When trying to stay warm in winter, opting for hot drinks is a sensible choice. And while a simple hot drink will provide transient warming, often to the hands and throat, to really get internal warming, choosing teas, herbs, and drinks that have a warm or hot nature will offer more significant, longer-lasting warmth.
In Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and other healing traditions, all foods, spices, and medicinal herbs are classified into hot, warm, neutral, cool, or cold. Many of these you can identify on your own: think about the cool, refreshing taste of mint versus the spicy, warming sensation from ginger.
The nature of the herb then directs its usage–warming herbs for cold conditions or in winter, cooling herbs for internal heat or summertime. (You can also assess your internal temperature by looking at your tongue: bright red or yellow coating indicate internal heat; pale tongue or white coating indicates cold.)
So when the winter chill has sunk through your bones and you really need to fire up your internal fire (and not just warm your hands), keep these warming teas and drinks in mind.
The darker teas tend to be more of the warming teas.
- Of course, black tea helps to stoke the internal fire (by contrast green tea is neutral or cooling).
- A highly-oxidized oolong (above 70% oxidized) would be a better winter choice than a lightly oxidized oolong (sub-40%).
- Likewise, pu-erh tea, particularly the aged/ripened varieties, is a warming tea.
Warm Herbs for Hot Infusions
There’s no straight-forward method to remembering which herbs and spices are warming. If you’re curious about something you don’t see on this list, you can test it yourself. On an empty stomach, take a small bit, chew and swallow, or mix with room temperature water, then drink. Notice the effect in your mouth and a few minutes later in your gut–do you have the sense of warmth radiating from your stomach or chilling sensation. One nearly universal rule of thumb: spicy foods are considered hot in nature.
- Confusingly, spearmint, but not peppermint is warming, due to its intensely pungent flavor.
- You can throw fennel seeds into a pot of boiling water for a warming brew that also reduces flatulence and settles the stomach.
- Likewise, add some rosemary to a hot cup of water.
- If you like licorice flavor, try star anise in hot water. Or just go for the alcoholic version: Sambuca.
- Jasmine is also warming, but not jasmine green tea because the cooling nature of green tea would cancel out the warming properties of the jasmine.
- Gouji Berry, the small bright orange raisin-like fruit is a great addition to any infusion for some warming and Qi-nourishing. Most people prefer to rinse once in hot water before steeping for a tisane.
- Dried mandarin orange peel is not only warming, its also good for women’s time of the month.
- Rose bud/ flower is commonly available in at Chinese herbal shops or an Asian grocery. Besides being warming, its also good for women, plus it just looks really pretty.
- Fresh peeled ginger is warming, while dried ginger or ginger with the peel on it tends toward the hot side. Even if its winter, if your tongue is bright red (with no coating), avoid the hot versions of ginger: fresh peeled is sufficient.
- One of my favorites is boiled cinnamon–I love the flavor and warming nature, and its good for blood sugar balance.
- Winter is also a good time to steep from ginseng for its warming, nourishing properties.
For your tea and herbal infusions, while I’d never recommend adding sugar, if you do, here’s what you need to know: Honey and white sugar are both cooling. Brown sugar, molasses, maltose, and palm sugar are all toward the warming side.
Other Warm Drinks, Hot or Cold
These drinks aren’t necessarily always consumed hot, but their very nature is such that they are warming. And a lot more common than the herbs listed above!
- Wintertime favorite, hot cocoa by the fire, is warming for the insides, too.
- Always-loved coffee promotes internal warming, whether its served hot or cold.
- Finally, alcohol, like hard liquor, stokes the internal fire.
Enjoy these drinks to help radiate warmth from the inside out during the cold months of winter. And consider using these warming spices in cooking, to further boost internal warmth.