Yesterday I went into an herb shop in Olympia, WA to buy my sister a gift. She has had a particularly challenging year, but has handled huge emotional and physical transitions with a relentless optimism and grace. Her deep commitments to support human life and embrace nature alike seem to allow a deep current of wisdom to run through her multifaceted life as a midwife, mother, herbalist, and gardener.
On my way to the book section of the herb shop I passed the card section and was immediately captivated by this card, which seemed to speak directly to me, and perhaps, you…
I immediately noticed my racing brain and shallow breaths, so I took a long deep breath and exhaled.
I was struck by the memory of how relaxing and fun it is to sink low into the earths surface and gaze in awe at the immensity of our universe. My mind is consistently a buzz with ideas and projects and endless excitement for things I want to do. But what my body is begging me to do most of the time during midsummer is rest…especially on super hot days. How wondrous does a cool rest in the grass and a twilight star gaze sound? DO IT!
The above print was made by Nikki McClure. I adore all of her work and encourage you to buy her monthly calendar each year, it is hugely inspiring and creative. Nikki hand cuts each of her images out of a single sheet of paper! So much patience and love must go into each image.
The book I knew I wanted to get my sister was The Secret Teachings Of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature by Stephen Harrod Buhner. It is about perception of nature through the intelligence of the heart. Stephen Buhner is very famous in the herbal world and writes books on a myriad of topics, some more esoteric than others. But his books have inspired thousands of people to work to become amateur naturalists, herbalists, and develop a deep heart intelligence that communicates directly with energetic aspects and voices of plants. Directly sensing plants and the healing stories they share is a skill that we can all develop, one that most people in our culture has simply forgotten. Wouldn’t it be cool if we all refocused our energy and relearned the wild connections we have to other living things? I constantly think about how I can relate with plants more and have a deep understanding of how to live in right relations with every landscape I exist in.
Onward toward tea talk…I really wanted to create three blends that were unique and captivated the joys in life. Summer is supposed to be a time of ease, so please enjoy your teas and relax a bit this month. I encourage you to make sun or iced tea with any of these blends.
You can even make tea popsicubes if you are so inclined. Simply steep the herbs in juice and pour into an ice tray and freeze. You can place a popsicle stick in each cube for easy eating. We usually just drop a couple cubes into a bowl and eat with our fingers. We also add smashed berries for added deliciousness.
Also, I have been exploring using cooler water temperatures with herbal infusions lately…thanks to my partners friend who has a cool electric kettle that can be programmed to heat water to any temperature below boiling you want. I think the infusion strength tastes and feels better when water is heated to between 180-193 degrees. Many vitamins and minerals are damaged by high temperatures. It is common for me to boil water then let it sit for 5 minutes before I steep tea which leaves you with water that is ~194.
Ingredients: High Mountain Oolong, Osmanthus Flowers
Steeping Instructions: This tea can me made into a hot or cold infusion!
Cold Infusion: Combine 1.5 cups water and 1 tsp tea in a mason jar with a lid. Keep in fridge overnight. Strain and enjoy. Cold green teas often taste great with a touch of honey.
Hot infusion: Pour 1.5 cups hot water over 1 tsp tea. Steep 4 minutes. strain and reserve the herbs. This tea can be resteeped up to 4 times. Just make sure your hot water about ten degrees below boiling when you steep.
Floral focus is a truly wonderful tea. This tea is from steep often cloud covered mountains of Taiwan. Harvested in mid-spring its flavor carries some resemblance to its ecosystem. With hints of orchid like and gardenia aroma, I imagine the flavor derives from the misty spring air that circulates around and between each and every leaf on the tea plantations. High mountain oolong teas are painstakingly processed to bring out the sweet floral character and remove the bitter flavors (tannins) using oxidation and heat at various stages.
High Mountain Oolong teas are quite expensive, and some of the most prized teas in Asia. Each whole leaf is carefully rolled, the very most expensive oolongs are still hand rolled in silk or nylon bags in a traditional manner and would fetch over $150 per pound. Mid-grade oolongs like the one you received is most likely rolled using a small rolling machine that is simultaneously drying the tea.
The entire process from harvest to the dried rolled leaves of an oolong tea is hugely labor intensive. I found this cool blog that has a really good descriptive account of the process, also where I got the picture you see above. Read all about it and you will surely appreciate your tea even more! OOLONG TEA PROCESSING
Osmanthus flowers are on my top 10 list for fragrance, up there with gardenia and lilac. I think Osmanthus flowers pair really well with the sweet smooth taste and aroma of the oolong. Osmanthus infused tea (Which is produced in a similar manner as a jasmine green tea) is not entirely uncommon in Asia but is very hard to get ones hands on without a direct relationship with someone on the ground there in the tea industry. So I simply added to adorable white flowers to one of my favorite oolong teas. Osmanthus is a shrub from Asia, but is a common exotic in many western countries.
It’s often referred to as Sweet Olive Plant (Osmanthus fragrans) and I have seen it used for hedging in gardens and yards in the USA. I want to grow this plant because I desire the fragrance to rise on a warm day into my home and catch me by surprise and bring forth serenity with every microscopic molecule of essential oil. I have a deep romance with Osmanthus and love the uplifting nature of its flowers.
Floral Focus may in fact distract you from a task you are working on…but think of it as an opportunity to focus on yourself or the person you are sharing your tea with. Let the energizing tea carry you toward a friend with whom you share and learn.
Ingredients: Raw Cacao Powder, Roasted Cacao Nibs, Ginger, Cinnamon, Anise, Chamomile, Mint, Tulsi, and Rose
Steeping Instructions: Can be made into a hot or iced tea. I recommend the iced tea!
For Iced Tea: Pour 3/4 cup hot water over 1-2 tsp tea. Steep 5-10 minutes. Strain. Add 1 spoon honey. Refrigerate. Once chilled add 3/4 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy) and a few ice cubes.
For Hot Tea: combine 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to low simmer. Pour hot liquid over 1-2 tsp tea. Steep 5-10 min. Strain. Add 1 tsp honey.
Xocolatl is a rich herbal tea that provides you with feel-good energy and your cells with a balance of minerals and anti-oxidants. Raw cacao is a wonderful superfood that enhances and is enhanced by other delicious herbs and spices such as chiles, cinnamon, rose, and mints. I am always captivated by the tide of flavor infusing herbs and raw cacao together into hot water or milk create. It’s a flavor tapestry that is joyful and curious like wearing perfume.
There is always so much to say about chocolate because it has a crazy history and is so prominent in our lives today, but I want to be relatively brief. Cacao has been an ancient medicine since Mayan and Aztec times. It is well known that cacao was incredibly sacred to the Maya and Aztecs, so much so, that it was reserved for special occasions and ceremony. Often mixed into a frothy tea with chiles, spices, and other medicinal or psychoactive herbs. Chocolate was used as a medium which works synergistically with the medicine as it travels through the body and mind of the drinker (1).
This months xocolatl tea is a chance for us to meditate on cacao as a medicine and medium, not just easily accessible sweet treat. Sit with how Xocolatl makes you feel when you drink it and try to get a glimpse of why it was so sacred to pre-contact natives in central america. We often forget or don’t know that some stimulating substances like chocolate (and coffee) which are incredibly ubiquitous in our lives today were used very sparingly in the cultures from which they came. I very rarely drink or eat substances that are stimulating, so when I do I am completely captivated by the power these plants have on my body. I know physiologically what is happening in my body but it still feels like I am being overtaken by the energy of plant. I can completely embrace how use of such substances could be considered sacred. You and I simply grow up learning that it is normal and desirable to rely on powerful energizing plants whenever we want to feel elevated and super human for a short while.
The idea of sitting with how a tea makes you feel is like surrendering to a plant journey…which made me think of the above illustration. This illustration was made by Jenny Sue Kostecki. I have a few of Jenny’s prints. I like her whimsical style.
About twice a year I send out a raw cacao blend that is combined with herbs and spices. Cacao has a more sustained energetic effect than coffee or tea because main energizing alkaloid, theobromine, is metabolized much slower than caffeine. Cacao also has a mood elevating (“feel-good”) effect that coffee and tea lack. I blended the raw cacao with roasted nibs for a hint of that characteristic rosy roasted flavor that roasted cacao has. Below is a lovely picture of a cacao plant and cacao beans.
Many of your fellow Bird’s Eye Tea customers have consistently expressed their love for tulsi, so I decided to try blending it into Xocolatl. Tulsi is something I had never tried to blend with raw cacao before, it imparts and almost savory character to the tea which I found to be an exciting and interesting twist. I recommend drinking tulsi almost every day to support and balance the mind and the body. Its nutritive and balancing effect on the nervous system help enhance mental clarity while reducing the effects of daily stress on the body. Tulsi is a wonderful tonic herb for building your natural energy reserves, especially in people who sometimes feel frantic or overwhelmed by choices and desires in their lives.
Mints, rose, and chamomile are added to the tea to balance the stimulating effect of chocolate. Plus they taste great with cacao! Cinnamon, anise, ginger, and cayenne are very old companions with chocolate in southern mexico and central america. They are often found melding together in dark mole sauces and spicy desserts.
I wrote an article about cacao a while back that you can read for more in depth information about the history and nutritional profile of chocolate: Cacao
Tummy Tea: drink with a balanced meal
Ingredients: Dandelion root, Ginger root, Chamomile, Spearmint, Peppermint, Marshmallow, and Fennel
Steeping Instructions: This tea can be made into a hot, cold, or sun infusion.
Sun Tea: Combine 1-2 tsp tea and 2 cups water in mason jar with a lid. Place in a sunny spot for several hours. Drink sun warmed or refrigerate and drink cool.
Hot/Iced tea: Pour 1.5 cups hot water over 1-2 tsp tea. Steep 5-10 minutes. Add a touch of honey and refrigerate for iced tea.
This is a soothing digestive tea. Helps stimulate digestion if you drink it before a meal and relieves digestive upset following a meal. Dandelion root and ginger both support your digestive fire, allowing quick food break down in your stomach, relieving pressure and transit time on your intestines. Having a strong digestive fire is essential for long-term digestive health. The quicker your food is digested the faster nutrients are readily available to your cells and the faster waste products are eliminated from the body. 18-24 hours is an ideal transit time, longer or shorter can be problematic.
Sluggish digestion is more common than fast digestion because stress shunts blood away from the digestive system slowing digestion. It is important to rest your body and your brain after you eat to provide your digestive system with the energy it needs to do its job properly. Having a siesta after a meal, even if only for an hour is a great habit to get into if you can. I realize that siesta is pretty impossible for most of us, our work schedules simply don’t allow for long breaks after a meal, an hour is all we usually have to make lunch, eat, and get back to work. So at the very least drink digestive tea with your meal to give you your best shot at healthy digestion.
Mints and fennel help relieve gas and bloating. Chamomile is a digestive nervine that can strengthen digestion, she also calms the nervous system which supports healthy digestion.
Mallow root (above is a botanical drawing of the aerial portions of marshmallow). It is a stunning plant, it looks as sweet and soothing as it tastes. Mallow is a wonderful mucilaginous herb that soothes inflamed tissues. For many of us, some of the foods we eat can cause inflammation and irritation to our esophagus and stomach. Mallow is often used in digestive blends to treat irritated tissues in the digestive system.