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Tea Time
Herbal infusions may help banish winter bugs and offer other benefits


December 2016


Photography courtesy of URBAL TEA

Growing up in Madison, Nick Nowaczyk’s family felt a deep connection with nature and its bounty. They played outdoors and picked wild mushrooms, and they ate homemade sauerkraut and vegetables they canned themselves, as well as lots of fresh fruits and veggies.

After college Nowaczyk moved to Milwaukee and thought about how he could turn his passion for healthy living into a career. With an idea to start a tea business, he studied herbalism at Wildwood Institute in the Madison area, commuting weekly for almost two years.

He used that knowledge to create Urbal Tea, which he so named for his goal to “bridge the gap between herbs and urban areas.” He began selling his blends at farmers markets, and now his more than 20 herbal teas are sold throughout the area, including at Sendik’s Food Market and Beans & Barley.

All of his teas are herbal teas, meaning that they’re caffeine-free and made from plants other than the plant from which traditional tea — such as white, black and green — is made. He says he incorporates 10 to 20 different herbs in each of his blends, aiming for both health benefits and robust flavor.

“People want teas that taste good and have unique flavor profiles,” he says. He likes to leave the tea in the cup to allow the flavor to fully develop. “The longer you steep them, the better,” he says, adding that many of his ingredients come from regional suppliers, including Winterfell Acres in the Madison area, Elderflower Community Orchards in Fredonia, and Tea for the People in the La Crosse area.

Echoing the sentiments of many avid tea drinkers, Nowaczyk points out how nourishing teas feel — and are, with their vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. “Most medicines derive from plants, so it only makes sense to go back to basics,” he says.

“While there is little consistent research supporting therapeutic benefits of herbal teas, there are plenty of potential health attributes,” says Kim Flannery, a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition director at the Wisconsin Athletic Club. “Peppermint and ginger, for instance, are common herbal tea ingredients thought to aid digestion and soothe an upset stomach.”

“Ginger is anti-inflammatory,” says Dr. Sarah Axtell of Lakeside Natural Medicine in Shorewood. “It improves digestion by improving GI motility and decreasing nausea.” She adds that ginger tea is a great choice if you’re looking to warm up during winter months.

What other ingredients might you look for this season? “Teas containing echinacea may help boost natural immunity and fight infection,” Flannery says. “Slippery elm can help to soothe a sore throat.”

“Elderberry has been found to reduce the duration of the flu by inactivating flu virus replication,” Axtell says. “A study published in the Journal of International Medical Research revealed that nearly 90 percent of patients had complete cure from the flu within two to three days after taking elderberry.”

Axtell also recommends tulsi, aka holy basil, which she explains is an adaptogenic herb, or one that helps us adapt to stress. Given how hectic holiday schedules can become, reaching for a cup of tulsi tea might provide a bit of relief.

Additionally, the act of making and drinking tea can calm stress-eating impulses, Flannery says. Plus, “(herbal tea) can become part of a calming nighttime ritual that may aid sleep, especially if it contains chamomile,” she says.

Five Urbal Tea Blends for Winter

Berry Well, with elderberry, dried currants, rosehip and hibiscus, to help you stave off cold and the flu. Herbal Cold Care, with echinacea, elderberry, ginger and lemon, to support immune function and relieve aches. Winter Wellness, with peppermint, orange peel, chamomile and echinacea, to keep the chill at bay.
Equilibrium, a version of herbal chai with rooibos, raspberry leaf, licorice root and nettle, to restore balance to the body.   Cran Apple Detox, with dandelion, rosehip and hibiscus, to help eliminate toxins.


This story ran in the December 2016 issue of: