With all the stress so many of us have with packed schedules, deadlines, work and family responsibilities, and more, we could all use a little pick-me-up sometimes. Coffee and alcohol come to mind, but both have serious drawbacks that can affect mood, energy and mental acuity.
When I need a boost to get through a busy day, reduce stress, or to help me sleep, I like to turn to tonics.
Tonics are defined as a medicinal substance, usually taken in beverage form, that provides a feeling of health and well-being. Generally made from herbs and other plant parts such as roots or berries, herbal tonics are prepared and mixed into a liquid such as tea, water, juice or even milk.
You may have also heard about tinctures, elixirs and teas. Here are the differences:
Tinctures are heavily concentrated extracts made by placing chopped fresh or dried herbs into a jar and covering them with a solvent. That may be high-proof alcohol (such as vodka or brandy), glycerin or vinegar. Tinctures are strictly medicinal and aren’t necessarily meant to be enjoyed or savored.
Elixirs are made by adding one more ingredient to a finished alcohol (made with vodka or brandy) tincture such as honey or sugar syrup. The typical ratio of tincture to honey or other sweetener is 2:1. Again, this is more medicinal and not a beverage to be sipped.
Teas are an herbal extract that’s made by using water as the solvent. Teas are popular and easy to prepare, but less concentrated than tinctures, so you’d have to drink a lot to receive the benefit. However, many benefits from herbs are cumulative, so drink up often!
Tonics are delicious remedies that can help calm, boost energy, boost immunity and relieve digestive problems, depending on the herbs and ingredients used. Many tonics can be made with herbs and spices that are already in your pantry, but to be most effective, use the best, freshest ingredients available.
Common Tonic Ingredients and What They Do
Turmeric – An indispensable root with a bright yellow color and anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-fungal and antioxidant properties.
Ginger – This is one of the oldest, most commonly used medicinal plants known to humankind. It eases nausea, aids digestion and is very effective for treating colds and flu.
Galangal – OK, not so common. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory root related to ginger but more aromatic. Galangal has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, and according to a growing body of scientific research, it can help fight and potentially prevent a broad number of cancers and tumors. It’s available in Asian markets or online.
(Generally the leaves and stems of plants)
Basil – Helps brain function, memory and can be a stress reliever.
Bay Leaves – Aids in detoxifying the body, helps reduce inflammation and stress.
Lemongrass – Supports the immune system, detoxifies, reduces cholesterol, aids digestion, and helps reduce headaches.
Mint – Helps relieve nausea, headaches, congestion, fatigue and aids weight loss.
Oregano – Good for stuffy noses and coughs, it’s an antibacterial that helps fight colds and flu.
Sage – Helps reduce stomach discomfort, bloating, stress and prevent memory loss.
Thyme – Good for coughs, sore throats, congestion and boosts the immune system.
(Made from the seeds, pods and berries of plants)
Black Pepper – Helps to fight colds and flu; reduces congestion and can help with weight loss.
Cardamom – Reduces inflammation and helps reduce cholesterol.
Cinnamon – An aid for digestion, improves circulation, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial.
Clove – Reduces bloating and indigestion.
Coriander Seed – Aids digestion and reduces bloating.
Cumin – Can help eliminate flatulence and stabilize blood sugar.
Fennel Seed – Reduces bloating and helps with digestion.
Nutmeg – Soothing; helps reduce stress and anxiety.
Star Anise – Good for reducing cold and flu symptoms and reduces inflammation.
Check out this recipe, which features many of the above herbs and spices.
The Indian word for tea is chai and masala means spiced. This delicious, complex tonic is full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory herbs and spices. For a great summer refresher, you could pour this tonic over ice.
2 black peppercorns
2 cardamom pods
½ cinnamon stick
1/8 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp. black loose tea (or one tea bag)
½ tsp. fresh sliced ginger root
½ tsp. fresh sliced turmeric root
4 oz. water
4 oz. low fat milk
Honey (or other sweetener) to taste
- In a skillet, dry roast the peppercorns, cardamom pods, clove, cinnamon stick and nutmeg over medium heat until aromatic. Remove from heat and crush with a mortar and pestle.
- Place the ginger and turmeric slices in a food processor with a small amount of water and pulse until they become a paste.
- In a saucepan over medium heat combine the water, ginger and turmeric paste, tea and crushed spices. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer for 4 minutes.
- Add the milk and sweetener. Turn up the heat to just boiling. Remove from heat and strain into a mug to drink hot OR…..
- Pour over ice for a refreshing, restorative beverage.
HERBAL COUGH SYRUP
This DIY cough syrup contains ingredients you probably already have on hand and if not, go buy them and use them a for a tasty roast chicken when you feel better!
Makes 12 fl. oz.
6 oz. extra virgin olive oil
3 lemons, sliced
Fresh sprigs of oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme
6 fl. oz. honey
- Combine all the ingredients except the honey in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let steep for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool.
- Once at room temperature, strain, add the honey and mix well. Store in a sterilized mason jar or other container with an air-tight lid.
- Store in the refrigerator.
In my Age Gracefully Cookbook there are several recipes for tonics and beverages that will refresh and revive. Here’s one that is perfect for summer.
The inspiration for this drink comes from the Cuban mojito. My non-alcoholic version uses sparkling water. Mint leaves aid digestion. The agave nectar is high in fructose, which means that it does not raise your blood sugar to the same extent as other sweeteners do. For a stronger mint flavor, use more mint leaves.
2 small bunches fresh mint leaves
¼ cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
4-8 tsp. agave nectar
2½ cups sparkling water
Crushed ice (optional)
- Place 5–7 mint leaves in each tall glass. Bruise the leaves with a cocktail muddle, the handle of a wooden spoon, or the tines of a whisk to help them release their fragrant oil.
2. Mince or chiffonade the remaining mint leaves and divide them equally between the glasses.
3.Add the lime juice, agave nectar, and water in equal amounts. Stir until the agave is dissolved. Add crushed ice.
TURMERIC ORANGE JUICE
This recipe is as simple as it is beautiful. Try serving it at brunch on the patio. An ounce or two of turmeric juice mixed with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice makes a healthy and refreshing tonic. The turmeric and the vitamin C in the orange juice double the antioxidant power of this drink.
2 recipes (or double the recipe) fresh turmeric juice (recipe below)
2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
Crushed ice (optional)
Combine the fresh turmeric juice and the fresh orange juice and divide between 2 glasses. For super summer refreshment, add crushed ice.
Fresh turmeric root fights inflammation and contains antioxidants. The best way to enjoy fresh turmeric is to juice it. Once juiced and strained, it can be stored in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
YIELD ½ cup (4 oz.)
¼ lb. turmeric root peeled
½ cup water
- Slice the turmeric root until it measures about 1 cup.
- Place the turmeric slices in a food processor or blender. Add a bit of the water and blend at low speed. Gradually increase speed, slowly adding water until all of the water is used up and mixture is smooth.
- Strain the juice using a fine-mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or coffee filter.
Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.
Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.
Improves mood, memory, and focus.
Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.