Which Herbs do I Choose?
There are traditional herbs and then there is room to play.
.......quite literally 'root' us. They meet the deepest needs of our animal body, and anchor us to the nutrition of mother earth in a way that enables freedom of movement, creativity, reproduction, and thinking. They are the structural grounds for which growing can occur. Many roots that are starchy, sweet or bland, or bridge the categories of food to medicine can generally be used in tonic quantities: often. (Roots that are extremely bitter like wild ginger or goldenseal are strong medicine and not really addressed here.)
Roots also require a little more time and heat to their preparations, and in this case, lipids (fats) in order for the healing properties to be rendered.
Licorice - while not ideal during pregnancy (please do some research if you are pregnant or are on hormonal drugs), it is incredibly nourishing to folks who tend towards burnout, adrenal deficiency, and aches and pains upon waking. It's sweetness quenches our sense of worth and our most basic taste (sweet) which we are born needing. A gentle temperature just below simmer in milk is perfect, as Licorice doesn't require hot boiling.
Astragalus - Another remarkably restorative herb, Astragalus protects our cells and our immune system. My mother would often cook it into our homemade soups and rice. It's bland flavor makes it a chameleon-like super-hero. It should be gently simmered for at least 20 minutes.
Ashwagandha - This root is, in my mind, the root of longevity and horsepower. It restores us from adrenal exhaustion, low libido, cold limbs, and can aid in evening out chronic mood swings, among many other talents. It helps fuel the athlete, nourish our elderly, and warm the person who has turned cold on life. A gentle simmer in milk for 20-30 minutes is again an ideal preparation.
.....spice things up. They clear a boggy digestion, open up a heavy mind, and direct circulation through the whole body. They often open our pores (especially when taken hot), help release toxins via the skin and help ventilate our bodies. Spices are versatile and vary in their action and direction depending greatly upon which spice is chosen, and how it is used. Gently simmered in milk we render both the fixed oils and the volatile oils of a plant. Pre-ground spices readily give their volatile oils and can be added close to the very end of your milk decoction, just before pouring into your mug, so these don't get lost to vapor. Whole or chopped spices can be added around the last five minutes of your preparation. (example: cinnamon chips, cardamom pods, black peppercorns). Spices are generally used in small quantities, as they are strong. Too much can be unpalatably bitter and/or irritating to mucous membranes.
Cardamom is one of my favorite spices. It's both aromatic as well as demulcent (slippery) and is generally neutral to warm in it's temperature. It's a staple in 'chai' or as I know it: 'Yogi Tea' for it's immense healing ability and delicious taste. It's comforting, soothing, carminative, and appropriate for most constitutions. It also lends wonderful numbing action, making it excellent for throat issues.
Turmeric is amazing. Not only is it gorgeously golden, it's incredibly healing. As a child, my mother gave me spoonfuls of turmeric honey (turmeric powder mixed into raw honey) anytime I had a lung or throat complaint. Now I have to hide the jar from my son or he will eat the whole thing. Since I have it made in a paste or infused honey (made with the fresh root), I simply add a spoonful to my mug after it's poured. But you can easily add the fresh or ground herb to your pot like the other spices above.
Turmeric is restorative for the ligaments and tendons. It's a highly regarded daily tonic for althletes and those heading into their elderly years. While it is often taken in capsules, I prefer the physiological response triggered by actually tasting the plants I use, especially yummy ones. It is also excellent for the digestive system and can be taken before meals, or before bed if one has trouble digesting.
Cinnamon, ahhh cinnamon. Who does not love cinnamon? I especially love cinnamon for dry cold type people because cinnamon, while you may know it as warming, also has demulcent properties. I prefer to use cinnamon chips as they readily give both properties and is less likely to be stale like common commercial powders. Cinnamon is also excellent for balancing blood sugar levels. I heart cinnamon.
Additional spices to experiment with might be: black pepper, ginger, corriander, fennel, anise, vanilla, nutmeg, and allspice.
Additional Roots to experiment with might be: burdock, dandelion, ginseng, echinacea, and shatavari.
Dried fruits and nuts
.....can be simmered in addition for their mineral and healthy fats content. Dates, figs, prunes, almonds, walnuts and pecans are among my favorites, though hickory nuts being native to me wins the most favoritism. Keep in mind the more minerals you wish to extract, the longer the preparation needs to be. You might consider making a nourishing herbal infusion with nettles or oat straw ahead of time, and using that as your water portion. Choosing molasses instead of honey is another good source of iron and goes lovely in hot milk.
Flowers and leaves.
.....Last but not least, aromatic flowers and leaves can be added if you wish. Roses, jasmine, honeysuckle, tulsi, monarda, or chamomile can put the perfect finishing touches on your glorious herbal milk nightcap. Delicate Flowers and aromatic leaves should be added towards the end five minutes along with the aromatic spices.