Drink To Your Health With These 10 Medicinal Teas

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Now that temperatures are dropping and we’re spending more time indoors, almost nothing beats a cup of hot tea. And aside from the warm and cozy feeling a steaming mug evokes, tea has never looked better. That’s because many ‘true’ and herbal teas contain powerful antioxidants and other substances that are great for human health. So before opening the medicine cabinet, why not explore the benefits of medicinal tea?

TRUE TEA COMES FROM CAMELLIA SINENSIS

It may surprise you to learn that ‘true’ tea comes from the leaves and buds of a single shrub called Camellia sinensis. This one plant produces all six types of tea – black, green, yellow, oolong, white and pu-erh. The difference between each is the degree to which their leaves are processed. 

Green tea, for instance, is made from Camellia sinensis’ unwilted and unfermented leaves. Black tea, on the other hand, is produced from leaves that are wilted and fully fermented. And white tea is made from the shrub’s youngest leaves and buds that are hardly processed at all.

Tea farm in Asia. Photo: News of Asia/Shutterstock.com

Tea farm in Asia

These days, herbal teas tend to get all the attention when it comes to medicinal teas. Yet, ‘true’ teas contain thousands of naturally-occurring chemical compounds that can offer a variety of health benefits. Of all of these compounds, the largest group is made up of polyphenols.

In nature, polyphenols defend Camellia sinensis against insects and other pathogens. And in the human world, they offer protection against illnesses as well. 

camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis

In fact, a growing body of research indicates that these micronutrients not only act as antioxidants, but also protect cells from free radicals that can damage the body. Studies show that polyphenols found in black and green tea, in particular, can improve human resistance to a variety of degenerative illnesses, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

HERBAL TEA IS MADE FROM HERBS, NOT TEA

Herbal tea, on the other hand, does not come from Camellia sinensis. Rather, it is made from the dried leaves, seeds, roots or flowers of many different edible plants, or herbs. Popular herbal teas include chamomile, peppermint, ginger, hibiscus and rooibus, to name just a few.

camomille flowers

Chamomile flowers

Like true teas, herbal teas contain antioxidants and other chemical compounds that are beneficial to human health. However, the effects of each can differ from person to person. For this reason, it’s important to read the ingredients carefully in case of allergy to the particular herb or similar plants.

Herbal tea made from fireweed

Herbal tea made from fireweed plant

Whichever kind of tea you choose to brew, make sure to steep the the leaves long enough to maximize the benefits; a recommended 5 to 10 minutes. Covering the teapot or placing a saucer over a mug helps keep the volatile oils in the tea and prevents them from escaping into the atmosphere.

TOP MEDICINAL TEAS (TRUE AND HERBAL)

Here are eight medicinal teas with a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and helping to prevent disease. All you need to to do is add boiling water.

1. BLACK TEA

The most popular tea among Americans, black tea also contains the most caffeine. This is due to its extended period of fermentation during processing.

Both black and green tea contain an alkaloid called theophylline, which has been shown to increase blood flow and also help maintain a healthy blood pressure. And according to one UCLA study, drinking at least three cups of black tea a day may significantly reduce your risk of stroke.

2. PU-ERH TEA 

Pu-erh tea is a type of black tea that has been fermented and aged through a special process. Darker than what most of us in the West know as black tea, it is made from a larger-leaved variety of Camellia sinensis. Pu-erh is post-fermented, meaning it goes through the fermentation process after its leaves have been dried and rolled. This allows them to age like fine wines, with some teas known to last more than 50 years. (Compare that to the shelf life of green tea, which is about one year.)

pureh tea

Moreover, this post-fermentation process gives pu-erh a unique flavor and texture. Not only has this medicinal tea been shown to lower cholesterol levels, but it also may boost blood flow and improve overall circulation. A study published in the journal “Experimental Gerontology” in 2009 found that rats saw a profound reduction in LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol after consuming pu-erh tea.

3. GREEN TEA 

Since it is made from the unfermented leaves of Camellia sinensis, green tea reportedly has one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants.

In fact, studies show that the high antioxidant and nutrient content of green tea can have powerful effects on the body, including reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol. Green tea has likewise been shown to boost metabolic rate and lower blood sugar.

green tea

Some research indicates that catechins found in green tea can also kill bacteria and fight viruses like influenza. And, the slightly-bitter tasting brew has a high fluoride content, which may help prevent tooth decay.

4. PEPPERMINT TEA

This classic mint tea with antispasmodic properties is great for those suffering from certain kinds of gastrointestinal problems. That’s because peppermint has been shown to calm and relax the muscles of the stomach, providing soothing relief from pain caused by bloating, gas and diarrhea. Menthol (the main constituent of peppermint) is also effective as a decongestant, thinning mucus to break up coughs and soothing sore throats.

peppermint tea

Peppermint tea with peppermint plant

That being said, do not drink peppermint tea if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Peppermint relaxes the sphincter. This in turn may allow stomach acids to flow back up into the esophagus.

5. GINGER TEA

Another powerful medicinal tea for the treatment of gastrointestinal problems, ginger gets the digestive juices flowing, providing relief from nausea and occasional indigestion. Its warming, spicy flavor helps to promote healthy digestion, enabling the body to better absorb nutrients.

ginger tea

Ginger tea

6. HIBISCUS TEA

Made from the leaves of the hibiscus flower, hibiscus tea is high in vitamin C and organic acids, which are great immune system builders. Some researchers believe that chemical compounds found in the magenta-colored tea may also lower blood pressure as effectively as some standard blood-pressure medications.

hibiscus tea

Hibiscus tea

Hibiscus’ diuretic properties can also help treat fluid retention, stomach irritation and other circulation disorders in the body.

7. LEMON BALM TEA

A perennial herb belonging to the mint family, lemon balm has served for generations to treat indigestion, sleep disorders, anxiety and wounds. The slightly lemon-scented herb is also a common additive to peppermint tea.

lemon balm tea

Lemon balm contains naturally occurring chemical compounds that have a mild sedative or calming effect on the body. In addition to helping to reduce anxiety, induce sleep and improve mood, the herb has been shown to improve mental performance in some limited studies. 

8. CHAMOMILE TEA

Used for centuries for its medicinal properties, chamomile is a flowering herb in the daisy family. Its primary constituent is bisabolol. This colorless, viscous oil contains anti-irritant, anti-inflammatory and microbial properties. 

chamomile tea

Chamomile can be used topically or orally to treat upset stomach and abdominal cramping. And its anti-inflammatory properties make it great at relieving irritation from chest colds and other skin conditions.  

A note of caution for ragweed sufferers: the pollen in chamomile is similar and may produce an allergic reaction.

9. ROOIBOS TEA

A member of the legume family, rooibos has been used for generations in southern Africa where it is also referred to as bush tea. Its reddish, needle like leaves contain polyphenols, which as I mentioned above, are great for improving health and boosting immunity.

rooibos tea

Relatively unknown in the U.S., rooibos tea’s many health benefits come from its high antioxidant content that some say is even greater than that of green tea. It contains two powerful flavonoids that may lower cortisol levels while reducing stress and promoting healthy sleep. In Africa, rooibos is used to treat stomach cramping and sometimes serves as a substitute for milk with colicky babies.

10. SAGE TEA

Sage tea comes from the leaves of the sage plant, Salvia officinalis. In addition to its culinary properties, it has high concentrations of vitamins A, C, B and E. For this reason, it often serves to relieve such common ailments as sore throat, cough, colds and digestive problems. 

sage tea

But perhaps the best known use for sage tea is to relieve menopause symptoms. Studies have shown that women who drink this medicinal tea on a regular basis show a definitive drop in hot flashes. A word of caution, however. Sage contains a volatile chemical compound called thujone that can be harmful to human health if consumed in large quantities. 

Looking for more ways to stay warm and healthy this winter? Check out Traditional Chinese Medicine’s top recommendations for warming foods

 

Show Me The Money Tree

After this past year, we could all use a little extra luck. And happily, as gardeners, we need look no further than the Chinese New Year for inspiration. Among the many auspicious symbols for 2021 is this year’s lucky plant, the money tree, or Pachira aquatica. According to feng shui principles, it can help ensure a prosperous year ahead.

Symbolism is an essential part of all Chinese New Year’s celebrations, in which families (and businesses) invest a lot of time. The money tree joins a list of other lucky charms for 2021, including natural crystals, turtles, ruyi ( a symbolic scepter) and mandarin ducks. All carry specific meanings that represent good luck, prosperity and abundance for the coming year.

ABOUT MONEY TREE

So what is money plant, Pachira aquatica? Not to be confused with Chinese money plant (Pilea peperomioides), it’s a broadleaf evergreen native to the tropics. Typically found near wetlands and swamps, it loves moist soil. It is also revered for its many feng shui characteristics.

Essentially, the entire plant is considered lucky. Still, many point to the leaves themselves as the main harbingers of good fortune. That’s because most money trees have five or six leaves per stem. The number five suggests the five main elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water.  Balancing these elements can bring good feng shui to a home, sustaining health, wealth and happiness for all those who live there. 

Money tree typically has five leaves to a stem

What’s more, occasionally a tree may have seven leaves, which is considered the luckiest of all. If you discover this, it’s time to buy a lottery ticket.

Still, most people know Pachira aquatica less for its leaves and more for its stem, which is composed of several plants braided together. It’s the best of both worlds – a tree and a palm. Feng shui followers believe the braid traps good fortune.

Pachira aquatica’s distinctive braided trunk

THE LEGEND OF THE MONEY TREE

Centuries ago, a poor man found a money tree in the deep recesses of the forest. Seeing its beauty, he brought it home and decided to grow plants from its seedlings. Over time, he created a successful business selling the trees. The business made him wealthy. This story, and others like it, are believed to be the origin of the tradition.

THE LUCKIEST SPOTS

So you’ve bought a money tree, but where should you put it? According to feng shui principles, the best place to promote wealth is in the southeast corner of your home. But if it’s your business you’re worried about, put your plant next to the cash register.

Undeniably, money tree makes an excellent indoor plant. Plus, it is nearly impossible to kill. Unlike other houseplants that shed their leaves regularly, it stays neat. Moreover, it will grow as large as you’d like, sometimes up to seven feet! Perhaps most importantly, it can withstand errors in watering (as in the common practice of over-watering.) This is one tough indoor plant, indeed.

PLANT CARE

Yes, caring for your money tree is easy, provided you pay attention to three essential ingredients: water, light and fertilization. Balancing these properly is the key to making all houseplants thrive

1. WATERING

This plant loves moisture, so make sure to water it regularly, one to two times a week. But as with all plants, good drainage is key. Never leave your money tree in standing water (a sure recipe for root rot.) Instead, put it on a watering schedule, watering at the soil surface until the soil is soaked and the water runs out from the base of the pot. Let the soil dry out before you water again.

Yellow leaves? This can be a sign of overwatering, exposure to cold temperatures, or that your money tree needs to be fed. If your soil is soggy, you’re overwatering. 

2. LIGHT

To help your money tree thrive, place it in indirect light. Rotate the container every few weeks to ensure the plant grows evenly. Avoid direct sunlight, however, which can scorch the leaves.

3. FEEDING

All indoor houseplants benefit from feeding from time to time. Lightly fertilize your money tree a few times a year with a water-soluble fertilizer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cyclamen Care: Four Keys To Success Indoors

For me, one of the highlights of December is the arrival in stores of all those winter-blooming cyclamen. Aside from poinsettias, they are my favorite cold-season flowers. There’s just one problem. After a couple of weeks, the plants’ stems often start to droop and the leaves may even turn yellow. But not to worry, there’s a solution! All it takes is an understanding of where cyclamen come from, and why temperature is key to their success indoors. Continue reading

12 Top Flowering Houseplants for Easy-Care Blooms Indoors

houseplant

Updating a home can be expensive. That said, flowering houseplants can offer an affordable alternative. I love how they perk up a room, adding fresh color to blah indoor spaces. Changed your mind? You can swap things around or change them out completely. And houseplants last a whole lot longer than cut flowers.

I know… for some, the thought of growing plants in their home can be intimidating. But in fact, it’s easy. All you need to do is follow three essential steps.

1. GIVE YOUR FLOWERING HOUSEPLANTS SOME SUN

No matter the species, flowering houseplants need at least some concentrated hours of bright to direct sunlight in order to produce blooms.

Plants need at least some sunlight to flower

Don’t ignore that label! Read it carefully to determine what kind of sunlight your plant prefers, then place it in the proper location. No plant will thrive in a dark corner.

2. ADHERE TO A REGULAR WATERING SCHEDULE

Consistent watering makes stronger plants. And flowering houseplants prefer a regular watering schedule. The watering cycle you choose will depend on the kind of plants you have and the level of humidity and amount of light you have in your home.
watering-can

Plants need water

Some flowering houseplants prefer to have a good soak, then dry out slightly between waterings. This allows them to properly absorb both water and nutrients. Conversely, others like to be kept consistently moist. It may take some experimenting to determine what works best in your home. Either way, good drainage holes are key.

Whatever your watering schedule, always add just enough water to the pot to allow a small amount to run out from the bottom. This will ensure the roots of your flowering houseplant are well saturated. In addition, it will help wash away salts and fertilizers that may have built up in the soil.

Good drainage is key

Most importantly, never leave your plants sitting in waterThis will lead to root rot and ultimately the death of your houseplant. Yellow leaves are an indicator that this is happening.

3. FEED REGULARLY

Unlike plants grown outdoors in soil, indoor plants are confined to the pot. That means it’s up to you to provide all their water and nutrients. Feeding your flowering houseplants not only helps them produce more blooms, but it also wards of indoor pests and diseases. I use a balanced liquid fertilizer mixed with tap water every other week. 

Plants need food to flower

Certain species such as African violets, orchids and dwarf citrus trees prefer their own special food, so check with your local plant store to see which products best meet your needs.

Following are 12 top flowering houseplants for easy-care blooms indoors.

AFRICAN VIOLET

Adaptable to just about every environment, African violets are one of the easiest flowering houseplants to grow. Moreover, there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. The fuzzy-leaved plant performs best in evenly moist soil and indirect sunlight.

african violet

Water African violets at the soil surface, taking care not to moisten the leaves. Or, allow the plant to wick up water from a saucer. However, never allow your plant to remain standing in water or the roots may be damaged. African violets grow best in smaller pots.

KALANCHOE

This beautiful succulent with orange, yellow and red flowers has long lasting flowers and attractive, oval-shaped fleshy foliage. The plant blooms naturally indoors during winter and early spring.

Kalanchoes prefer bright light, but beware – they’ll burn in full sun. Again, proper drainage is key. Use a loose potting soil containing peat moss, perlite and sand and place pebbles at the bottom of the pot to guard against standing water. And never place a kalanchoe near a draft or cold window. 

JASMINE

Jasminum polyanthum, also known as pink jasmine or white jasmine, is the most common variety of jasmine grown indoors. A fragrant plant with showy white blooms, it grows best near a south-facing window. Cool temperatures are essential to encouraging this flowering houseplant’s buds to form. Jasmine typically flowers indoors in February.

Grow jasmine in evenly moist soil and prune regularly to keep it in bounds. Repot in the spring, trimming the roots before replenishing with fresh soil.

OXALIS (Purple Clover)

Often called shamrock for its purple, shamrock-shaped leaves, oxalis is a small-sized flowering houseplant that grows to a height of just around six inches. The delicate white or soft pink flowers bloom off and on during fall, winter and spring. And the leaves fold up at night only to open again in the morning.

Oxalis grows from tiny bulbs that can be divided at any time. Water your plant when the potting soil is dry to the touch or if you observe the stems starting to droop. Look for exotic varieties for best indoor performance.

CHRISTMAS CACTUS, THE HOLIDAY HOUSEPLANT

This beautiful flowering houseplant loves holidays. There are Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter varieties, some of which can be encouraged to re-bloom. The buds start forming a month before blooms and darken as they swell. And the flowers come in a wide variety of colors including, red, pink, orange, purple, orange and cream.

Christmas Cactus likes bright, indirect light and cool temperatures. But, keep it away from drafts and heat sources that can stunt growth and burn leaves. Unlike desert cacti, these tropical cacti cannot tolerate dry soil. Keep the potting soil evenly moist for best growth. And water only when the top inch of the soil has dried out.

ANTHURIUM (Flamingo Flower)

The heart-shaped ‘flower’ of anthurium is actually a modified leaf that grows from the base of a fleshy spike of flowers. The most common houseplant variety is Painter’s Palette, which features long-lasting blooms (usually red) and glossy green, arrow-shaped leaves.

Anthuriums grow best in medium to bright light (avoid direct sunlight, however.) Keep the potting soil constantly moist and for best results, use tepid water. A consistently warm temperature is key to achieving good growth.

GLOXINIA

Often thrown away after they quit flowering, gloxinias can become great houseplants with proper care. Best known for their large bell-shaped blooms, the dramatic plants come in a wide variety of colors, including varieties with bands and/or white speckles. By contrast, the oblong, fuzzy leaves are a soft gray green.

Gloxinias prefer warm temperatures, evenly moist soil and high humidity (supplement humidity with a humidifier or tray with pebbles and water). As with African violets, it’s important to keep water off of the foliage to avoid brown spot.

Unlike African violets, gloxinias require a period of rest in order to bloom again. Once flowers fade, reduce watering to about half and resume regular watering when new growth appears.

BEGONIA 

There are hundreds of varieties of this beautiful plant to choose from, most of which will produce indoor blooms all year long. Foliage varies among green, silver, variegated or maroon. And flowers come in a variety of colors, including red, pink, white and yellow. 

All begonias prefer medium to bright light and evenly moist soil. However, they can become leggy fast without proper care. To prevent this from happening, keep your plants in shape by following these simple pruning techniques. 

Angel-Wing begonia is so-named for the shape of its leaves that resemble wings. Numerous cultivars exist in different sizes with different leaf colors and red, pink or white blossoms. Angel-Wing begonias are some of the easiest flowering houseplants to grow. Pinch back tall stems to keep the plant bushy.

Rieger begonia is a winter-blooming variety with clusters of camellia-like blossoms in fiery colors of red, yellow and orange atop glossy green leaves.

The popular (outdoor) bedding plant, wax begonia, also makes a great flowering houseplant. Varieties feature red, pink or white flowers atop waxy green foliage. The plant needs good air circulation to thrive.

PHALAENOPSIS ORCHID 

Arguably the most recognizable of all the orchid varieties, the easy-to-grow Phalaenopsis produces flowers that can sometimes last up to three months. The long sprays of large blooms flourish indoors under normal light and prefer the same temperatures that humans do.

Place the plant in indirect sunlight and water once a week, making sure the soil remains moist just under the soil surface. Be careful not to overwater or the flowers will wilt and fall off. Good drainage is essential to guard against root rot. After the last flower finishes blooming, cut the stalk in half and wait to see if the plant re-blooms.

SILVER VASE PLANT (Urn Plant)

Silver vase plant is a type of bromeliad that is grown both indoors and outdoors depending on the climate. The common name comes from the structure of the plant, the center of which resembles an urn or vase. The plant produces a large pink spiky-shape flower above stiff, silver and green foliage. It lasts for months and grows to around six inches.

Low-maintenance, silver vase plant makes a great flowering houseplant. Its minimal requirements include bright light and periodic watering (every 2-3 weeks). Watering involves filling the “vase” (and not the potting soil) with water.

KAFFIR LILY (Orange Clivia Miniata)

A member of the amaryllis family, the Kaffir lily can be forced into bloom in winter or early spring indoors. It bears clusters of up to 20 reddish-orange tubular flowers with yellow centers above glossy green leaves. The plant is also available in red, peach, yellow and white varieties.

Kaffir lilies need cool and dry temperatures for 6 to 8 weeks in fall in order to bloom. Water sparingly until the bloom appears (keeping the soil on the dry side), then increase watering midwinter. Place in bright light, but keep away from direct sun.

CALAMONDIN ORANGE (For experts only)

The Calamondin Orange is actually a hybrid between a mandarin orange and kumquat. The dwarf citrus tree has woody stems covered with oval, glossy green leaves that give off a citrusy aroma. In late winter or early spring, fragrant white blossoms appear followed by fruits that may stay on the plant for many weeks. Once ripe, the fruits can be harvested and used like lemons.

For best performance indoors, plant calamondin in a small container. Plants won’t re-bloom if they are potted in a container that is too large. Make sure there are good drainage holes in the bottom of the container to protect against root rot. Place the tree in bright light, with at least four hours of direct sunlight a day. Rotate the plant a quarter turn each week to promote even growth. Fertilize with a good organic fruit tree fertilizer.

 

Why Leaves Change Color and Other Fall Facts

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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

-Albert Camus

I like to think of fall from an Alice In Wonderland perspective. That is, autumn is a time when we shrink in proportion to our gardens while the leaves ‘bloom’ above us. And every year nature charts new territory, unveiling color schemes so daring they leave little doubt as to her ability to create designs far superior to our own. Continue reading

Focus On Crocus: Top Varieties To Plant Now

If you’re a fan of early bloomers, then the crocus is the plant for you. For what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in impression. Resilient and tough, these diminutive flowers will bloom for weeks, even in the harshest of weather. They’re the perfect way to brighten the last gloomy days of winter. Continue reading

A Beginner’s Guide To 13 Types of Daffodils

At the end of summer, daffodils are rarely top-of-mind. But this is precisely the time when you should be ordering them. And this is especially true for the more sought-after, unusual varieties. Why stick with yellow trumpets when daffodils come in so many other colors, shapes and sizes? See below if one or more of these different types of daffodils wouldn’t be the perfect fit for your 2021 spring garden. Continue reading

Top Annuals for the All-Season Cutting Garden

Annuals for the cutting garden/Photo: Julie Hove Anderson Photography

As a landscape designer, I’m well versed in perennials and the kind of annuals you buy from a nursery. But when it comes to growing annuals from seeds, my experience centers mainly on zinnias. So recently, I was delighted to attend a webinar given by ButterBee Farm owner Laura Beth Resnick on the top annuals she grows for her cutting gardens. Continue reading

Eating Mushrooms: The Health Benefits Of Fungi

lingzi cover

I’ve been doing mushrooms for years. And it’s changed my life. My mushroom of choice is reishi,  which I drink in tea-form every morning. But reishi isn’t the only fungi with the potential for improving human health. Many mushrooms, molds and lichens are loaded with immune-enhancing, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, making them some of the most potent forms of natural medicine on earth. Continue reading

In Praise of Redbud

redbud tree and green bench

I always smile when the redbuds begin blossoming in my area. Flowering with reckless abandon, the magenta-colored trees instantly distinguish themselves from other plants in the landscape. One of my friends shouts out REDBUD! when her own dazzling specimen bursts into bloom. That seems to me the perfect way to describe the electric flowering of this upbeat, ornamental tree. Continue reading