Some people have an eye for cars, others collect movies and music. My mother collects jars – the wide mouth glass variety – to be exact. She has bought relish, because it came in a good jar.
My mother has found many uses for jars – like brewing tea. To brew quality tea, one must not over-seep the leaves, which brings out unwanted bitter flavor and added acidity. Every morning she would brew tea for the household, and pour the teapot out into half a dozen different jars.
In her tea making creativity, she created an herbal chrysanthemum (mums) licorice blend. Mums are commonly brewed with puerh, and sometimes with sugar. Rarely is it brewed alone because of the bitter flavor. She paired mums with natural sweeteners like licorice root, jujube, and longan (dragon eye fruit). This tea looks beautiful in a glass jar. It never fails to start a conversation about herbal ingredients and health.
On Ingredients and Health:
My disclaimer: The information is based off of conversations with my mom and grandma, and supplemented with online research. I do not know which claim has been supported by research. But I’m not one who needs published studies to place faith in the wisdom and knowledge of my culture either.
Chrysanthemum “gook fa”
Many herbs and flowers are to be consumed in limited amount, but not mums. Chrysanthemum is a gentle ingredient. It has many health benefits including soothing sore throat, cleansing the digestive system.
It can even be used as a topical cleanser – gentle enough for the eyes. Chrysanthemum tea can be used to flush out the eyes, if the eye mucus is feeling off-balance (thick, sticky). By all means, go to the doctor if you have an eye infection. According to Wikipedia, chrysanthemum has antibacterial and antimycotic properties. It’s approximately $12 a pound at Chinese grocery store in the tea section.
Licorice Root “gum cao”
Licorice “gum cao” translate to literally to golden grass. Licorice root leaves a lingering cooling after effect in the throat – which the Chinese describe this sensation as “golden.” For more extensive health information on licorice root, the NCCAM has a comprehensive page.
It’s available for $1.50-$3.00 a pack, usually in the dried herb and soup ingredient section. This is sometimes a mislabeled ingredient. Once it was labeled “dried ginger.”
Though licorice is often used with medicinal soups and tea, with creativity it also has culinary uses. A few years ago my father found a delicious way to marinate our Thanksgiving turkey with licorice root and dried citrus peels.
Longan (dragon eye fruit) can be eaten fresh, dried, or re-hydrated in drink and soup. It is also known to calm the nerves and help with distressing.
Ling wrote an informative post on longan at Serious Eats – including information on how to look for good quality longan. Logan is roughly $7-$10 per lb, and available at Chinese grocery store usually with soup ingredients and herbs.
Goji Berry (dried)
According to my grandma, goji berries are good for blood circulation and the eyes. This ingredient is always sold and used dried as oppose to fresh – often used in soup along side with jujube. The berry has a subtle flavor, and is used to add nutrient.
Chinese Date (jujube)
Jujube is a common ingredient in Chinese and Korean dessert and savory soup, and seasoning in food. It is often paired with goji berry. According to Wikipedia, it is used for antifungal, antibacterial, antiulcer, anti-inflammatory properties.
On Food Additive- Sulfur Dioxide:
I can’t write about the ingredients without a touching on sulfur dioxide (sulfite, E220-228) a preservative that has been added to goji berries, jujube, longan, as well as many other common Chinese ingredients like fox nuts.
Sulfur is a toxin, and there are warnings on the package not to consume in large amounts. Whatever health benefits and nourishment we get from the earth and the fruits, is likely undone by the sulfur additive – which can aggravate respiratory problems.
Previously, with careful search I was able to find these ingredients without sulfur additive, but on a recent shopping trip for goji berries and fox nuts – all brands has sulfur added. There is no choice. The choice is between eating the food we know, or not eating it at all.
More information on effect of sulfur additive:
To make this tea in true fashion – save and wash out a 28-32oz glass jar. I love that these ingredients are affordable and common in the Chinese household, and generally incorporated into everyday food and drinks.
Chrysanthemum Licorice Herbal Tea
- 25 goji berry
- 3 jujube
- 4-6 licorice root
- 7 longan
- 1/8 cup chrysanthemum
Rinse goji berry, jujube, and longan. Using your hands roughly rip the jujube open, and crack the licorice root. Place the goji berry, jujube, licorice root, and longan into the glass jar. Seep in hot water for 5 minutes (with just enough water to submerge the ingredients).
Add chrysanthemum. Fill the glass jar with hot water – seep for 1 minute. At this point your glass jar is piping hot. To pour tea into cup, use a dishcloth to wrap around the jar.
The Confession of a Jar Lady:
As a child, I hated the variety of reused jars and tubs – so awkward in shapes and sizes. It made our pantry ugly. Our kitchen looked so deficient compared with ones on TV or at my friend’s house – with their spice rack and perfectly uniform store-bought containers.
I vowed that when I grow up, I would have matching spice jars on a beautiful rack. I vowed to have a gorgeous pantry with uniform storage containers, and that everything would fit perfectly. When I landed my first job, I even made a trip to the Container Store and dropped over $400. My pantry is now filled with containers like this: