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By Crystal Baldwin
We all love the idea of incorporating healthy herbs into our daily diets but that task can sometimes seem overwhelming. Enter Herbal ice cubes! If you really want to use herbs but aren't so sure where to start these cubes can make your life really easy.
Instant Herbal Ice Tea is so simple to make and will help to get those creative ideas flowing. The combination of flavors is endless and there is nothing more simple than boiling water.
In general most people use the term "tea" loosley, meaning everything from herbal teas to true black tea and green tea, herbal "teas" are really not tea at all. Real tea is made only from the leaves of Camellia Sinensis and herbal teas are made from the leaves, flowers & roots of herbal plants. Herbal plant infusions are actually "tisanes".
With herbal tisanes we often use the leaf, flower, steam, bark and roots of a plant. I will be using the term "tea" today but actually we will be talking about herbal tisanes - please don't be offended you true tea lovers.
There really are two different categories of tea - what I like to call "Recreational Tea" and "Medicinal Tea". Recreational teas are what most of us drink and what we think of when we conjure up memories of warm tea on a cold evening. We heat up some water, add a tea bag for 1-2 minutes and sip away. Recreational teas can have some benefit for sure but if you want to get huge nutritional rewards from drinking tea then Medicinal Tea is the way to go.
What Is a Medicinal Tea?
Medicinal tea is made with larger amounts of dried plant material and steeped for a longer period of time (20-45 minutes or overnight). It's really very simple. Instead of a tea bag (which has very little tea in it) you will want to use loose tea in larger amounts. Using loose tea also allows your plant material to expand, spread out and thus able to release more of the nutrients from the plant.
Making a medicinal tea is simple, use a heat safe jar, like a canning jar and fill it with very warm/hot water from the tap - let it sit for a few minutes...this slowly warms up the glass and keeps the glass from breaking when you add super hot water to it.
If you want your teas to be sweetened, you can warm them slightly the next morning and add a touch of honey, maple syrup or sweetener of choice. Then let the tea cool and pour into ice cube trays. Freeze and place your cubes in freezer safe bags. Mark the bag with the name of the herb, any additives and the date. Now you are ready anytime for instant, herbal ice tea! (or hot tea)
If you would like to use fresh herbs from the garden, just double the amount of plant material for these recipes, otherwise use dried herbs.
*Tip - you can reuse the herbs you strain out and re-steep them for a lighter color tea which will make more clear ice cubes. These are perfect for adding beautiful, colorful flowers to and the clearer tea brew allows you to see the flowers more easily and you'll get a touch of tea flavor from the second brew.
How to use your Herbal Ice Cubes
Now that you have your freezer full of fun, frozen herbal ice cubes. Just pull out a bag, place your ice cubes in your glass and pour water over top- its that easy! This works great when you are in a hurry or rushing out the door and need to fill your water bottle to take on the go. The cubes melt slowly adding flavor and nutrients to your water. If you're not a big water drinker this could change all of that and keep you more hydrated. For a healthy "soda", add seltzer water to your herbal ice cubes.
You can make combinations of herbs in your cubes or keep the herb cubes separate and then blend different cubes together in your glass for different flavors and nutrition.
Add them to smoothies, use in homemade ice cream and popsicles, even add them to cocktails for extra goodness. The possibilities are endless and you'll instantly be adding herbs to your daily life.
Feel free to use these as a hot tea as well. Just take your cubes out of the freezer and add them to a pan, cover with a lid (to avoid letting the nutrients go up in steam) and gently warm your cubes. This is perfect medicine if you get sick as you don't always feel like making or waiting on medicinal teas to brew. You will always have good medicine in the freezer ready to go. Often times if you are hot and feverish, just sucking on those ice cubes can cool you down and make you feel better (think elderberries, peppermint and linden ice cubes).
To add even more flavor and nutrients feel free to add other goodies to your tea like, lemon juice, frozen or fresh berries (crush them) or powdered mushrooms to create a nutritional powerhouse in your cup.
Remember, if you are adding harder herbs like roots (dandelion, burdock), bark, seed & needles, you will need to decoct them instead of steeping them like you do leaves and flowers. These plant parts are hard and are slower to release their nutrients and need a little more coaxing to get them to release.
To make a decoction, simply place your harder plant parts in a pan and double the amount of water to plant material - slowly simmer them with a lid on the pan for 25-45 minutes, the longer you simmer the more nutrients will be released.
Do not add your more tender leaves and flowers in the decoction (steep those as we discussed above) as this method will cause your tender herbs to lose their precious nutrients. If you are adding harder herbs with tender herbs, prepare them separately and then mix them together when you freeze them.
Feel free to create more savory tea cubes to use when cooking up sauces or soups to add a punch of flavor and nutrition.
To learn more about using herbs check out our books
The Herbalist Kitchen- by Brittany Wood Nickerson
Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health- by Rosemary Gladstar
Here are a couple of my favorite herbal Ice cube recipes to make instant herbal iced tea. Of course you can make any combination of herbs and add fun things like fruit to them too. The possibilities are endless!
Other ideas for this Hibiscus tea would be Hibiscus & Peppermint, Hibiscus & Cinnamon Chips, Hibiscus with Lemon Balm & Lemon Verbena or Hibiscus with mixed berries.
Other great herbs to add to this blend might be raspberry leaves (great for women's health), elderflower, chamomile or elderberry. Rosehips are the fruit of a rose bush and are slightly fruity tasting which makes them blend easily with fresh fruit and fruit juices.
Some other wonderful herbs to add to this blend might be Lemon Verbena (great anti-viral), Linden flowers (very relaxing), Holy Basil aka Tulsi (support digestion, increases energy), Marshmallow root (soothes tummy & sore throats), and Lemon Thyme (strengthens immune system, decongestant).
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This very creamy southwest dressing can be made vegan or not - just change out the cashews for mayo if you don't have any dairy or egg concerns and this recipe will whip up fast!
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