Natural Herbal Tea Products from Thailand

No doubt that tea is one of the most popular drinks available today. The story of tea begins in China where, according to legend, in 2737 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water, when some leaves from the tree blew into the water. Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, decided to try the infusion that his servant had accidentally created. The tree happened to be a Camellia sinensis, and the resulting drink was what we now call tea.

After being introduced to Britain there was a great debate in the eighteenth century about the taxation of tea and an equally furious argument about whether tea drinking was good or bad for the health. Leaps forward in medical and scientific research mean that we now know that drinking four cups of tea a day may help maintain your health, but such information was not available to tea drinkers 250 years ago. Wealthy philanthropists in particular worried that excessive tea drinking among the working classes would lead to weakness and melancholy.

Typically, they were not concerned with the continuing popularity of tea among the wealthy classes, for whom ‘strength to labour’ was of rather less importance! The debate rumbled on into the nineteenth century, but was really put to an end in the middle of that century, when a new generation of wealthy philanthropists realised the value of tea drinking to the temperance movement. In their enthusiasm to have the working classes go teetotal, tea was regularly offered at temperance meetings as a substitute for alcohol.

Thai people who, according to history, began their migration from China south to the Indo-China Peninsula 4,000 to 5,000 years ago are well versed in the use of tea and herbal tea. The tea leaf itself is cultivated, processed and sold in northern Thailand. It is a common drink throughout the country and usually in Thailand when you order coffee in a restaurant, you are served a cup of hot tea with it. This custom is based on the knowledge that coffee contains a great deal of acid and the tea serves to counteract the acidic effect in the stomach through alkaloids contained in it.

Teas vary in caffeine content, from one to four percent depending on the tea leaf. The effect of caffeine in such small dosage is to increase alertness and slightly speed up the nervous system. Tea, however, has various other properties plus a percentage of tannin (not to be confused with tannic acid), an antibiotic in natural form which is particularly helpful to the stomach lining. Other components, such as theobromine and theophylline help to expand the coronary vessels of the heart, improve the blood circulation, help in reducing lung congestion, and have a diuretic effect.

Tea also contains an active ingredient which disposes unnecessary fat after a meal and cleanses the gastric system. At the same time, tea minimizes the buildup of calcium in the gall bladder.

When we speak of tea, we tend to distinguish it from what we call herbal teas. In fact, the tea leaf is an herb just as the chamomile flower is an herb and just as rosehip is an herb. While the tea leaf has the properties described above, other herbs have their specific active substances which can assist the body in a natural and healthful way. Lemon, for example, is an herb which assists in the digestion process, cleanses the liver and helps to alleviate constipation. Have you ever wondered why lemon is so commonly put into tea, aside from the fact that it taste good?

Teas are prepared from a wide variety of herbal selections : leaves, stems, roots, bark, flowers, seeds, and fruit rind. These are carefully dried and stored in containers in order to reattain the herbal properties and preserve until use. The process of brewing a particular tea is important, as is the proper mixture of herbs in a particular blend to achieve the desired health results.

The Process of Brewing

Teas can be brewed through the process of decoction or infusion. Before we define these two processes, it is essential to acknowledge that the term ‘tea’ refers to any mixture of any combination of herbs in liquid form.

Decoction involves the boiling of an herbal mixture for about 30 minutes, then letting the liquid residue sit for another 20 minutes or longer. The mixture should not be boiled for too long, nor should the brewing process since important active substances will be lost. This method is often used in the preparation of teas for medicinal purposes as in Chinese herbal remedies, but it is also used to brew teas for taste and nutritional value.

In northern Thailand, you might see this process if you were to visit someone’s home. Some people specialize in selling packets of fifteen to twenty different herbs which when boiled together form a vitamin drink. Some of the more important of these herbs are cinnamon bark, ginger root, ginseng, cloves, garlic, onion, lemon grass, and dried orange rind.

Although the decoction process is useful and sometimes necessary, that is prepared for refreshments and health purposes are prepared using the infusing process.

Infusion merely involves the pouring of boiling water over dried or powdered herbs. Normally, the herbs are ground into small granules or powder so that it dissolves immediately in water. Every time you make a cup of tea using a tea bag, or a pot of tea using loose powder or leaves, you are acting out the infusion process. If an herb does not immediately dissolve in hot water, then the decoction process is necessary.

How Much and When?

If you’re making herbal teas for the pleasure of drinking them and consider the health aspect a lucky fringe benefit, you probably do not have to be concerned about ‘overdosing’.

However, regardless of how healthful or edible the drink may be, there is always a limit which can harm you. For example, although tea from the tea leaf is good for the heart and blood circulation, if you drink too much, or if it’s too strong, it will force the heart, and the kidneys, to work overtime. At the same time, the tannin in excess will drain your system of vitamin B.

If you’re using either decoctions or infusions primarily for health reasons and if you’re creating or brewing very large combinations of special herbs, you should probably drink only half a cup or it only three times a day. Otherwise, you may begin to feel negative side effects.

Do not be discouraged if you feel a little down or uncomfortable after an hour after drinking a special tea. Your body needs time to adjust. Often what happens is that during the first day or two the blend you are drinking is cleansing your system and detoxifying you. This happens particularly if the tea is strong in ginger or cinnamon.

Some Specific Herbs and What They Can Do for You

  • Chamomile : Chamomile Tea is reputed to reduce fatigue and headaches as a result of alcohol consumption. When combined with watercress, the effect is more pronounced.
  • Ginseng : Helpful in an herbal drink for people with allergies, especially hay fever and sinus attacks.
  • Ginger : A carminative and anti-emetic helps reduce cold symptoms, improves digestion and prevents peptic ulcer. In Thai language, “khing”.
  • Cinnamon Bark : Effective in an herbal tea as an antiseptic (i.e. mouthwash) and improves taste.
  • Sage : Steeped in boiling water for ten minutes, sage drinks reduce inflammation in sore throats.
  • Cayenne Pepper : Can establish balance and harmony within the body. When used with peppermint and various other perspiration inducing herbs, Cayenne Pepper eliminates body poisons and bacteria and is a good flu remedy.
  • Peppermint : Helps settle and cleanse the stomach and reduce stomach spasms.
  • Cherry Bark : In extract form relieves coughs and throat irritations.
  • Anise : Effective in alleviating chronic bronchitis.
  • Safflower : Antihypertension, reduces cholesterol, used as tonic for blood, cardiac and nerve. In Thai language, “dawg kum foy”.
  • Pandanus leaf : Pleasant aroma and used as cardiotonic and diuretic. In Thai, “toey hawm”.
  • Phyllanthus Amarus: Relieves such as fever, anxiety and hemorrhoid pain. Used as diuretic and antihypertension. In Thai, ” loog dtai bai”.
  • Nutgrass: A carminative used as cardiotonic. Relieves fever, dysentery and hypertension. In Thai, “yaa haew moo.”
  • Cat’s Whisker: Diuretic, nephritis, anti-diabetic, antihypertension, eliminates uric acid, relieves back and waist pain. In Thai, “yaa huad maew.”

Why Teas? – And Special Combinations

Most people do not sit around munching on herbs. Can you imagine yourself chewing a cinnamon bark or sucking on a chamomile like it’s a lozenge? It is possible and it will not hurt you, but instead we make herbal teas. They are fun to make and drink, but if we are interested in more than just the fun of it we need to know what combinations will have what effects.

Here are some herbal tea suggestions organized by their usefulness from a health point of view. As herbal ingredients, we will choose from flowers such as chamomile and clover; berries such as strawberry and rosehips; leaves such as peppermint and alfalfa; various seeds; cherry and cinnamon bark; ginger and ginseng roots; flower stems; and orange; lemon and grapefruit rind and dried.

Rosehip Tea, for vitamin C deficiency (smokers, drinkers, and all who live in polluted cities). Combine one cup of dried rose hips (a berry), a three inch cinnamon stick ( a bark), one-quarter cup of dried lemon balm, or lemon grass, leaves ( a leaf), and one teaspoon of dried, ground or grated lemon rind (a dried fruit rind). Steep in boiling water for ten minutes.

Ginger – Strawberry Tea, as an anti-cold remedy and as a stimulant. Combine one teaspoon of ginger power (a root), one cup of dried mint leaves (a leaf), and two cups of dried strawberry leaves (a berry leaf). Add boiling water and steep for 8 to 10 minutes.

Clover Tea, to rid the body of toxins caused by smoking, drinking, overeating, or consumption of diet pills and/or tranquilizers. Combine 20 clover blossoms, and stems, (a flower and a stem), two thin cinnamon sticks (a bark), and one teaspoon of ground or grated dried orange rind (a rind).

Lemon Mint Tea, to cleanse the system, as a digestive, and for cold, combine one-half cup of dried peppermint leaves (a leaf), one cup of dried alfalfa leaves (a leaf), three tablespoons of dried lemon balm, or lemon grass leaves (a leaf), and three tablespoons of dried, ground or grated lemon rind (a fruit rind).

These teas can be prepared as described above and stored in paper or jars for long periods of time. The quantities noted are not for a single cup or pot of tea. However, herbs should never be stored in aluminum wrapping because it destroys certain herbal properties.

Now that you have a few ideas on how herbs can be combined to create teas, why not try to come up with some of your own ideas? The infusion process is easy and one that you can use if your herbs are purchased at a western style health shop if, on the other hand, you’d like to try your hand at being more exotic, purchase your herbs in raw form, but already dried (a painstakingly difficult process requiring an expert).

Then, after you’ve bought your small packets of bark, leaf, root, rind, stem, seed berry, and flower, try the decoction process. Fill a pan or kettle half full with water and bring to a boil. Once water begins to boil, toss in one of each – or to be more artistic and probably come up with a pretty good recipe, feel the textures of your herbs, smell them, take a taste here and there, and then decide what you’d like your tea to be. You’re in the orient. Try it the oriental way. You might find a whole new world at your fingertips.

Orange Rinds & Other Herbs

You may be wondering why dried orange rinds have been mentioned so often in this article about herbal teas. Orange rinds often conjure up images of witches brews – it’s in the books, check them – but don’t get the wrong idea. Dried orange rind happens to be packed full of vitamin C. It is almost miraculously nutritious and is believed to improve the senses – particularly the visual sense.

There are many other herbs which are quite effective if used in the decoction process. Two of these are your ordinary everyday variety of garlic and onions. Garlic intake can be used to bring down high blood pressure or raise low blood pressure. Garlic and onions both contain an oil which has been found to lower cholesterol levels. Drinking garlic tea three times a day cures and controls cystitis. Garlic and onions both contain properties which improve blood circulation and stimulate and warm the body. There is no end to the active ingredients of garlic and onions. They are herbs.

A final note in case you find the use of herbs in health to be uncertain. There is a fruit in Africa which, when applied will cure skin cancer. There is a weed called ‘marijuana’ which is the only known substance effective in controlling problems caused by the disease ‘glaucoma’. Nowadays, pharmaceutical firms are constantly scouring the earth, especially the tropics and more remote regions, for plants that will help them find cures for an entire array of illnesses.