Winter is now fully upon us! The days are starting to get longer, even if only by a few minutes each day, and I am grateful for that! It’s great to be outside—no matter the weather—since the fresh air in our beautiful Vermont is so invigorating. But then it is also very cozy and comforting to come in out of the cold and get warm on those frigid winter days. One of my favorite things to enjoy during the cold winter months is a hot beverage. It not only warms your entire body but can be very nourishing and soothing too. Two of my most often reached-for hot drinks are ginger tea and mint tea, both of which have many benefits. I am by no means an expert on herbs (which mint is) but I know that it has many positive benefits for the body. I love eating it fresh outside in the summer and using it dry during the cold winter months is not quite the same. There are many varieties of mint (approximately twenty-five) but peppermint and spearmint are two of my favorites. Peppermint is actually a cross between watermint and spearmint. The mints have been around for centuries, since even before the beginning of written history. Mint is included on every list of herbs from all over the world. In the 17th century it was an important “strewing herb” in England. It was strewn in courtrooms to protect judges from germs and the intense odors from prisoners who were brought in from unsanitary jails. In addition to its uses for aromatic and antimicrobial purposes, mint has many other properties. One primary benefit from drinking mint tea is its effect on any discomfort in the alimentary canal—nausea or indigestion. It has an ability to relax the smooth muscles and the pungent smell from menthol may be another reason for its relaxing effect on the colon. Mint tea has been shown to open up the sinuses too, so if you feel a cold coming on, some cups of mint tea might help one’s respiratory system. Consider adding mint to your herbal tea regimen—either in bulk from Wellness or in tea bags from our Grocery department.
Ginger is another herb that would be hard to live without since I love its powerful scent along with its flavor—used for either cooking or in a tea. The fact that we can now obtain local young ginger root is so fantastic and makes fresh ginger tea a real treat in the winter months. I freeze a lot of fresh local ginger root for cooking but occasionally I use it for tea too. Like mint, ginger has a long history, both for medicinal and culinary purposes. Although generally referred to as ginger root, the part of the ginger plant that is used is not actually the root but rather the rhizome. Uses for ginger rhizome are numerous since it has been shown to benefit the immune system and the digestive tract, and it contains many anti-inflammatory agents that can help almost anyone since most of us are afflicted with some form of inflammation. Gingerol, one of its main active ingredients, has been shown to protect against heart disease as well as inhibiting the growth of tumors, so there are many reasons to add it to your regular health regimen. To make fresh ginger tea, peel off its outer skin and slice it thinly. If you like a very strong ginger taste, use many slices, otherwise just use a couple slices and let it steep for five minutes or more, adding honey if desired. Ginger tea bags can also be purchased but to get the most ginger buy a tea that contains primarily the ginger rhizome, not a lot of other herbs.
By Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist