Even Arizonans know that when the weather turns cool, it’s time to pull on warm clothes and start eating more hot foods and warming drinks – it’s a natural instinct that keeps us healthy. When I lived at Reevis Mountain School with Peter Bigfoot, I learned to use herbal teas as another, powerful way to protect my health and restore it when I got sick.
Every day, winter or summer, rain or shine, we brewed a huge pitcher of tea – our beverage for the day. Peter chose the herb each day, depending on factors like the weather, the season, and any health needs among the group. For winter, he selected teas that are warming to the body, boost the immune system, and support kidney function.
Here are four of Peter’s – and my own – favorite teas for winter. All of these herbs boast powerful natural antibiotic and antiviral properties. They can help you avoid colds and flu, or help you get well again if you do get sick.
Chaparral – This is the plant Arizonans call greasewood or creosote – the one that makes the desert smell good when it rains. Every spring, usually in March – when the leaves are a beautiful, glossy green, but before the small, butter-yellow blossoms open – Peter and his crew visit a friend’s land near Roosevelt Lake to harvest up to 20 five-gallon buckets of the aromatic leaves. Back at the farm, they spread the leaves on the floor of the farmhouse attic to dry. Peter uses the herb to make medical tinctures and salves, as well as many gallons of tea.
Chaparral came to be Peter Bigfoot’s favorite herb thanks to its many uses and its effectiveness. It’s antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antioxidant, as well as a remedy for insect bites and stings. Scientific research shows it to be effective against cancer and shingles.
Note I didn’t say we love chaparral for its flavor! Although, as Peter says, once it heals you enough times, you grow an affection for the taste. Until then, the secret to getting it down is to dilute the tea until it’s palatable. Steep fresh or dried chaparral leaves and twigs for about 10 minutes in hot water and then strain them out. Do not simmer or boil the tea.
Cinnamon – Many familiar kitchen herbs and spices make wonderful teas with surprising healing properties. Cinnamon tea pleases the tongue with a natural sweetness and delicious flavor, but it’s also a hard-working healer. A natural antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal, cinnamon also assists digestion – it breaks down fat in the digestive system and also helps the body process sugar. A cup of cinnamon tea sipped along with a heavy meal or sweet dessert will help the digestive system cope. To make cinnamon tea, use whole quills (the “rolls” of bark) or chips from broken-up quills. (Don’t use the powder, because it will coagulate into a jelly-like mass. This would make a great healing poultice, but not so great for tea.) Simmer the cinnamon for about 20 minutes.
Ginger – Ginger, another herb with warming properties, helps you feel warm from the inside. Along with being a potent antibiotic and antiviral, ginger offers anti-inflammatory properties. When I had frozen shoulders, I drank three or four cups of strong ginger-and-cinnamon tea daily to reduce inflammation and relieve the pain. Simmer fresh (sliced/grated) or dried ginger for about 20 minutes. Or simply stir a pinch of ginger powder into hot water. Dilute to taste.
Oregano – The “spicy” flavor of oregano reflects its potency. Another multi-use herb – antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal – oregano also aids digestion, especially fats – that’s one good reason for sprinkling it on pizza! Since oregano is a leaf, steep it in hot water, but don’t boil it. Oregano tea can feel soothing and helpful when you have a sore throat.
*This article first published in January 2018.
Patricia Sanders lived in Globe from 2004 to 2008 and at Reevis Mountain School, in the Tonto National Forest, from 2008 to 2014. She has been a writer and editor for GMT since 2015. She currently lives on Santa Maria island in the Azores.