Holly’s Healthy Homemade Chai
10 cardamon pods, smashed
knuckle of fresh ginger root
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
optional:1/2 knuckle fresh turmeric root or 1 tsp powdered 6 cups water
1 teaspoon ghee/coconut oil/butter
2 cups whole milk or non-dairy
Optional: black tea or decaf black tea or no tea honey to taste or maple syrup
One of my favorite things to do in wintertime is to brew a big pot of spiced chai. The festive aroma of the spices fill the house, and if we add some flickering color lights and candles, the atmosphere is set for warmth and coziness on a dark, cold day.
There are as many recipes for spiced tea (aka Chai) as there are donuts! But unlike the quick- sweet satisfaction of a pastry, Chai offers not only full sweetness but tang and full warmth, heat and zing that circulate. Just what we’re looking for this time of year! I like to introduce chai tea to my New Years festivities, as an alternative to a hot toddy or alcoholic punch, not only for the pleasure but the health benefits chai has to offer, especially during wintertime.
Chinese medical theory analyzes how seasons affect our behavior and health. We’re in the season where water is dominant. Water that flows, unimpeded by obstacles, allows for circulation and growth. In winter the water turns to ice, life naturally slows down, nature burrows and hibernates, conserving energy to stay warm. However, the contractive nature of cold can sometimes interfere with the proper function of circulation of blood and oxygen in the body. ‘Stuckness’ or even stagnation happens and this can lead to and exacerbate emotional and physical pain and distress. The solitary and dark nature of winter can make us feel tired easily or worn out, with every superfluous movement causing back ache. We may feel lonely, isolated and fearful during this darker time of year. On the other hand, Chinese medicine tells us that winter can be the best time to support and boost our deepest health, energy and immunity. In a kind of hibernation we are nourished by the earth and grounded in a sense of home and deep security. The restorative power of winter strengthens us for the expansive burst of spring. Chai contains herbs and spices which activate circulation and ingredients that provide an enduring warmth and energy to the body.
The main herbs included are cinnamon sticks-and fresh ginger-Both herbs are widely used in Chinese Herbal medicine. Cinnamon and ginger warm the body in a very deep way, scattering internal cold and activating circulation. Ginger is sometimes used not only for flavor in cooking but as an enzyme, to ‘break down’ heavy foods, and prevent toxins and food poisoning. Both help to reduce joint and muscle aches that are aggravated during winter. Aside from being delicious, cardamon is used in Chinese medicine to support digestion and can also ‘make heavier foods and meats more digestible. Fennel is another digestive herb, besides being very aromatic. Chewing a few fennel seeds after a meal will help to reduce gas and flatulence! Cloves are strong flavored so only a few are needed in the chai but the herb has antibacterial properties and is sometimes used in mouthwash and toothpaste!
Peppercorns add some spice but they also assist the absorption of the main benefit of the other herbs.
Option: Turmeric collaborates nicely with the other herbs for flavor and warmth, and also can help reduce joint pain and inflammation.
Nutmeg shake for flavor if desired.
Add all these to a 6 cups of water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add a cup or 2 of whole milk, non-dairy milk to taste. Add 1 teaspoon of ghee or coconut oil, as the fat also helps with absorption of the beneficial properties.
Let simmer uncovered 15 minutes.
Add honey or maple syrup to taste and enjoy!
Add 1 teaspoon loose black tea/decaf tea(or teabag) if desired to each individual mug of chai.
There’s much ritual involved in celebrating the holidays and a New Year. Starting each quiet morning with a favorite mug of chai tea can be a ritual, something to do before the ‘revving’ nature of the season. Even with the socially distanced and masked procedures we follow, we’re still experiencing the crazy schedules and timelines, trying to get things done. Why not carve out the moment in the morning or after a meal to nourish and settle into the present moment with a warm cup? Enjoy the restorative benefits of chai!
Holly Carr began her path to Chinese medicine after meeting students of the local acupuncture school while working as a supplement buyer in Santa Fe, NM. She enrolled at Southwest Acupuncture College, and finished the program in 1999 with a Master’s of Science in Oriental Medicine. Her dedication to working with communities struggling with addiction lead to receiving Acu-Detox certification under NADA(National Acupuncture Detoxification Administration). She practiced in Minneapolis, MN, leading group acupuncture detox sessions at in-patient women’s facilities and at 12-step programs held in the city. Holly relocated to New York City in 2001 to join an integrative clinic, providing acupuncture mainly for pain relief. After meeting fellow acupuncturists at Lincoln Mental Center in the Bronx, she provided acupuncture to FDNY members at her local firehouse for several years. In 2013 Holly relocated to North Carolina and joined an integrative mental health practice, in collaboration with social workers and therapists. She also provided community-style acupuncture at substance-abuse treatment facilities. She is a licensed acupuncturist in Illinois, Ohio and North Carolina, and is Diplomate of Acupuncture by the NCCAOM.
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