Why Moroccan mint tea is your skin’s secret weapon!

It rarely gets hotter than summer in Morocco, where average temperatures cross the 40°C (104°F) mark with scorching regularity. Add in the dry, dusty desert winds and you have an oven of a country, where even the air conditioners struggle against the forces of nature. So how is it that you see people sitting and sipping HOT tea everywhere in Morocco, all through the day? Surely, no mere mortal could be that immune to the heat – even with some sizzling genetics thrown into the mix?

They are definitely not immune. It’s actually the tea itself that bolsters their body against the heat, packed as it is with lashings of mint.

Mint, you see, is something of a wonder herb. Not only is it superb at cooling down the body (menthol, a chemical in mint, binds with our body’s cold-sensitive receptors to trick our brain into actually feeling a cold sensation) and raising its defences against the heat, these green sprigs also act as a powerful antioxidant, soothe an upset stomach, relieve heartburn, boost mental performance, promote focus, loosen congestion, break up coughs, chase away bad breath, inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungus, help with nasal allergies, cleanse the blood and clear up skin disorders (like acne). Whew!

Add in all the already-established benefits of green tea and you have a potent blend that’s not only unusually cooling but also packed with enough health and beauty benefits to have me chasing up the best Moroccan mint tea recipe that can be recreated outside of Morocco.

Fortunately, it’s a pretty simple task. All you need is a handful of mint leaves (fresh spearmint works best but any garden variety will do the job), some green tea (again, gunpowder green tea holds up best against the assertive flavours of mint but any green tea will work) and the sweetener of your choice. All set? Here’s how you go about making the best Moroccan mint tea for your health, beauty and body temperature!

Moroccan mint tea: Ingredients

2 tbsp loose green tea (or 3 green tea bags)
3/4 cup mint leaves
sugar to taste (traditionally it’s sugar but you can use Stevia or honey)
6 cups water
 

Moroccan mint tea: How-to

1. Bring water to a boil. Turn off heat, add the mint and allow to steep for 5 minutes.

2. Return the water to a boil, turn heat to lowest setting, then add the tea and sweetener (I normally use 2 teaspoons of brown sugar). Allow everything to lightly simmer for no more than 3 minutes as green tea becomes bitter when steeped too long.

3. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove the biggest leaves and check the sweetness – simply stir in more sweetener, if needed.

4. Serve into tall and narrow glasses (or short shot glasses) and garnish with a sprig of mint – then sip, repeat and chill out. If hot tea is not your thing, make iced Moroccan mint tea by refrigerating until cold or pouring cooled tea over ice.

PS: If you are feeling exceptionally Moroccan, pour the tea from as high as you can manage (I am currently topping 12 inches after a week’s practise!). This creates the characteristically frothy top you will spot in authentic Moroccan mint tea. It also aerates the tea, creating a richer palate.

Ever since I discovered Moroccan mint tea last month, there is always a huge pitcher in my fridge and you will find me sipping on its icy coolness every couple of hours. And this minted-and-sweetened brew has made me feel so good, it’s unbelievable. No stomach upsets for one thing and even my annual summer-heat-induced acne is staying at bay. Plus, it tastes delicious. Try it once – and tell me whether you fell in love with the refreshing mintiness as well!

Have you ever tried Moroccan mint tea?

The (many) beauty benefits of lavender: Ultra-easy DIY recipes included!

To me, nothing says summer more than lavender. Just its fragrance is enough to evoke the memories of balmy countryside days, soft purple bushes shimmering against a blue sky, emerald green grass glowing with refreshing dew drops, rolling fields stretching towards the mountains… all of childhood rolled into one pretty package.

But lavender is much more than just a pretty flower. It is also one of the most powerful remedies in the plant world, offering relief for problems as varied as sunburns, acne and dandruff, because of which the ancient Egyptians and Romans treasured the oil extracted from its leaves and flowers.

This amazing spectrum of healing powers is due to lavender’s complex chemical makeup, which is chockfull of antiseptic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory goodness. Even a mere whiff of its fragrance has potent aromatherapy benefits. And this is no subtle, old lady fragrance – it’s a heady scent that rivals bottled perfume.

Through various trips to Grasse and Kashmir, I have reaped the recipes of some gorgeous face masks, scrubs and body butters that help you harness all the beauty and wellness of lavender in its purest form.

Rejuvenating lavender toner

How to: Take a handful of fresh lavender and 100 ml water. Boil the water and then pour in the lavender buds, making sure they are completely submerged. Cover the bowl and leave the brew to steep for a few hours. Then drain the mixture, pour the water into a clean glass bottle and store in the refrigerator. After washing your face in the morning, spray a little bit of the lavender water on a cotton pad and gently wipe your face to instantly refresh the skin.

The science: Lavender boosts circulation, thereby increasing blood flow and ensuring that the skin cells receive adequate nutrition and oxygen. This keeps the cells healthy and boosts their turnover.

Anti-acne lavender remedy

How to: Dab lavender oil onto acne blemishes or skin infections with a cotton swab.

The science: Essential lavender oil is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. These properties allow it to both attack the bacteria causing acne infections and reduce the swelling and redness.

Lavender sunburn soother

How to: Add a few drops of lavender oil to a bowl of cool water. Make a compress and apply it to the sunburn.

The science: Lavender oil is a natural anti-inflammatory, so it helps reduce itching, swelling and redness.

Lavender burn cure

How to: Pour a few drops of lavender oil onto cotton and apply to burns for healing sans scars.

The science: Lavender oil’s burn-healing superpowers are responsible for the birth of modern aromatherapy. In 1928 a French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé, burned his hand. He accidentally applied lavender oil to it and noticed the burn healed much faster than expected. David then discovered that lavender stimulates new skin cell formation. This reduces scarring and helps burns heal quicker. It also works as a pain reliever, while the antiseptic action helps reduce infection.

Lavender detox sugar scrub

How to: Whisk together ¼ cup each of white and brown sugar, then stir in 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Add 1 teaspoon dried lavender, gently crushing the buds between your fingers. Stir in 1 teaspoon almond or jojoba oil and then add 1 tablespoon honey, mixing until everything is evenly combined and you have a thick paste. Transfer the scrub to a glass jar and store in refrigerator.

The science: Lavender contains powerful antioxidants, which counter the effects of environmental pollution on the skin. Plus, it also helps dispel stress and nerves, both of which make skin appear coarse and lifeless.

Purifying lavender face mask

How to: Add 3-5 drops of pure lavender oil to 1 tablespoon of organic yogurt and apply to your face (avoiding eye area) for 10-15 minutes; rinse with warm water.

The science: Lavender keeps acne-causing bacteria in check, while increasing cellular rejuvenation. This means you will have fewer acne breakouts and infections if you follow this recipe once a week.

Lavender wrinkle buster

How to: Beat an egg white and add 3 drops of lavender oil. Apply to your face for 20 minutes, then rinse well with warm water.

The science: Lavender eases tension, stress and inflammation – all of which are the major contributors to skin aging. Plus, it boosts the circulatory system, thereby increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to skin cells. In fact, one study found that women who have undergone Botox injections recover better after applications with diluted lavender oil.

Lavender mineral bath salts

How to: Mix 1 cup sea salt, 1 cup Epsom salts, 1⁄2 cup baking soda, 1⁄4 cup dried lavender flowers and 5-6 drops lavender essential oil; stir well. Spoon into a clean container with a tight fitting lid. Add 1 cup to your bath as you fill the tub; soak for 15-20 minutes.

The science: Mineral baths and bath salts are perfect for relaxing sore muscles and rejuvenating the body. Lavender, in the meantime, is astringent and cleanses the skin.

Lavender body scrub

How to: Place 1 cup dried lavender flowers, 2 cups whole oatmeal and ½ cup baking soda in a food processor or blender. Grind until you have a smooth, fine powder with the consistency of whole grain flour. Store in a dry, clean container. To use, pour 1/2 cup in your bath as you fill the tub.

The science: Lavender is a relaxant, while oatmeal and baking soda are soothing to dry, sensitive skin.

Lavender body butter

How to: Combine 1⁄4 cup cocoa butter, 2 tablespoons sunflower oil, 1tablespoon coconut oil, 1 tablespoon flax seed oil, 2 tablespoons grated beeswax and 1 teaspoon vitamin E oil; gently heat until melted (in the microwave or on the stove top on low heat). Stir well and add the lavender essential oil, pour into a clean container and allow to cool completely. To use, massage into your skin, especially rough spots such as elbows, heels and knees.

The science: This rich body butter works as a potent salve to heal dry areas, soothe the skin and make it glow-y.

Lavender hair mask

How to: Crush ½ cup lavender florets; add ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar and stir well. Then stir in 1 cup applesauce and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Apply a thick layer of this paste to dry hair, pre-shampoo. Wrap your head with plastic film and cover with a towel. Relax for 8-10 minutes. Rinse well and shampoo as usual.

The science: Lavender has a gentle clarifying action on the scalp, while also helping to normalize sebum (oil) production and restoring a healthy bounce to hair.

Lavender dandruff destroyer

How to: Wet hair with warm water and towel dry. Mix 15 drops of lavender essential oil in 2 tablespoons olive or almond oil. Microwave for about 10 seconds or until it feels warm. Massage the oil into your scalp, pop on a shower cap, let set for an hour, then shampoo out.

The science: Lavender oil rejuvenates the follicles, thereby encouraging hair growth. It also kills lice and dandruff; regular use can improve your hair texture.

Lavender relaxing remedy

How to: Put a handful of dried lavender in a vase on your nightstand – or use a diffuser with lavender oil.

The science: Breathing in the smell of lavender lowers heart rate and blood pressure, putting you in a relaxed state.

Lavender sleep spray

How to: Combine ½ cup distilled water, 1 teaspoon witch hazel and 5-6 drops lavender essential oil; pour into a clean spray bottle. Spritz onto clean skin or fresh linens before going to sleep. Lavender tea can also be helpful.

The science: The scent of lavender increases alpha waves in the area of the brain responsible for relaxation. Besides this, it also shortens the length of time taken to fall asleep and helps ease you into deep, REM sleep faster.

Lavender bloat buster

How to: Sprinkle dried culinary-grade lavender on Greek yogurt.

The science: Bloating and poor digestion are usually the consequence of “bad” bacteria. The polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) in lavender help reduce these bad bacteria, while increasing digestive capability and allowing food to pass through easily.

Ever used lavender in a beauty remedy? What’s YOUR secret lavender recipe?

Turmeric latte: Drinking to your health (with recipes that taste AWESOME!)

As a kid, I spent several sick days hiding under large pieces of furniture to escape the turmeric milk self-prescribed by mom in place of antibiotics. As a somewhat-adult (mom still doesn’t agree with the adult bit!), I am voluntarily downing mugfuls of turmeric milk (called turmeric latte by the trendiest amongst us!) to ward off a sticky virus that’s standing between me and a looming deadline that brooks no negotiation.

And it seems to be working. Turns out mom was right. Even modern medicine agrees that the turmeric-based-drink is one of the most healing beverages EVER. After all, turmeric is antiseptic, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. Result: it defeats germs and calms down colds, coughs, sore throats, fevers, toothaches, rheumatoid arthritis, headaches, menstrual cramps, muscular pain and a whole big bucket list of ailments. It also heats up the body, providing quick relief from lung congestion and sinuses.

turmeric latteThen there are all the ways it heals the digestive system: this spice is an excellent blood purifier, it boosts circulation, cleanses the lymphatic system and strains away impurities from the liver. Which makes it perfect for indigestion, diarrhoea, stomach ulcers and colitis.

Added bonus: Turmeric milk helps in the breakdown of dietary fats, thereby keeping weight in check.

And if even all this doesn’t make you rest easy at night, warm turmeric milk produces tryptophan, an amino acid that induces peaceful and blissful sleep.

Add in the strong antimicrobial properties of honey; the healing powers of ginger; and the extraordinarily healthy fats and vitamins present in ghee and you have the ultimate dose of wholesome healing in a cup. Little surprise then that the ubiquitously named turmeric latte is all the rage from San Fransisco to Oxford. In its latest report, Google reveals that searches for turmeric increased by 56% from November 2015 to January 2016. Even Starbucks has jumped on the bandwagon.

Time to hit the kitchen?

A photo posted by The Nutmylk Co. (@nutmylk_co) on

The original turmeric latte

You will need

2 cups whole milk
1-inch knob of fresh turmeric, peeled and finely chopped (or 2 teaspoons turmeric powder)
1/2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 teaspoons ghee (clarified butter)
1 tablespoon honey
 

How-to

  1. Mix together the turmeric, ginger and ghee; blend briskly till you have a fine paste
  2. Pour the milk into a saucepan and spoon in the paste
  3. Heat the milk till just below boiling point (little bubbles will begin to appear on the sides of the saucepan)
  4. Turn off the heat and cover the saucepan, allowing the turmeric and ginger to steep about 3 minutes
  5. Strain the turmeric milk; stir in the honey and continue stirring until it dissolves
  6. Serve warm

The non-dairy turmeric latte

You will need

2 cups almond milk or coconut milk 
1-inch knob of fresh turmeric, peeled and finely chopped (or 2 teaspoons turmeric powder)
1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
Dash of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons ghee* (optional)
1 stick of cinnamon (optional)
1/2 teaspoon of cardamom (optional)
 

How-to

  1. Combine the turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, honey, ghee, cinnamon and cardamom; pour into a deep mug or bowl and keep aside
  2. Heat the almond or coconut milk till just below boiling point (little bubbles will begin to appear on the sides of the saucepan)
  3. Add a teaspoon of the hot milk to the mug and mix everything till you get a smooth paste
  4. Add the rest of the milk and mix well; allow to steep for 3 minutes
  5. Strain the concoction; serve immediately

* Though ghee is made from milk and is therefore technically a dairy product, it contains only trace amounts of casein (a milk protein) and lactose (milk sugar), which are the prime causes of dairy intolerance.

Ever had turmeric milk? Or turmeric latte? Liked it?

Beauty recipes: Gwyneth Paltrow’s ultimate smoothie recipe, which costs… HOW MUCH?

Gwyneth Paltrow… she of the ‘conscious uncoupling’ and vaginal douching fame. I met her in New York at the BlogHer conference and was taken aback at how chilled she really is as a person. No, she doesn’t frown when you put a slab of chocolate cake on your plate. And neither will she snatch that glass of full-sugar Coke out of your hands and give you a whack on the head simultaneously. You live your life, she will live hers… and both can co-exist across the table.

What she will do is try and create recipes that will make living healthier a little bit easier for us mere mortals. And tell you stories about her father that will make sure not a single eye in the room remains tear-free (watch out for the video at the end of this post).

Then, right as you are just about already falling in love with her chilled out, humorous, slightly whacky charm, she will put out a set of beauty products so pure that you may be tempted to eat them. If you want to eat a combo of sweet iris and linseed extract. I don’t. Let them stay on my face, thank you so much. But bottomline: She will lead by example and draw you into living cleaner and healthier, which one has to admit, is not necessarily a bad thing. Right?

gwyneth smoothieAnd just when all that has happened, and you are irrevocably in love with the human phenomenon called Gwyneth Paltrow, comes a DIY smoothie recipe that costs… wait for it… US$230 at first glance.

But then look a little further and you’ll realise that’s not really true. So many of the ingredients can easily be made at home for a couple of dollars (like almond milk and almond butter), while other are pantry staples (think coconut oil and sea salt). Yet others, such as ashwagandha, are easy to find for cheap in Indian shops. That leaves us with things like vanilla mushroom protein powder, cordyceps and moon dust, which cost about US$40 each but shall last you through several months. Because you only need a pinch or a small spoon’s worth.

So, it’s not really US$230 for ONE smoothie. Not even close. Actually, it will cost you about US$8 each (Vanity Fair has done a pretty good breakdown here). Which is not cheap but it’s not roughly the same as drinking a lawn mower’s monthly salary in the green goopiness of one glass. In fact, it’s much less than what you would pay for a drink at Jamba Juice. Or most other green juices and smoothies at most other places.

Really, it’s like buying a television set for US$1500 and then claiming you spend US$1500 on entertainment every single day that you watch the television. Nope. It just does not compute.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s morning smoothie

Ingredients
1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon almond butter
1 teaspoon coconut oil
2 tablespoons vanilla mushroom protein powder
1 teaspoon maca
1 teaspoon ashwagandha
1 teaspoon ho shou wu
1 teaspoon cordyceps
1 teaspoon moon dust of choice: Action Dust to soothe overworked muscles, Beauty Dust for a glowy complexion and healthy hair, Brain Dust to combat mental fogginess, Goodnight Dust when sleep has been evasive, Sex Dust, for, you know, and Spirit Dust to get that extrasensory perception going
pinch Himalayan sea salt
pinch vanilla powder (optional)

Method
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blitz to blend

What do you think of Gwyneth Paltrow’s ultimate smoothie?