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Creating Hygge with Herbal Tea 

click to enlarge Trish's daughter Sophie - TRISH VAN VLIET
  • trish van vliet
  • Trish's daughter Sophie

Hygge, pronounced "hoo-guh," is a Scandinavian lifestyle approach that promotes happiness through sensory experiences. Think soft lighting, heaps of pillows, comfort food and hot drinks. This word is derived from an Old Norse term, hygga, which means "to comfort." Hunkering down during the dark and cold winter months provides families an opportunity to connect at a slower pace and enjoy simple, cozy moments.

Incorporating tisanes, or herbal "teas," into your family's routine is one way to embrace the hygge lifestyle. Tisanes, pronounced "ti-zans," have been an integral part of the tea world for some 5,000 years but are not technically considered teas. True teas, which contain caffeine, are infusions from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant and result in varieties like black, green, white and oolong teas. Tisanes, though, are made from steeping plant-based ingredients — like herbs, leaves, roots, fruit, berries, flowers, bark and even sticks — in hot water.

In December, instructors from Common Roots, a farm-to-school food education program, visited Chamberlin School in South Burlington to teach students in all grades about hygge and making herbal blends. Common Roots visits every elementary school class in the South Burlington School District each month and provides lessons, cooking experiences and taste tests for the students.

"The goal is that through yearlong curriculum, students are developing deep curiosity and connection to their food that will be foundational for making educated food choices throughout their lives," explained Common Roots farm-to-school coordinator Kayli O'Donnell.

One class at Chamberlin chose to use ginger for upset bellies, lemon balm for energy and anise hyssop for stuffy noses. As the students waited for their "medicine" to steep, they discussed how they already practiced hygge in their homes. Second grader Aidan Giles noted that his snake, Viper, "literally hygges every day under her heat lamp." Students cozied up on the carpet together and enjoyed listening to a classic winter read-aloud, The Mitten, by Jan Brett. They took part in a mindfulness exercise, repeating "Breathe in, breathe out" as they inhaled the aromas, then cooled off the tisane with their breath.

As the students experienced, just this simple practice can result in feeling fully present: watching the steam swirl, feeling the heat emanating from the mug, breathing the steam in and out, and, finally, focusing on the taste of the gently mingled flavors. Said one student, "I just feel so warm inside my heart."

Where to Shop for Loose-Leaf Tea:

How to achieve hygge with tisanes

click to enlarge TRISH VAN VLIET
  • trish van vliet
  • Research: Take a book out of the library or do online research to find out about the healing powers of various ingredients. Check out Healing Herbal Teas by Sarah Farr or 20,000 Secrets of Tea by Victoria Zak, or visit or Make a "try it" list together.
  • Visit: Choose a local spot that sells loose-leaf tea (see our list). Buying loose-leaf will enable families to choose a variety of leaves and to make individualized blends.
  • Plan: Talk about when your first steeping session will be. One of my family's favorite times is right after school, as it helps us unwind from the day.
  • Find a vessel: There's nothing like a special mug for this special time. Let everyone choose a favorite or take a trip to Goodwill to find a "cozy-time mug."
  • Infuse: This is the actual process of steeping the ingredients of the tisane in water, via an individual strainer or a larger tea press, which works by steeping larger quantities and then retaining the loose tea as you pour the liquid. (A coffee press works just as well, but be sure to keep tea and coffee presses separate in order to preserve flavor.) Incorporating a tea press can be a great addition to the steeping process, as the ingredients can be observed sinking, floating and dancing.
  • Set the atmosphere: Read together, work on a puzzle, play soft music or maybe just "be." Whatever your tisane activity includes, be sure to pair it with soft blankets, low lights and the willingness to listen: to your family, yourself and the stillness.

Afterschool Winter Tisane (courtesy of Common Roots)

click to enlarge TRISH VAN VLIET
  • trish van vliet
  • Combine the following ingredients: fresh grated ginger, lemon balm, anise hyssop and hawthorn berries. Add apple peels, if desired.
  • Steep approximately 3 teaspoons per cup of water for 10-15 minutes, then enjoy.

These ingredients have the following benefits:

Fresh ginger: eases nausea, improves blood circulation, soothes inflammation

Lemon balm: incrases alertness/cognition, reduces stress/anxiety

Anise hyssop: clears congestion, heals burns

Hawthorn berries: regulates blood pressure, eases digestion

Apple peel: contains vitamins A and C, helps improve vision and build a strong immune system

Tisane Categories

Leaf: mint, lemongrass, lemon balm, rooibos, yerba maté, French verbena

Bark: Slippery elm, cinnamon, black cherry bark

Seed/Spice: Cardamom, caraway, fennel

Root: Ginger, echinacea, chicory, turmeric, kava, licorice

Flower: Lavender, rose, hibiscus, chamomile, chrysanthemum

Fruit: Raspberry, blueberry, apple, peach, lemon

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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Trish Van Vliet


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