When your body and head feel achy and congestion is creeping into your chest or sinuses, nothing feels better than curling up with a hot cup of herbal tea. Used for millennia by people all over the world, herbal teas soothe cold symptoms and support your health with their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and polyphenols. They also keep you hydrated when you need it most.
What is Herbal Tea?
The term “herbal tea” is a misnomer since it’s not made from the actual tea plant. Real teas are all made from the Camellia sinensis plant. They include black, oolong, green, and white teas, and result from how the tea is grown, harvested, and processed.
Herbal tea, on the other hand, is made from any number of leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, or fruit, and since they’re not actually tea, they don’t contain caffeine. You can grow many of them in your garden or in a pot on your porch or windowsill. You can also buy them in bulk online or from your local health-food store.
How to Make Herbal Tea
For delicate leaves and flowers, the best method to make herbal tea is an infusion. This entails placing the plant material into a mug, pouring boiling water over it, and letting it steep for 5-10 minutes. A tea ball infuser is a handy tool for making tea from loose herbs.
For more sturdy roots and seeds, you can use what is called a decoction method. This involves placing the ingredients directly into the pot of boiling water and letting them simmer on low heat for about 10-15 minutes.
It’s beneficial to add a spoonful of raw honey to your brew, not just for the delicious taste, but also because of its antibacterial properties. A squirt of fresh lemon or lime juice is also a great way to add some much-needed vitamin C.
Here are some of the best herbal teas to drink when you’re sick. You can either drink them solo, or mix and match them to make your own herbal tea blends.
Scrumptiously spicy ginger is one of the most versatile, beloved, and healing plants around, and it makes one of the best teas for a cold. Used medicinally in India and China for thousands of years, science has shown it to work due to the active compounds, called gingerols and shogaols, in its root.
Most famous as a powerful digestive helper and to ease nausea, ginger also supports a healthy inflammation response, is a powerful antioxidant, and aids immune function. You can make the tea with fresh or dried ginger. If you have fresh ginger, use about a one-inch piece of peeled, grated root. If you have dried ginger, a teaspoon per cup of water should be sufficient.
When you have a miserable cough, it might be time for you to grab some thyme. Used by herbalists since ancient Greece and Rome, thyme is one of the best teas to drink when you’re sick and is a go-to home remedy for soothing a chest cold. The leaves of this popular culinary spice are full of active compounds including thymol, carvacrol, and flavonoids, among many others. These compounds stimulate the body’s natural defenses and contain antispasmodic properties which help soothe a cough. In fact, thyme extract is often used in cough drops and cough syrups, and even in mouthwashes and toothpastes due to its antimicrobial activity.
This Mediterranean mint family plant is very easy to cultivate in a sunny spot in your garden or in a pot. You can also buy fresh thyme in most supermarkets. To make tea, use 3 sprigs of fresh thyme or a teaspoon of dried herb.
Hibiscus & Rose Hips
Both the bright red hibiscus flowers and ruby rose hip fruit are bursting with vitamin C and other powerful antioxidants. With vitamin C levels that rival oranges and other citrus fruits, they offer superb support for a healthy immune system, and are a great tea to drink when sick. Plus, they make a beautiful crimson brew that’s delicious any time of year. You can buy both herbs in bulk online or in many health food stores. Simply infuse a teaspoon into a cup of boiling water, let steep for several minutes, and enjoy with a spoonful of raw honey.
Another fabulous Mediterranean mint family plant, sage provides powerful health support when you’re under the weather. It’s particularly useful when you have a sore throat, and traditional herbalists have recommended using a strong sage infusion as a gargle for centuries. It has powerful antiseptic, astringent, and antioxidant properties, and it blends well with thyme and a dollop of honey.
The sage plant is extremely easy to grow in any sunny spot, or it can be bought fresh or dried in most supermarkets. To make tea, simply infuse two teaspoons of the fresh leaves per cup of water, or one teaspoon of dried sage.
A superstar among immune herbs, chances are pretty good that you’ve heard about echinacea. Vast amounts of research have been done on this daisy family plant. Echinacea tea can give your immune system a boost and support a strong, healthy recovery. It also fosters healthy sinus, throat, and respiratory well-being, and is a great tea for a cold.
Echinacea, also called coneflower, is a common garden plant. You can make tea out of its roots, leaves, and flowers. Research shows that the active compounds in the root, called alkylamides, support a healthy inflammation response while your body is fighting a bug, which helps you feel better and aids your healthy recovery process. Meanwhile echinacea leaves and flowers contain numerous active compounds which stimulate a healthy immune response and prime the body to fight a cold.
It’s easy to find dried echinacea online and in many health food stores. To make the tea, decoct the roots in a pot and simmer for five to ten minutes, or infuse the leaves and flowers in a mug. Some people are not crazy about the taste of this herb, so you can mix it with delicious ginger, rose hips, or licorice root to enhance the flavor.
Elderberries have been a mainstay of traditional cold and flu remedies since the times of ancient Greece. Today elderberries are still used as an alternative or complimentary remedy to support the natural process of recovery.
The dark purple berries contain a high concentration of vitamins A and C, as well as powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins. They also affect what is known as the cytokine cascade. Cytokines are key communicators in the immune system, and black elderberry contributes to healthy cytokine activity as part of a healthy defense system.
Many people grow elderberry bushes in their gardens and collect the fresh berries in the fall, or you can purchase the dried berries in bulk. They are commonly made into a syrup, used to make lozenges, or even jam. They also make a potent tea for a cold, and can be a valuable ingredient in a homemade herbal tea blend. To make the tea out of dried berries, decoct a tablespoon for every cup of water.
Licorice was used by the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Indians to treat numerous ailments. Today it is still an important medicinal herb within Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, and traditional western herbal medicine.
Some of licorice root's claims to fame include support for: healthy digestion, hormone balance, mood support, and a healthy immune and inflammation response. It’s considered a “synergizer,” and used as part of herbal blends to maximize the benefits of the other herbs in the formula. To make licorice tea, decoct one tablespoon of the dried, chopped root for every cup of water. Since licorice is naturally sweet, it’s a nice addition to your tea blend.
Renowned for its immune supporting properties, astragalus root has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. It’s so culturally important that it’s a common ingredient in soups as well as teas, and you can find the fresh taproot in many Asian supermarkets. As the quintessential "tonic" herb, astragalus is considered essential support during times of stress and fatigue – times when we need an extra boost fostering healthy immune function. You can buy dried astragalus root in bulk online, and should decoct it in boiling water for several minutes.
Let’s face it, no one wants to get sick. It is, however, an inevitable part of life that we should all prepare for. The good news is that there are lots of wonderful herbal teas that can help soothe a cold, support a healthy immune response, and foster a healthy recovery.