Health Tea

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When you become a parent, one of the things that people (even STRANGERS) like to tell you is that you’ll get sick all the time.  Because small children like to lick things.  They lick floors, they lick other children, they snog animals and French kiss railings in public places, and mostly gum objects that have been touched by people who don’t wash their hands after going for a poo.  What those same people fail to inform you is that your children’s grandparents are equally good receptacles for bugs.

It’s not that The Mother-in-Law is into licking things; it’s just that she’s another body in the house, which increases the probability of catching a cold.  Which she did.  And then so did I.

During this bout of illness, The Husband – utterly lovely (unlike me, who transforms into a real-life Nurse Ratched anytime he’s the patient) – made me a breakfast in bed of porridge, sprinkled with my favourite seed mix.  Except it wasn’t.  Nigella seeds – otherwise known as black onion seeds – look deceptively like chia seeds at 7 o’clock in the morning.  Sadly, they don’t taste like them.  I told him that he may be onto something with his savoury porridge. But probably not.

Then when I was feeling strong enough to leave the house, I took Roo on a trip to the wonderful Sweet Mart in Easton, where I bought handfuls of fresh turmeric to make my Health Tea.  Completely nectarous, warming and healing, this brew recently converted a coffee-drinking friend when I made it for her, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself hanging out at Asian supermarkets.  (You’ll find fresh turmeric in most good Asian shops because it plays such an important part in South and South East Asian cuisine.)

I first discovered fresh turmeric root some years ago, before having children and long before moving into The Mother-in-Law’s House, when The Husband and I went to Kerala in India.  Here we stayed in the lush tea-green hills of ‘God’s Own Country’, where the air was scented with peppercorns and cardamom, and the forests confessed to know tigers, elephants and monkeys.

Varghese and Beena were our kindly hosts at the Varnam Homestay, a small farm teetering over paddy fields and tiered tea plantations.  I arrived there a sickly guest with a healthy dose of what travellers affectionately call ‘Dehli belly’ and was flatly refused Beena’s delicious-looking traditional Malayali cuisine.  Instead she prescribed me a daily meal plan of her home-made Ayurvedic tonics using her own home-grown ingredients.  I was fixed within two days.

Astonished and mystified by her medicine, and hungry to eat her food, I asked to join Beena in the kitchen.  It was here that I learnt to make pukkah masala chai (mixed spice tea), a secret that I smuggled home and turned into my Health Tea.

Masala chai traditionally includes a base of black or sometimes gunpowder green tea, which I omit (you don’t have to).  I also add fresh turmeric – an unconventional although not completely sacrilegious act, as saffron is sometimes used to flavour Kashmiri masala chai – but for good reason.

Turmeric is a truly incredible plant.  Harvested and used by the people of Tamilnadu for thousands of years, where it features heavily in Siddha medicine – one of the most ancient systems of medicine known to humankind – turmeric has long been revered for its healing and preventative properties.  Its active ingredient is curcumin, which is believed to be antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti-tumour AND anti-inflammatory.  Wow!  Current clinical research has established its effectiveness as an anticancer compound, and further studies are looking into its efficacy regarding Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.  You can even use this humble root as a sunscreen.

I’m not going to argue with 2,500 years of knowledge, but I will drink to it.  L’chaim!

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Ingredients

300ml of cold (ideally filtered) water
1 teaspoon grated fresh turmeric (or 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder)*
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Bruised seeds from 1 green cardamom pod
3 black peppercorns
1/2 cinnamon stick

To Serve
Milk of your choice (I like almond)
Honey to sweeten

Method

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Add all the ingredients to a pan and bring gently to the boil.

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Simmer for 10 minutes.

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Strain into a cup.

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Add milk and/or honey and stir.  Sip, sip, sip.

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You can drink this lovely tea hot or serve it over ice as a cool refreshment on an Indian summer’s day.

Note: should you not be able to find any of the fresh ingredients you can experiment with the powdered versions of the spices.

* Turmeric stains!  It was first used as a fabric dye to colour saris and monk’s robes, and you’ll see why when you first cut into a fresh rhizome (root), its sun-orange colour staining your fingers mustard yellow.  So maybe don’t wear that white shirt.