Savayda’s Comforting Winter Herbal Tea Recipes

Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what winter teas are made of.

Each season brings different flavours and medicines to my tea pot. Winter is the cozy season, for maximizing comfort with tasty food and drink. The cold and dark provide more indoor hours, thus more time to dig out my cookbooks to learn new recipes, to try new ingredients, and to play with tea blends.

Tea blending is an art and science for me, combining the desire for both therapeutic value and pleasure.  The pleasure feature of the equation is expressed through complimentary flavours, colour, texture fat from cream or butter and just the right sweetener.  Using loose herbs, instead of tea bags, allows for creativity, personalization of tea blends and freshness. Most herb shops, like mine, and healthfood stores offer many bulk herbs to work with; a selection of fifteen herbs and spices allows for many creative combinations, many of which may already be in your spice rack.

Last winter I taught an online course on the medicinal uses of the common culinary herbs and spices, and I became better acquainted with the delights of spiced teas.  In the winter I add at least one spice to my tea blends to add extra warmth to the brew – spices are inherently warming.  I use ginger, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, fennel, star anise.  These spices offer strong flavour, and in general act as digestive stimulants.

In the winter I am attracted to eating more citrus fruits, when I do, I try to buy organic so that I can make use of the peelings for teas and medicine making.  Citrus peels, notably orange and lemon, are high in antioxidants and cancer fighting compounds.  They are also bitter, which is a good flavour addition to improve digestion.  They round out the flavour of tea blends very nicely.  They can be used fresh or dry; I have some drying in a basket by the wood stove, a dehydrator works well too.

If you are a black tea drinker like me, try combining varieties of black tea, and add herbs to the brew.  I am currently using an Irish breakfast blend with extra Assam, sometimes I add depth with a smoked tea called Russian Caravan, plus rose petals. I serve this blend with lots of blend and honey to counteract the high tannin content.

The tea recipes below reflect some basic, universal health needs for those of us living in our northern climate, plus they are rich in flavour to enhance the pleasure aspect of tea drinking

Breath of Life Tea

Mix equal parts:

  • Balsam fir needles
  • Mullein
  • Peppermint
  • Hyssop
  • Cardamom seeds

Mullein is a lung tonic and is helpful in cases of lung congestion and cough, hyssop is also helpful for coughs and asthma.  Balsam fir must be harvested during a forest walk, which is also good for our lungs : -)

Sunshine in My Cup of Tea

  • Calendula 2 parts
  • Holy basil 3 parts
  • Rosemary 1 part
  • Orange or lemon peel 2 parts
  • Ginger root or powder 1 part

The bright orange and yellow blossoms of calendula remind me of the sun. Holy basil is very tasty and is very sustaining to the nervous system, rosemary clears the mind and helps chase away the winter blues. Citrus peel reminds me of sunshine, and the heat of ginger feels like sun rays in the tummy.

 February 14th

  • 2 tsp. Damiana
  • 2 tsp. Rose petals
  • 1 Tbsp. orange peel
  • a pinch of cayenne powder
  • 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup milk of any kind – dairy, soy, almond, rice, oat

Simmer the damiana, rose and orange peel in the water for five minutes.  Strain.  Add the cayenne, cocoa and milk and return to the boil, stir and watch that it doesn’t boil over.  Sweeten to taste with honey.  This one is best shared with the special person in your life, all winter-long and especially on February 14th.  Damiana is a relaxant that stimulates certain desires.

Spicy Chai

  • 6 parts cardamom
  • 4 parts cinnamon
  • 2 parts fennel
  • 1 part clove
  • 1 part black peppercorns

The secret to making good chai is to grind the whole spices in small batches in a coffee grinder – this will triple the aroma and flavour.  To make chai, simmer 1 tsp. of the spice mix per cup of water, covered, for five minutes, include 1 tsp. black tea or rooibos tea (caffeine free) in the pot.  Strain.  Return to the pot and add an equal amount of milk of any kind and return to the boil.  Sweeten to taste with honey.

This tasty traditional tea of India makes an excellent after dinner tea, or for after coming in from the cold.

Immune Power Blend

  • Elderberries 3 parts
  • Hibiscus 1 part
  • Star anise 2 parts
  • Orange peel 1 part
  • Juniper berries 1 part

Simmer ingredients in water for 15 minutes (1 tbsp of the mixture per cup of water), Strain. I like to sweeten this one with pomegranate syrup, available at Middle Eastern and Indian grocery stores. This one has a very strong flavour, drink ½ cup as needed if you feel a cold or flu coming on.

A tasty, hot tea provides an opportunity for a break during a work or study session, and it can be a great excuse to have a friend over for a visit.  Elevate the tea experience by using your special tea set, maybe pick up some cookies, and make tea part of your winter rituals.

I wish you all the comfort and joys of winter.


Winter Forest Herbal Medicine Remedies

Herbal medicine is available for harvest throughout the year, even here in Nova Scotia. Pine and spruce are abundant. In this video you’ll learn some ways to identify them and use them to keep you healthy in winter.


I’m here in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and as you can probably see it’s winter here. It’s January. This park has edible and medicinal plants available to us year round, and in the winter we’re looking for the evergreens, some of which can be found at our feet, and we have many evergreen trees. Today we’re going to learn about pine and spruce, both abundant trees here in Nova Scotia.

These trees share many compounds in common, including acids, resins, essential oils, and anti-inflammatory compounds, so they have similar benefits to us. So I’ll start with the pine.

White Pine

This is white pine, and typically here in Nova Scotia, white pine grow to be quite tall and majestic. This is a young one, and you’ll know it’s a white pine because at the stem, they’ll have 5 long needles growing together from a single point. So that’s how you know the white pine from some of the other pine here. And I mentioned acids – ascorbic acid – pine is very high in ascorbic acid, which is Vitamin C. You can extract this by steeping it in apple cider vinegar for a few weeks, and it’ll not only extract the Vitamin C, but many other minerals and medicinal compounds.

Pine is one of my favourites for the urinary system. It’s a diuretic so it increases flow of urine, and will be helpful in cases of uric acid buildup, gout, and bladder infection. It has anti-infective properties for the bladder, also for the respiratory system and the sinuses.


Much like its neighbour over here. So next to it we have a small spruce tree, another evergreen common in Nova Scotia. This tree, as you can see, the needles are much smaller, and they are rollable in the fingers, so you can detect the squarish, rollable quality of spruce. And spruce is probably my favourite winter remedy for the sinuses, so it’s very good to clear sinus congestion and inflammation whether that’s from a cold or flu, from allergies, or from a simple sinus infection.

Herbal Medicine Steam

And a herbal steam is a great way to make use of it for that purpose. You simply simmer the spruce tips in some water, put a towel over the head and inhale those fumes deep into the sinuses and also into the lungs if you have a lower respiratory infection. Within minutes you’ll have relief and breathe much better.

Evergreen Herbal Tea & Herbal Bath

Both of these would make a good tea, herbal tea for the respiratory system, and also a bath. During the winter when we’re chilly to the bone, and maybe our spirits are a little low. Both of these have an aroma that’s really uplifting to the senses, and awakening, just to help lift us out of the winter blues. And for that you’d make a very strong — about a litre and a half of tea, using a couple handfuls of each, simmered in the water for about 15 minutes and add it to the bath.

And for making a cup of tea for internal use, you just need a little bit, like one small length of either of the stems in a single cup of tea, simmered for about 10 minutes will do it, and then a half to one cup of tea a day is sufficient. They’re both quite very strong.

So while you’re out enjoying your winter walks, be on the lookout for these, take a few along the way, and enjoy them at home.

Be well. Thank you.

Herbs to Keep You Warm in Winter

Herbs of Fire

Naturally, when it is cold we effort to keep warm.  Some tolerate the cold better than others, just like some thrive in the summer heat while others wilt – it depends on ones constitution.

As a Nova Scotia resident you likely have well established rituals and habits for keeping warm during our cold winter season, like staying indoors more, cooked foods, wool, whisky, and fires.  My best winter survival techniques are soups, teas, and baths, and they all involve herbs.

If you want to warm up quickly, eat some horseradish.  It is traditionally eaten with meat and fatty foods to improve their digestion.  It also goes well with eggs, beans, fish, and sushi.  Horseradish has been used as a medicine for centuries.  It is a powerful circulatory stimulant.  It can be used internally and topically for arthritis, gout, and inflammation.  It is one the most effective remedies for clearing lung and sinus congestion.  Eat ½ tsp. 2-3 times daily to clear up a persistent congestive cold.

Ginger is always in my winter teapot, either fresh or dried.  In addition to being a good cold and flu remedy, it is a digestive stimulant, anti-inflammatory and a remedy for nausea.  It makes a great poultice for congestive colds.  To 2 cups boiled water add 1 tsp. ginger powder. Soak a cloth in the liquid, wring it out then drape it across the chest, covering up with blankets to keep warm.  Repeat several times on the front and back.  Try it in a foot bath – in a basin full of hot water add 1 tsp. ginger powder, soak for 15-20 minutes to take the chill off.

When I need to thaw out after being out in the cold, nothing feels better than a hot soak. With the addition of herbs, an ordinary bath can become fragrant and therapeutic.  Herbs have been used as part of bathing rituals for centuries. In addition to immersion, water was sprinkled, splashed, poured and sweated to heighten the spiritually cleansing aspect of bathing.

“A daily spiritual bath is an easy way to start paying attention to your spirit and soul as well as your body.” ~ Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. and Herbalist

A herbal bath can ease the stresses of daily life, bringing a peaceful state of mind. If you don’t have a full tub, a hand or foot bath will work. I recommend herbal baths for people who have anxiety and insomnia.  To prepare a healing bath you simply make a super strong tea and add it to the bath.  In 3 lt boiled water, steep 1 cup of your chosen herb (s), covered, for 20 minutes.  Strain the liquid and add to your bath water.

For relaxation: lavender, hops, hibiscus, lemon balm, rose, and chamomile

For skin irritations such as eczema or rashes:  calendula, lavender, yarrow, and chamomile

For sore joints and muscles:  lavender, chamomile, wintergreen, rosemary

For colds:  peppermint, elderflowers, thyme, pine needles

A hot bowl of soup is comfort food at its best.  Hot soup can help to banish sickness and increase vitality.  Herbs are great when making stock – many are mineral rich and will enhance the nutrition of your soup – nettle, burdock root and dandelion roots and leaves are good choices.  Astragulus root is a powerful immune tonic and I add it to all of my winter soup stocks to prevent colds and flu.  Shiitake mushrooms are equally valuable for strengthening the immune system – they go in the pot too.  For extra fiery potency add ginger or chili powders to intensify the medicinal value of your soup.

Speaking of fire – don’t forget to get a daily dose of sunshine.  Brave the cold and get outside on your lunch break or for an afternoon walk to enjoy the beautiful and shapely trees that line our city streets.  We need as much sun exposure as we can get to chase away the winter blues.

Keep warm!

Winter Tree Medicine

We are fortunate to have many  trees in our city and surrounding area.  Trees and other plants oxygenate and purify the air we breathe.  I value trees simply for their beauty; at this time of year I love to see their tall, slender, naked branches reaching for the sky, and I value the vibrancy of the ever-greens.  Trees bring me comfort and peace.  I am one of those people you may see hugging a tree on your walk through the park.  Trees give the best hugs, try it, you’ll see.

At this time of year there is very little wild medicine to be found.  You can always dig through the snow in the forest and find goldthread roots and wintergreen leaves.  Up above we have access to several trees offering winter medicine.

My current favourite is the balsam fir.  It is found all over Nova Scotia.  In some places it is called “the church steeple” due to its upper spire-like form.  It is widely used as a Christmas tree.  It is easy to identify due to the raised resin blisters found on the trunk of young trees.  The needles are flat, and are white underneath with a green line running through the middle.

Balsam fir has a pleasant and stimulating scent which is released upon rubbing the branches.  The resinous sap that oozes from the blisters is very tasty and fragrant.  American First Nations people used it on cuts, burns and sores as an anti-septic and analgesic. The leaves are high in vitamin C, and are used in a tea for coughs, colds and asthma.  I had the dry, persistent cough that was going around in January; finally it was a decoction of balsam twigs and marshmallow root that cured me.

Balsam is a strong medicine; ¼ cup can be taken two-four times daily.  It should be avoided by those with kidney disease and during pregnancy.

White Pine is another of our medicinal trees.   They grace our forests with their majestic height and branches that sing with the wind.  It is the tallest growing conifer in eastern Canada.  The bottom 2/3 of the tree is often branchless.  The long needles are grouped in clusters of five.

This tree was used extensively by our first nations peoples.  The pitch was used topically to draw out fluid and infection from abscesses and boils, for rheumatism, broken bones, cuts, bruises, and inflammation.  The bark, needles and twigs can be steeped to make a tea for cough, colds, and sore throat.  Like the balsam fir, the needles are rich in vitamin C.  It would be far more sustainable if we derived our winter vitamin C from tree tea than from oranges imported from Florida!

Pine is used as a flower essence to help people overcome guilt and self-blame, and for those who tend to be hard on themselves.  It helps us to forgive ourselves for past errors or life events.  Dr. Bach, discoverer of the Bach Flower Remedies wrote “One trace of condemnation against ourselves, or others, is a trace of condemnation against the Universal Creation of Love, and restricts us, limits our power to allow the Universal Love to flow through us to others.”