Imagine if you will a sunlit hillside in rural Greece, lined with terraced farms and winding dirt roads. In the distance, the Mediterranean is visible and the wind carries traces of sea air as it sweeps through the area. On top of this hill is an Orthodox convent that has been a part of the landscape for centuries.
It was in the midst of this scene that a wayfaring college student was welcomed inside by the sisters. (Okay, I was in a large group of wayfaring college students who were there to study the classics, but isn’t it more romantic to envision that I arrived alone, having trekked through the mountains on foot?) As we sat in a circle, the sisters told us about their lives at the convent and offered us tea and Turkish delight. The sweet, jellied candy was traditional, they said; historically visitors really did have to trek across those mountains, and the sugar and calories provided vital nutrition after a long and harrowing journey.
But the tea… Oh the tea! Those lovely sisters have no idea how it changed my life, or that they might have been the ones who prompted my early forays into herbal medicine. That tea was amazing. It managed to be both warming and cooling at the same time, and it was delicately spiced and lightly sweetened with honey. Several people asked one of the sisters what kind of tea it was (even her fellows were as curious as I was) and she replied each time that it was mint, with a touch of cinnamon and clove. The mint and honey were both grown/collected from their own farm. The clove and cinnamon were luxurious additions since they hardly grow in that area, but the resulting tea was heavenly.
Fast forward a year. In that time I have returned home from my adventures in Greece and already meandered my way back to the European continent, this time to Paris. I have also succeeded in getting sick. A lot. (I blame the Parisian metro. I love that metro system, but it also harbors many, many germs my American immune system had not yet learned to fight.) In the month of October, I came down with three separate colds, the last of which grew into full blown pneumonia AND conjunctivitis. (Fun times. Really.)
During this time, as I was lying in bed coughing my lungs out and unable to breathe through my nose, I thought of that wonderful tea back in Greece. I had half-heartedly attempted herbal cold remedies before, usually involving ginger, lemon, and honey, but none of them were successful enough for my liking. As I remembered that lovely Greek tea, it occurred to me to wonder what mint would be like in that mix. It would give the beverage more body, certainly, and mint had antiviral properties too, right? Sure, mixing the hot flavors of ginger with the cool ones of mint could be weird, but it worked with the cinnamon and clove…
During my next trip to the grocery store I stocked up on ingredients and this tea recipe was born. It has evolved over the years and it’s admittedly not the same as that lovely Greek tea. (I’m still chasing that recipe, to be honest.) But I find it to be an extremely effective decongestant and quite soothing to a sore throat. It has helped me survive many illnesses since that miserable time in Paris. I even made it for a coworker who had come down with a cold, and for the next week she went around telling anyone who would listen that it had cured her completely. I can’t promise everyone will get such amazing results (I generally find it more helpful for managing symptoms than eliminating them) but if you’re feeling a bit stuffy up there and want a nice hot beverage to make you feel better, this one is definitely worth a try. As my coworker put it, “This tea is magical!”
Magical Minty Tea
Note: When I first started making this all I had on hand were mint tea bags and powdered spices. I have since moved a way from bagged tea toward loose leaf to reduce unnecessary trash, but I still find powdered spices more effective than steeping the whole ones. (It’s also more user friendly, since whole spices need to steep longer at a lower temperature.) As a result there will still be some powder in either version of the tea. I’m including both methods here for your convenience.
(Makes 1 cup. You can multiply the ingredients to make more; I made this by the pot one Christmas when everyone but me came down with colds.)
- ~1 tsp mint leaves OR 1 mint tea bag (If using a tea bag make sure it’s pure mint or close to it; my early attempts were with a mint/green tea blend, and this was nowhere near as effective. Peppermint, spearmint, etc. should all be fine.)
- Powdered cinnamon to taste
- Powdered Ginger to taste
- A tiny dash of clove powder (Optional, but good for sore throats and general germ fighting.)
- Honey to taste*
Loose Leaf Method
When making loose leaf tea by the cup, I like to put my tea leaves in a small tea strainer and pour the water over them. You can also place them directly in the cup, though you will either have to strain the tea separately or drink around your tea leaves. Whichever your chosen method, place the mint leaves in the desired receptacle and sprinkle the spices over them. The exact amounts vary depending on my mood; sometimes I want more cinnamon, sometimes more ginger. Generally I do a couple of shakes of each. If you’re using clove, be careful not to overdo it unless you like having your tongue go numb. Pour boiling water over the leaves/spices, making sure they are completely submerged, and allow to steep for a good 10 minutes or so. Strain out the tea leaves and add honey.* Enjoy, and feel better!
Tea Bag Method (Pictured)
Place the teabag in your desired drinking/pouring vessel and sprinkle on your spices. Once again, be careful with the clove, but go to town on the ginger/cinnamon as much as you feel like it. More ginger tends to result in a lighter, spicier tea, while more cinnamon gives it a a deeper, more warming character. Fill the cup/teapot/etc. with boiling water and steep for about ten minutes. Remove the teabag and sweeten with honey.* Your magical tea is ready!
*A Note on Honey
Honey is in many ways a major star of this show. If you are vegan, you can try to substitute in another sweetener, but honestly in my experience honey is a large part of what makes this work. Also important, I am not a huge fan of overly sweetened teas. Usually I don’t even bother to sweeten them at all. So believe me when I tell you that the honey is essential here. I have tried it with just a little bit, and the difference in how well it works is very noticeable. The honey helps coat your throat and reduce soreness and has been shown to help boost immunity in various studies, but it also (for whatever reason I haven’t yet bothered to research) seems to increase the decongestant properties of this tea. So my general rule of thumb is to add as much honey as I can stand. For me that’s no more than a couple teaspoons per cup. If you have more of a sweet tooth and don’t need to watch your sugar intake for health reasons, I say go ahead and try adding more. The ingredients in this recipe are all flexible for a reason, so go ahead and experiment and see what works best for you.
Also worth noting, SUPPOSEDLY raw honey will work better to combat colds. This is the general consensus among home remedy types out there and it does make a certain amount of sense; raw honey maintains more of its enzymes and good bacteria and other lovely things that help you ward off illness. But I feel I should mention I made this for years before bothering much with the raw honey distinction… and honestly? I don’t notice much difference since making the switch, at least in the case of immediate efficacy. So go ahead and use raw honey if you want since it may help you more in the long run, but if you only have the non-raw version on hand or find the expense of local raw honey too much to deal with, the pasteurized stuff seems to work pretty darned well too. In fact, here’s a study that found both types were effective in fighting bacteria…