Many of us reach for the cough syrup whenever we get seasonal ills and chills but ever since I learned about their potentially harmful ingredients and questionable efficacy, I avoid these toxic pseudo-medicines like the plague. Instead, I head out to my backyard tea garden and pluck fresh herbs, which nourish and heal my body naturally.
Check out these top teas to soothe cough and cold symptoms without the toxic side effects.
Thyme is a common culinary herb that makes food taste great, but did you know it has potent medicinal properties too? Studies prove that thyme is antiviral, antimicrobial and disinfectant, and is effective against bronchial infections, laryngitis, and general inflammation. Next time you’re faced with a cough due to cold or flu, consider taking thyme as a natural/herbal remedy. A simple thyme tea can be made to soothe a sore throat and relax the muscles associated with coughing. It can also help loosen phlegm and mucus and eliminate it from the chest.
This aromatic medicinal herb is easy to grow at home. Thyme is a low-growing, woody perennial originating from the Mediterranean region, so it performs especially well in somewhat dry, sunny conditions. Established thyme plants can be harvested at any time because the leaves’ flavor is retained even after flowering. Simply snip a few stems and steep in boiling water to make tea. Fresh thyme keeps very well in the fridge, and it’s also easy to dry it. Just spread fresh thyme on a flat surface and leave it for a couple of days. Once it has dried, transfer it to a jar and keep handy for when you’re not feeling well.
The dried flowers of chamomile have been used for centuries to help lull restless insomniacs to sleep. We now understand that flavonoids from the plant have a tranquilizing effect. Since getting a good night’s sleep is an important part of your cold-recovery mission, chamomile is an excellent choice. The antispasmodic action of chamomile might also reduce cough, and the tea has antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Chamomile is easy to grow at home as part of your herbal tea garden. It grows best in cool conditions and should be planted in part shade, but will also grow full sun. The soil should be dry, as the plant is drought-tolerant. Once your chamomile is established, it needs very little care. Start harvesting chamomile flowers in the morning after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is high. Select the flowers that are nearly open. Pinch the stalk just below the flower head and pop off the bloom. To dry the flowers, spread them out on a screen in a dark room and allow to air dry, or use a dehydrator. Store dried flowers in a glass jar. To make chamomile tea, pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 to 3 teaspoons dried chamomile. For a light and delicious tea, steep for about 5 minutes. For more medicinal benefits, steep for at least 10 to 15 minutes or even overnight.
Peppermint has been used throughout history for a variety of purposes, including treating the common cold, digestive problems, and headaches. Some studies have shown that peppermint has antimicrobial, antioxidant, and pain-relieving properties. If you have a cold, the menthol in peppermint tea may help ease your clogged sinuses and make it easier for you to breathe. Research shows that L-menthol, a compound in peppermint, could be beneficial in treating chronic inflammatory disorders such as bronchial asthma and allergic rhinitis.
Peppermint is a cinch to grow in your garden. In fact, many people consider it a weed since it spreads so easily. For that reason, you may prefer to grow peppermint in a pot or container. Harvest leaves when they are at their prime, starting in late spring and harvesting throughout the season. To make peppermint tea from fresh leaves, add 10-15 peppermint leaves to two cups of boiled water, allowing it to steep for about 5 minutes—strain before drinking. You can also dry the leaves by hanging the stalks upside down in a paper or mesh bag for two weeks.
Echinacea is native to North America and grows wild throughout southern Canada and across much of the central and eastern United States. The benefits of consuming echinacea have been known for hundreds of years. Some Native Americans used echinacea to soothe coughs and sore throats. The idea behind the efficacy of echinacea in shortening or preventing colds is that it boosts the immune system. In fact a 2010 study showed that echinacea extracts could inactivate viruses and bacteria and reverse pro-inflammatory responses caused by pathogens.
To consume echinacea, you can use the petal, leaves, roots, or all of the above. Many believe that the roots contain the most active compounds. Cut just a portion of the root so that the plant will come back in the spring. For an echinacea drink, you can either make an infusion from the leaves and petals or a decoction out of the dried roots.
Tulsi is a type of basil and makes a very fragrant houseplant or garden herb. There are many different cultivars, each of which is believed to have different medicinal properties. One type called Krishna Tulsi, or purple leaf tulsi, has a peppery, clove-like flavor and is traditionally used to treat coughs, colds, and respiratory infections. Many studies indicate that tulsi has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting properties.
Since tulsi is a tropical plant, it can be grown year-round in the very hottest parts of the US that never see a frost. For the rest of us, tulsi can be grown as an annual outdoors, or as a perennial houseplant. Since tulsi is a perennial, it’s best to continuously harvest small amounts of the herb to allow for continued growth. You can begin to harvest single leaves or branches once the plant reaches about a foot in height.
Growing medicinal teas at home is a wonderful way to increase your self-reliance and nourish your body with natural herbs. Why not start your own tea-themed garden today?