When flu season coincides with this tumultuous season, which lines up with resolution season, people remember: Oh, yeah, self-care. What is it again?
For those who don’t meditate, don’t downward dog, aren’t runners or swimmers or bubble bathers, who breathe fine, already signed off Twitter, and already drink a lot of water, what do you do? And how do you make sure it actually impresses on you, and isn't just a hashtag?
As a place to start, Jenna Wortham reminds us that self-care isn’t just about treating yourself—it involves redefining personal luxury. Spend hours preparing the most beautiful squash you can find. Peel citrus slowly. Be around the people you love. Feed them.
Self-care means something different to everyone—sharing yours is a form of care, too.
Here’s one: Instead of buying sick-season tea from the market, make it. It involves busying yourself with a low-risk, highly delightful series of activities that can take a little or lot of time depending on what feels right to you.
In college I guzzled baggies of Throat Coat tea even when I didn’t have a scratchy throat and sickness congesting my brilliant research papers. It was like morning-appropriate Fernet: Its licorice flavor mellowed by a nutty sweetness and mystified with something else I didn’t recognize. As it went down, my throat would be coaxed with a velvetty syrup of a drink. If I let the tea steep, its licorice flavor would get strong enough to bite you back—a little less of a steep and the sweet, slippery elements would really shine and soothe.
Someone who worked at the herbal shop where I’d buy the tea once said to me, you know you can just make this yourself? The rushed college student didn’t think they had time for that, but herbal shops have a way of staying with you (visiting one is part of self-care, I think), and I finally made it myself this many years later—without any more free time, just with want to do so.
What You’re Coating Your Throat With
This mixture closely resembles the tea you'll find ground and sacheted at the store. For the homemade version, there's no need to turn the tea into powder, unless you're particularly concerned with getting an even distribution of ingredients in each cup.
- Licorice Root: Here's where you can find licorice flavor in full force—you can actually chew right on the root like sugar cane or steep it alone in hot water. Not only is licorice root one of the most widely used herbs in Chinese medicine, but—fun facts—it was found in droves in King Tut’s tomb, it was used in the Middle Ages to alleviate troubles from spicy foods, and Alexander the Great’s pal Dioscorides told troops to carry it to help with stamina, thirst, and throat and hunger pains.
- Marshmallow Root: This one looks like fluffy wood shavings, but doesn't feel like it going down: This is what turns your throat velvety. (And yes, the first marshmallows were made in France by boiling the white part of the root with sugar until thick and the root released its sweetness.)
- Slippery Elm Bark: Slippery elm bark has similar properties to marshmallow root, so if you can't find it or want to skip it (the tree is at risk of disease), you can double up on marshmallow root.
- Wild Cherry Bark: This one helps your cough go away—you'll even find it in some cough syrups.
- Fennel Seeds: Fennel seeds are used in cooking, you know, but they also soothe the tummy: You'll sometimes find Mukhwas, a combination of fennel seed and other digestives, after an Indian meal. Before adding them to the Throat Coat mixture, crush them a bit to release their flavor.
Cinnamon Bark: It's here for its warming, spicy flavor.
Bitter Orange Peel: This peel brings a citrusy, but still a little funky, flavor to the tea. If you're not particularly interested in the funky part, go for sweet orange peel.
If you'd like more information about the properties of these ingredients, I've found Mountain Rose Herbs incredibly helpful.
How to Make Your Own
You can buy the elements online at places like Mountain Rose Herbs (or Amazon), or seek out an herbal or apothecary shop, where all these ingredients are fairly common (but it wouldn’t hurt to call first to make sure they have everything). Some health foods stores and specialty foods shops will also carry the ingredients. Smile gleefully at the names of all the ingredients you pick up: slippery elm bark, marshmallow root. Finding them among the jars of curiosities is part of the fun.
Once home with your bark, roots, and peels, measure and mix them together. If your scale has trouble reading single grams, don't worry; we're not baking here. Just eyeball the ratios of elements found here, or if you do worry, double the recipe. This stuff doesn't go bad.
The concoction will resemble the debris in the sitting water of a lake. Dry, it smells like it came from the same place. Steep or simmer—20 minutes or 15 minutes, respectively—and your throat coat will be ready to be worn. Drink it, letting it glissade down your throat. Keep going. Take care.
- 8 grams licorice root (broken up into 2-centimeter pieces)
- 1 gram slippery elm bark
- 1 gram marshmallow root
- 2 grams wild cherry bark
- 2 grams fennel seeds (or bitter fennel fruit)
- 2 grams cinnamon bark (broken up into 2-centimeter pieces)
- 2 grams bitter orange peel (or sweet orange peel)
How do you care for yourself? Let us know in the comments.