to have a lot of flavor, so I steep as long as possible and very often add lemon after steeping for more punch. I sometimes use a bit more of the blend if a teaspoon isn’t getting me the strength I prefer.

As I mentioned above, I prefer loose-leaf blends, which are brewed by simply pouring the hot water over a strainer containing the blend. Leave the strainer in place while it steeps, then remove it when you’re ready to sip. I will often go back and re-brew the original infusion again later. I use a mug with a lid, like the Nordic Mug from DAVIDsTea (which also comes with a fitted strainer) to keep the water hot while it steeps for a nice long time.

Making sure the water is hot enough also ensures a nice strong steep (lukewarm water = weak flavor + weaker benefits of the ingredients.) For myself personally, there’s almost no such thing as over-brewing an herbal infusion – very different from a cup of “true” tea, which can taste bitter to me after just a few minutes of brewing. Experiment until you find the flavor and steep times you prefer!

If you’re curious and want to learn more about teas and tisanes – and the differences between them – I’d encourage you to check out my Mother of Reinvention episode featuring Laura Cepeda of Modestine Teas. Laura is a New York, NY-based certified tea sommelier who offers tea ceremonies and meditation rituals along with her delicious teas and herbal blends.

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