Unless you have nerves of steel, this year has probably left you feeling a little more shaken than usual, a little too familiar with a clutch of anxiety around your chest. Navigating a rollercoaster of a global crisis, uncertainty, radical changes to those familiar routines that used to make us feel secure, most of us could use a little support to get back to our baseline.
After this year in particular, I swear by daily pots of calming, stress-reducing herbal teas. These are plants people have used for centuries to find calm and relieve anxiety. They have particular qualities that can communicate with our nervous system, flicking a switch in our brain towards ease, focus, energy, and relaxation.
In this post, I share my favorite recipe for an adaptogenic herbal tea, as well as 6 of my favorite soothing tea herbs to grow & drink.
Finding Your Allies
You don’t need an herbalist’s degree or complicated tools: common tea herbs such as chamomile, mint, tulsi, and lemon balm are all safe and easy to use.
Of course, even the most calming herbal tea is not going to be a cure-all. These herbs provide support, but they alone don’t make the stress go away unless they are complemented with more proactive forms of life management: a balanced diet, good sleep habits, exercise, turning to your community for support
Herbal teas are probably the first food group with which our family has become fully self-sufficient. Tea herbs grow throughout our garden and we harvest them at various points during the growing season, dehydrate them and store them in airtight jars. In the winter, the herbs dried and stored in jars and tins in our pantry will have the makings of many a comforting pot of tea. It’s a fun winter activity to pull these out and make up our own tea blends for the coming week.
Adaptogenic Herbal Tea
Here’s my favorite recipe for adaptogenic herbal tea for when you really, really need something grounding and calming.
Adaptogens are those particularly powerful herbs that help the body and mind adapt to a variety of stressors. I’ve found that this tea blend is really effective in soothing the nervous system. Combine in a tea pot and steep in hot water for 5-10 minutes, or as needed:
- tulsi (holy basil)
- oat straw
You’ll figure out proportions that you like over time. You can start with a teaspoon each of oat straw, Ashwagandha and Shatavari, and a tablespoon each of nettle and tulsi (unless you’re using whole dried leaves, in which case think of half a handful) per pot.
Six Calming Homegrown Herbal Teas
Gentle yet potent, chamomile is the ultimate bedtime tea. Its tiny, fragile flowers have properties that support the nervous and digestive systems. Long beloved by herbalists, chamomile is anti-inflammatory and has been used to treat colic, tension and muscle spasms. But it’s also the plant to turn to when you want a good night’s sleep. Sipped right before bedtime, chamomile tea is calming, eases stress, and promotes sleep. You can also prepare an herbal “tea” for your whole body by adding chamomile flowers to a warm bath.
Mints are refreshing and uplifting. So why is spearmint on this list of relaxing herbs? As it turns out, it’s an herb that has the capacity to both energize and calm down, depending on what the body needs. “It is a mild stimulant but also has relaxing properties, and so it’s perfect for blends for strengthening the nervous system, both calming and energizing at the same time,” writes Rosemary Gladstar in Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide. Milder and sweeter than peppermint, spearmint is a good herb for children, too.
This is my favorite everyday tea. I love bright, citrusy scents, and lemon balm brings that into both my garden and my teas. If you crush one of those leaves with your fingers, you can immediately smell the uplifting fragrance of a fresh lemon. The volatile oils that give lemon balm this scent – citral and citronellal – happen to be calming to the nervous and digestive systems. Lemon balm has been used since medieval times to treat depression and anxiety. The plant is also is packed with polyphenols, which give it antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Some people find lemon balm too mild on its own, but they find that it makes a good base for tea blends, allowing stronger flavors such as mint, tulsi, or the nectary sweetness of red clover really shine.
You may be familiar with the heavenly aromatic lavender being used in essential oils or eye-pillows filled with lavender blossoms. But did you know that lavender can also be used for tea? Rather than brew an entire cup of straight lavender tea, I find it better to simply add a few lavender buds into a tea blend to promote relaxation.
Anise hyssop is another wonderfully aromatic herb. Although it belongs to the mint family, the soft leaves carry a distinct anise scent. You can use both the leaves and the tiny flowers in tea. Many people find the aroma of anise uplifting, and some Native American peoples used anise hyssop to treat depression.
Tulsi, or holy basil, is a true power plant. It’s native to India, where I’ve seen it potted in front of doorways, bringing good energies into the house. In Indian Ayurvedic medicine, tulsi is called “the Queen of Herbs.” As an adaptogenic herb, it reduces stress and increases energy, helping both the body and the mind to ward off many kinds of stressors.
Tulsi is the tea of choice whenever you feel depleted or anxious: it restores vitality and vigor, and sooths the nervous system. It also has numerous other medicinal qualities, supporting respiratory health and relieving fever and headaches.