The History of Herbal Tea

So I have had tea ON MY BRAIN lately. With all the harvesting and drying of my herbal teas I’ve been doing, tea on the brain just makes sense, haha. But where are my manners? HAPPY THURSDAY! Welcome to my blog where I talk about myth, legend, and children’s media. Today, I’ll be sharing with you the ancient histories of herbs used in teas like lemon balm, chamomile, and lavender.

Let’s begin with lemon balm. A variant of the mint plant, lemon balm or melissa officinalis can be traced all the way back to Ephesus. Ephesus is now in modern day Turkey. But back then, Ephesus was part of the Greek Empire. This is important, remember this.
Now the name melissa refers to the honeybee and the honeybee was thought to be a form of the human soul descending from the earth goddess Artemis. (That’s where the Greek Empire comes in). Plants that attracted honeybees or kept them from swarming were revered for these reasons. Enter lemon balm. Kept in the temple of Artemis, lemon balm was used to attract honeybees for the temple’s bee keepers. They believed that honeybees preferred this herb above the rest and even planted sprigs of it outside of hives to keep the bees happy.
The magical properties of lemon balm were recorded by someone named Pliny. Pliny wrote that tying lemon balm to the sword which has inflicted a mortal wound will staunch the blood. Dioscorides suggested putting lemon balm leaves on a venomous bite or bites from mad dogs. He also wrote that mashing the leaves and putting them on the body would cure gout pains.
Today’s studies have shown the anti-viral effectiveness of lemon balm and has proven to speed up the healing of cold sores and shingles outbreaks. Other studies are being conducted on lemon balm as a treatment of Grave’s disease, hyperthyroid, and Alzheimer’s/dementia. Many people drink lemon balm tea (myself included) to reduce stress and promote positivity (due to its lemony scent!)

Now chamomile began in ancient Egypt where it was first mentioned as a cure for a fevers. The flowers were once crushed and used as a cosmetic (which, if we’re still replicating Cleopatra’s skin care routine, they may have been on to something with the crushed flowers). The “essence” of chamomile was once used as a main ingredient in embalming deceased pharaohs. It was also dedicated to the sun.
The word “chamomile” is Greek, and translates to “little apple” because the scent was reminiscent of apple blossoms.
An interesting thing about chamomile is that the “flower” doesn’t consist of the white petals and the yellow center. The white “petals” are actually landing pads for pollinators because the flower is actually that yellow center. And it’s not just one flower, it’s hundreds of tiny yellow flowers. If you look closely at the chamomile plant, you’ll see tiny flowers that serve as the yellow portion of the plant. At a glance, it looks like chamomile closely resembles a daisy, with the yellow looking like pollen and the white as petals. But! That’s the magical thing about chamomile, it’s hundreds of tiny flowers in one stem.
Many variants of chamomile have been used for everything from hay fever, muscle spasms, menstrual issues, ulcers, and insomnia. In herbalism, chamomile is used for the nervous and digestive systems and is perhaps best known for its calming and relaxing effects. It is also an anti-inflamitory. Chamomile’s latin name is matricaria chamomilla. “Matr” is the latin word for “mother” and mothers swear by chamomile for its use in helping fussy or teething babies. Curiously enough, chamomile functions as a “plant doctor,” healing any sick plants around it.

Some of the earliest references of mint come from Greece and Rome. There are multitudes of species of mint, the specific variety I’ll be focusing on is spearmint. Once upon a time in ancient Greece, when people scented different parts of their body with different herbs, mint was used on the arms. In the 14th century people used mint to whiten their teeth. In the 15th century, a man named Culpepper used mint to treat 40 different ailments but recommended a person not give it to a wounded man otherwise the wound wouldn’t heal.
It is said that one shouldn’t use iron to cut mint but there was no reason as to why. Faeries perhaps?
Before refrigerators, mint was added to milk to lengthen its shelf life. Throughout history, still ringing true today, mint is recommended for digestive or stomach issues. But way back when, it wasn’t recommended people use mint for fevers. I wonder if this is why Culpepper didn’t recommend it for wounds. Someone inflicted with a mortal wound usually has a fever at some stage in the healing process, since mint is a cooling plant, that has adverse affects on a fever so the healing process would probably slow. Hm, sounds accurate, haha.
Nowadays, mint and many of its sisters, are used to clear the mind and stimulate any stagnant fluids (blood, lymph fluid) in the body. As it moves stagnant fluids, it’s a good decongestant when taken internally or even used as a steam or in the bath. Mint also helps with upset stomaches or nausea, making this plant perfect for seasonal sickness or menstruation.
Some forms of mint–like peppermint–aren’t recommended for pregnant women as their oils can be extremely volatile (whether or not taken in an essential oil form, the oils are what give a plant its scent. Any extraction or consumption of peppermint contains volatile oils). Peppermint specifically–if I’m remembering correctly– can also help start periods. Before consuming, well, anything really, do research using sources you trust. Especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that, but you know, better safe than sorry.

Lastly, let’s talk about lavender. Lavender took a long time to grow on me, personally. I didn’t like the smell, it was too…spicy (???) for me. But! Lavender, as I’m sure we all know, is calming so it’s scent is everywhere and now I like it. But that’s just my personal history with lavender, haha. Let’s talk about the world’s history with lavender. Lavender has been used for over two thousand years. The Egyptians used lavender as a part of the mummification process and some urns were found with lavender residue inside. The Romans used lavender buds for cooking and scented their baths, beds, clothes, and hair. Lavender is actually part of the mint family (woah!) and was once called “spikenard” (which is hilarious).
During the Renaissance, lavender was used to fight infections and today it’s still used for its anti-bacterial properties. It’s also a good insect repellant! (It’s that spicy-ness). Apparently, when one of the founders of aromatherapy burned himself in his lab, he plunged his arm into lavender essential oil and noted his quick healing and lack of scarring. I won’t say it does either of those things, but in World War I it was used to dress wounds. This makes sense given those anti-bacterial properties I mentioned earlier.
Because lavender is so aromatic, few buds are needed in cooking or in tea. As a matter of fact, a few buds shortly steeped in hot water would make for a pleasantly smelling tea. And I say buds as opposed to flowers because the buds are what hold a lot of the aroma and oils, when the buds open a lot of the aroma is released. What many don’t know is lavender leaves hold as much volatile oils as the buds do.
Lavender is not only relaxing, but clarifying. It’s a great herb for nervousness (or anything remotely related to nervousness) and as it is relaxing it can release tension in the body as well as promote sleep.

There are many many more edible herbs out there, and flowers too, that are good for you and your human body. These are just four of them. Most of which, come to find, are in the mint family! If you like plants and want to get into herbalism, I recommend Brittany Wood Nickerson’s cookbook Recipes from the Herbalist’s Kitchen or you can check out The Herbal Academy, a website which teaches botany and herbalism hand-in-hand.

I hope you enjoyed your historical lesson on the uses of these herbs!

Tune in next time for my last post. 🙂

 

Thank you for reading,

-M

Oh, hey! I made an Etsy shop! It’s called Iris’s Bookshop and Etc. I sell my own homegrown teas there. Click here to check it out!

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