Summertime signals the return of iced tea weather. It’s also a time when we tend to feel particularly attuned to our health, and open to exploring new ways to take better care of our bodies. As of late, there’s been a fair amount of buzz about adapotgens—a variety of herbs, roots, and mushrooms—and their health benefits. While most people who are in-the-know about adaptogens think of adding them to their hot tea, they can be just as readily incorporated into its colder counterpart for an appealing summer wellness drink. To get the lowdown on adaptogens, and how to add them to our favorite summer beverage, we checked in with Connor Knapp, DPT, co-owner of Piper and Leaf Tea Co. in Huntsville, Alabama. Here, he explains exactly what adaptogens are, their health benefits, the best combinations, and how to make the perfect cup of iced tea. Here are his recommendations.
Get acquainted with the herbs. According to Knapp, adaptogens were first used and recorded in the 1940s by a scientist who found that certain herbs increase resistance to stress. In general, it’s believed that adaptogens work to normalize your physiological functions by regulating your adrenal system. This in turn helps your body respond productively to stress, fight fatigue, improve focus, and boost energy.
Familiarize yourself with the different uses. “Adaptogenic herbs have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine,” Knapp says. “There is increasing conclusive evidence from scientific research that these natural treatments and supplements are very effective in certain applications.” Here are some of the most commonly researched and recommended uses for them:
- For exercise and weight loss: ashwagandha, ginger, ginseng, rhodiola rosea, rurmeric
- For thyroid issues: ashwagandha
- For anxiety: ashwagandha and holy basil
- For stress relief: ashwagandha, bacopa monnieri, licorice root, and rhodiola
- For energy: rhodiola
- For cancer: ashwagandha, chaga, and reishi
- For depression: ashwagandha, bacopa, ginger, and rhodiola
- For endurance: panax ginseng, cordyceps, ginger, and rhodiola
- For focus: cordyceps, bacopa, ginger, mucuna pruriens, and rhodiola
- For inflammation: ashwagandha, ginger, rhodiola, turmeric
- For sexual health: ashwagandha, holy basil, panax ginseng, mucuna, maca root
- For long life: astragalus
Remember that adaptogens are an acquired taste. Even the most health-conscious person concedes that adaptogenic roots, powders, and fungi can make for an interesting tasting experience. Knapp explains they are most palatable when blended with other herbs. Tea companies such as Piper and Leaf Tea are trained to make the most appealing blends, so if you’re a rookie to adaptogenic roots and herbs, your best bet for a well-rounded experience may be to leave the mixology to the pros. Some of Knapp’s favorite combinations include ginger and turmeric; ginger, holy basil, and licorice root; and ashwagandha, reishi, and maca blend.
Be diligent in how you brew. Most adaptogenic teas are prepared by making a super concentrated brew that’s then diluted with water. “Essentially, concentrated tea is just tea that’s been brewed extra strong—about eight times stronger than a normal cup,” Knapp says. The key to making concentrated tea is to use a lot more loose leaf in way less water. Once it’s been prepared, simply mix a little bit of concentrated tea with water (and sugar, if you like) and you’ll have a ready-to-drink cup in under a minute. Knapp says a general guide for use is ounce of concentrated tea plus seven ounces of water, yielding eight ounces of tea. Here are his tips for preparing your cup:
- There are many different brewers out there to make your concentration, but Knapp prefers using a tea infuser dripper on top of a drip stand (for stability) or placed directly atop an empty quart jar.
- Check your blend’s brewing instructions for the proper water temperature and steeping time. Prepare a timer for the correct brewing length.
- Start heating up 3 1/2 cups (28 ounces) of hot water to the correct temperature for the blend. While your water is heating, prep the tea.
- When making concentrated tea, you will want to use 35 grams of tea, either loose leaf or in a pre-measured bag. Add tea into the base of the tea dripper.
- Carefully pour the 28 ounces of hot water over the loose leaf. The water level should be right at the neck of your dripper.
- Start your timer and stir well so that all the loose leaf is immersed in the water. For best results, continue to stir every 30-60 seconds as the tea steeps. You’ll get a better flavor extraction and you can never stir too much.
- When the timer goes off, slowly depress the lever on your tea dripper and watch the concentrated tea flow into the jar below. Hold down the lever until all the concentrated tea has drained into the quart jar.
- Once the jar of concentrated tea has cooled off a bit, remove the jar from under your tea dripper. Seal the jar and store.
- To prepare a pint (16 ounce-container) of iced tea, fill the jar all the way to the neck with ice. Add one ounce of concentrated tea, one ounce of simple syrup (if you like it sweetened), and then fill the jar to the neck with cold water. Stir, shake, or swirl the jar until all the sugar and concentrated tea are mixed.
Know that adaptogens are not for everybody. Knapp notes that the information presented here should not be taken as a suggestion to discontinue or refuse conventional treatments. While adaptogens cause minimal side effects compared to pharmaceuticals, several can interact with medications. You should consult a qualified medical professional before starting any supplement regimen. Some adaptogens are not recommended for people with specific health conditions. Purchase high-quality supplements from trustworthy sources, and keep in mind that when it comes to concentrated extracts and powders, certified organic is best.