Cooking Techniques: No Leaf Teas


“My throat hurts!”

School as barely begun and already the sick germs are flying around. First my son came to me at the beginning of the week complaining of  a sore throat and nose congestion.  Then yesterday my high school aged daughter was sent to the nurse in the middle of French class because she seemed off to the teacher, and this morning my husband woke up and said he wasn’t feeling well either!

For the entire family, whenever we’re not well, I treat the symptoms as organically as I can. My goal is always to minimize the need for doctor intervention. So, all week my son has been doing salt water gargles, using the neti to clear his nose, taking apple cider vinegar to balance his system, using honey to soothe his throat, and drinking my homemade teas so he has enough fluids and vitamins to help his immune system. This morning, I started the same regimen with my daughter.

Over the years, I’ve made countless pots of what my children call “special tea” which I learned from my Korean mother. Growing up, we rarely had tea made from tea leaves. Instead we had tea which my mom brewed using fresh ingredients like orange peels or ginger root or cinnamon sticks or roasted barley or sweet rice mixed with barley powder. I was in high school before I realized that an individual cup of tea could be brewed using tea bags and that most teas were made with tea leaves.

As a grown up, I love tea, and if you come to my house you’ll find an assortment of teas to choose from which rival the nearest grocery market tea aisle, everything from black teas to white teas to green teas to herbal teas to holiday teas to specialized sore throat or digestion teas. When my children, husband or I are sick, though, I always turn to the natural teas my mother taught me to make. The fresh ingredients have nutrients, vitamins and minerals which are helpful to the immune system and naturally relieve symptoms like sore throats, nausea, and congestion.

In addition, I’ve learned through friends that not everyone can drink leaf tea, that for some it causes terrible gastrointestinal or allergic reactions. If you talk to the specialists, they say that there are usually two reasons for having issues with leaf tea. The more usual is that people are reacting to the caffeine, theanine and/or tannins in tea which are compounds found in tea which people can have sensitivities to. The other reason is that if you have environmental allergies to plants, you’re likely to have allergies to the plant ingredients in tea like hibiscus and rose petals. So, for these friends I often make my mother’s teas because they can then enjoy tea without the reactions.

Making homemade teas from natural ingredients is very easy. You simply throw your ingredients into a pot, fill it with water, and brew until the water has changed color and is infused with the flavor of the ingredients. The teas can then be kept in the fridge in a container and rewarmed as needed, or as in our case, left in the pot on the stove top, drunk within a few hours, and more made to replenish what was drunk.

Since I know that some folks really appreciate more specific recipes, however, I’m going to post below a couple of my favorite versions.

Cinnamon Ginger Tea

In a pot filled with 6 to 8 cups of water, put a fresh piece of ginger root, about 3 to 4 inches in length, with 4 large cinnamon sticks. Bring the water to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain out the ginger root and cinnamon and drink the tea warm or cold, plain or with a drizzle of honey if you prefer to sweeten it.

NOTE: I keep ginger root frozen in my freezer which I just pull out and plop into the water whenever I need it. Also, you can reuse the ginger root and cinnamon sticks several times before they need to be thrown out, so after straining them out of your tea, put them into a container in your fridge until needed for their next use.  Also, ginger tea is great for upset tummies!

Citrus Peel Tea

In a pot filled with 4 to 6 cups of water, put fresh orange peels from two large oranges, or four tangerines or clementines, or three mandarin oranges or four lemons or limes. Bring the water to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, then turn off the water and let the peels steep for an hour or so. Serve warm or at room temperature.

NOTE: I usually use the whole peel, including the white pith because so much of the nutrients are in the white pith, but some folks find that to be too bitter. If you use a peeler to peel the outside of the citrus peels, you’ll avoid the pith and get more of just the outside peel. You can also dry citrus peels by simply letting them sit on a rack until they dry out and then store them in a tightly sealed glass container until you need them. If you’re using dried peels versus fresh, though, you usually only need half the amount for the tea because the flavor is more concentrated. Citrus tea is good for coughs and chest congestion.

Korean Barley Tea (Bo-ree-cha)

In a pot filled with 8 cups of water, put about 1/2 cup of roasted barley which you have rinsed well. Bring the water to a gentle boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat and allow the tea to simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. With this tea, the barley will settle to the bottom as it steeps. Strain out the barley and allow the tea to cool. We always drank it cold or at room temperature.

NOTE: I usually buy my roasted barley at the Korean grocery store but I’ve noticed that you can now find it at regular grocery stores, too. Barley tea is strong and not sweet. If you like a sweeter tea, you can purchase roasted corn and mix that with the roasted barley. You can also simply make a roasted corn tea which my mom used to make as well. Barley tea has a lot of antioxidants, and many folks swear by its ability to help with digestion and regulation of the body.