When the Weather Outside is Frightful…

…and your headache’s far from delightful, and your throat is sore, you know, blow your nose, blow your nose, blow your nose….

Yeah, I made that up just now. I have a gift for making up alternate lyrics to popular tunes on the fly. It’s a pretty useless talent, but it is amusing.

It might even make my sickly friend Janis smile.

I hope so, because, Janis, this post’s for you.

See, Janis has an untimely cold. I mean, yeah, it’s cold season, but it’s also holiday season and who wants to be feeling like death on toast warmed over when there is all that festive fun to be had?

So, I offered to tell her how to make my “Chinese/Auyervedic/Appalachian White Chick Voodoo Priestess Tea” recipe and so many of her Facebook friends wanted the recipe, too, I figured I’d just haul off and put it up on the blog.

But, before we get into the recipe, I have to post the standard disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or practitioner of any sort. I’m a chef and a writer and a mother, and so what I am dispensing here is not medical advice, it is just a little something that has helped my kitchen staff, my family and friends boot a cold out the door just a little bit faster than it might have faded on its own. And–it makes you feel better. A lot better. Or, at least, it makes myself, my staff, my family and friends all feel better when they take it, so I hope it will work for Janis and the rest of you, should you need it.

This concoction is a concatenation of folk remedies from all over the globe. I learned about the green tea and ginger from one of the Chinese line cooks I worked with back in the day. He also told me to add a tiny bit of chili pepper if I was really feeling bad. The black pepper, cinnamon and clove comes from rasam, a South Indian lentil broth that is spiced out of this world delicious, and which kills a cold before it can even think of becoming bronchitis. I added the cardamom because one of my personal chef clients’ mother told me that it had a soothing effect on the throat when it was sore. The mint is from my own self who figured that if menthol is in Vick’s Vaporub and is good for you, then plain old mint would work, too.

The honey, lemon and whiskey is straight up from Southern Appalachian tradition.

Now, about that whiskey–it’s optional. No, really, it is. All of the other stuff is pretty necessary, but the whiskey–that’s for the nights when you can neither sleep, nor stomach another swallow of Nyquil.

So, here’s how I make the tea. I used to make it for Morganna until she grew old enough to learn it, and now, she’s taught her friends and now I’m teaching it to you.

I sure hope it helps cure what ails you.

But if it doesn’t cure you, it certainly won’t kill you and it tastes mighty fine as it goes down.

Please note–all of the amounts are approximate. Voodoo tea is generally made by feel, but use your common sense. You know that a huge handful of peppercorns in your tea is not only going to taste bad, but will probably hurt you as well. so don’t put a handful in.

Oh, and one more thing–it doesn’t matter what phase the moon is in when you make this tea, nor do you need to use water gathered at the full moon from a mountain spring while you sing thirty-two verses of some holy chant or another. You just make it and take it when you need it, and that’s good enough.

Chinese/Auyervedic/Appalachian White Chick Voodoo Priestess Tea

2 good, heaping teaspoons worth of jasmine-scented green tea (If you must use teabags, Numi’s Monkey King green jasmine will work perfectly well.)
1/2 teaspoon dried spearmint, or one sprig of fresh spearmint, bruised lightly
1/2-1″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and grated finely
1″ piece of cinnamon stick
3-5 whole cloves, lightly crushed
2-4 whole green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
3-5 whole black peppercorns
a pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes (optional, but it is very warming–and you CAN use hotter chili flakes if you want–but the Aleppo works more gently)
two or three good long, wide flakes of lemon zest–just use a vegetable peeler to remove it from the rind
3 1/2 cups water
juice of one lemon–about a 1/4 cup–fresh is best
honey to taste, but I suggest at least two tablespoons–honey is very soothing to sore throats–especially buckwheat honey–it works amazingly well on coughs
1 jigger whiskey–that’s for the whole pot–if you are using it–or you can do the whiskey to taste


Take the tea, and all of the other ingredients up to the water, and put them into the basket of either a press-style teapot or a French press coffee maker. (What? You don’t have either of those? Well, you can use a regular old tea ball, but then when it is done steeping, you have to play with pressing all the goodness out of the tea, herbs and spices with the back of a spoon into the pot, which is something truly bothersome to do while sick. Or, you can just throw it all loose in a pot and strain it as you pour it, but then you don’t get to squeeze the goodies out that way at all. So, suit yourself on this matter.)

Bring the water to a boil, and pour it over the ingredients in the basket and into the pot, cover with the lid and then pop a tea cozy or a towel over the pot to keep the liquid warm. (What? You don’t have a tea cozy? Well, don’t worry because neither do I. I always thought they were rather a bit twee for my taste, so I go with the towel method. There are always towels in varied states of cleanliness around the kitchen, but I doubt you will see a tea cozy any time soon. Oh, but be sure and pick the cleanest of your kitchen towels for this duty. No need to add anything odd to the tea when you are already feeling crappy.)

Allow to steep for a much longer time than you normally would for tea. About 5-8 minutes.

After the steeping time is done, press down the plunger on the pot, thus squeezing all of the essential oils, tannins, and flavors from the tea ingredients into the tea. Take out the basket if you are using a teapot, or pour off the tea into another vessel if you are using a French press coffeepot. (That’s the problem with using a French press. You get the squeeze out all the goodness, but you can’t add the lemon juice and honey to the pot unless you pour it into another pot, which is a pain in the tuckus, so I suggest not doing it that way. Just get a nice little teapot like mine–it will make your potion-making much easier.)

Now, add the juice of one lemon–about 1/4 cup, and stir well. Add the honey and stir to dissolve. Taste. If it isn’t sweet enough, add more honey. Too much honey isn’t really too much when you are talking about a sore throat and a cough.

Finally, add the whiskey if you are going to use it. I usually don’t use it unless the cough is truly horrific, but I am not opposed to using it either.

Drink this over the day–I prefer it hot, because I find its more soothing that way, but if you want, you can drink it lukewarm. And save those herbs, spices and other goodie bits in your tea basket, because you can make a second steeping from them, though you have to steep it for 8-10 minutes to get the same effect. And you have to add more lemon, honey and whiskey to it, too….

Well, that’s it. See–it was easy, wasn’t it? I hope that just reading it makes you feel better, Janis.
Hugs and love to you!


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  1. Hey, without the green tea, mint and whiskey this is my cold remedy! It started as rasam, and merged with honey and lemon for colds and that’s what emerged. Mighty fine it is too, although I will have to try your version as it sounds even more yummy.

    Comment by Diane — December 16, 2010 #

  2. Dang, I wonder if I can swap out the whiskey for rum. *ponders* I have rum…

    I do have a tea-cozy, although as a drinker of Japanese and Chinese teas, I mostly don’t use any pots large enough to require a cozy. But I do have one, for when I need it: it’s hand-knitted by a pal of mine, and bears the word “Rat” in Chinese characters. 😀

    Comment by Laughingrat — December 17, 2010 #

  3. This is a lot like what I make for myself when I have a really bad chest cold. There’s nothing more comforting.

    Comment by Laura B. — December 17, 2010 #

  4. I’ve been out of commission for the last couple of days so I haven’t had a chance to comment, but must tell you that this tea? ROCKS. I made it with regular green tea (couldn’t find any jasmine scented), regular red pepper flakes (couldn’t find the Aleppo) and single malt scotch. I don’t know if it was this tea – which is VERY comforting – or the increased dosages of vitamins D and C I popped as soon as I started feeling crummy, or a combination of both but it stopped the cold dead in it’s tracks. A headache, a few sneezes and being tired for two days and that was it.

    You, Barbara, know your tea remedies. Thank you!

    Comment by Jan — December 18, 2010 #

  5. I just tried my first tea based hot toddy the other day, but this sounds even more interesting.

    And the ability to make up new lyrics to an old tune is actually a really useful talent if you’re a music therapist! 😉

    Comment by zebe912 — December 18, 2010 #

  6. Wow, glad your back. I love your blog, your food looks AMAZING! And I love cats. Is your wok cast iron, or is all that black just carbon and seasoning? I ma just curious if I am over-cleaning my own wok. And do you ever cook with a dutch oven? I got a lodge 5qt dutch oven and am looking for some interesting ways to use it.


    Comment by T Spoon — December 19, 2010 #

  7. You’re back!!! Glad to see you.

    And I wish I’d had this recipe a week ago, but I’ll have it the next time I need it.

    Comment by Ardene — December 20, 2010 #

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