Quieres un tésito?
If you are Latino, you’ve probably heard those words many a time from a grandmother, aunt or your mother. It means, “do you want a cup of tea?” In Mexican households at least (I can’t speak for other Latinos), té or tea fixes everything. You have a stomach ache? Yerba buena. Period cramps? Canela and sometimes canela con semillas de cilantro (it totally works). Can’t sleep? Manzanilla. Headache? Flor de tila. The list goes on and on and by virtue of the Mexican spice sections of my local stores, the tradition of herbal teas in Latino houses is still going strong. No self-respecting Mexican house or apartment is ever without yerba buena, ruda, romero, and other herbs growing in and around it.
My grandmother Lupe was an expert on all things herbal and plant-related. In another life, she could have been a doctor. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t heal and make feel better without a few leaves of something from her massive gardens. I remember one time I was there visiting for the summer and got sick. Not sure what was wrong with me but I had a very high fever and was almost delirious from it. My grandmother looked at me worriedly, left my Aunt Jessie to watch over me and walked out to her garden.
I’m not sure how much time passed before she was back, but there she was, encouraging me to drink a hot cup of cloudy looking, greenish and gunky tea. I didn’t want it. I remember whining, crying, tossing and turning from how wretched I felt, and I knew without a doubt that I didn’t want that nasty looking tea. My grandmother’s gentle, soft hand brushed the hair out of my face and her lovely brown eyes looked down on me. “Tomatelo” she said. “Drink it. It will make you feel better.” I trusted her completely and if my grandma said I’d feel better then I would. So I drank it, feeling a bit like Alice.
I remember the taste. Grassy, green, very herbal and warm with a slight scent of pine. I drank it down and immediately had to throw up. She handed me a bucket she had ready. Did she know it would make me toss my cookies? I’m pretty sure she did. Twenty minutes after heaving my guts out I was bathed, dressed and playing in the garden all sickness forgotten. I wish now that my ten year old self had had the presence of mind to ask her what was in that tea. She did show me the leaves and from what I remember of it, I’d say it looked like comfrey, but I’m so uncertain. I think it’s lost forever to me. I’ve asked aunts, great-aunts, cousins and no one knows what was in the magical tea.
Here are a few of our Mexican traditional teas and their purposes per my Grandma Lupe. Please feel free to add yours in the comments and any lore or stories about them.
Disclaimer: These traditional uses and my statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These are NOT prescriptions and I am NOT dispensing. These are simply traditional Mexican teas and I am writing about their traditional and cultural uses. This blog post is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Please seek medical advice if you’re are ill. I am not a medical professional.
To help you sleep: Manzanilla (Chamomile) te. Steep manzanilla flowers in boiling water until the color of the water changes. Strain and serve with a little honey or plain.
Headaches: Flor de tila (Linden flowers): Boil the leaves in water, just a few will do. Let cool and serve. My grandmother never strained this, but left the leaves and flowers floating in the cup.
Stomach aches: Yerba buena (Spearmint). Fresh leaves boiled/dried leaves steeped in boiling water. Sugar or honey to taste.
Menstrual cramps: Canela (Cinnamon bark) and semillas de cilantro (coriander seeds). Boil in water until the water is dark, dark red (about 15 minutes on low boil). Serve with honey or piloncillo to taste. Usually accompanied by a hot water bottle to place on your tummy.
Late periods: Canela again. Boil for about 15 minutes and drink it all day. Should encourage your flow unless you’re pregnant.
Kidney cleanser: 1) Cola de caballo (horsetail fern). Boil the hollow stems in water and drink with a little honey to taste. 2) Barba de elote (cornsilk). Steep cornsilk in boiling water for ten minutes. Sugar or honey to taste.
Flatulence: Te de limon (lemon grass tea).
Anxiety: Siete Azahares (Seven Blossoms) It comes in tea bags now!
The list goes on and on. I’ll look forward to hearing your stories about these wonderful tes.