Ina Vandebroek, Ph.D., is an ethnomedical research specialist at The New York Botanical Garden‘s Institute of Economic Botany. One of her research projects is studying the medicinal use of plants among New York City’s Dominican community.
Plants, after all, are not always innocuous. Some, like food-grade castor oil from Ricinus communis, require extensive processing to remove toxic substances. Others, like Aloe vera, can provoke unintended side-effects when taken with over-the-counter or prescription medicines. Still others, like rue (Ruta chalepensis and Ruta graveolens), are so toxic they should never be taken internally. Therefore, it is advisable to never take a plant remedy if you do not know it well.
But here’s a recipe that consists solely of food plants and spices that are commonly consumed by many people and are widely available in local supermarkets. I learned this recipe during my research among the Dominican community in New York City and have prepared it several times.
Dominicans use it as a tea to treat the common cold and its associated symptoms such as sore throat. In the Dominican Republic, people who live in the countryside have long praised the benefits of drinking a cup of morning tea made of local plants to warm up the body and maintain good health. I tried it and liked it so much that I now drink it regularly as a warm beverage on cold winter evenings.
One of the main ingredients is onion. Although I dislike onion with a passion in cooking, I do not mind it in this recipe at all:
- – 1 onion, white or red, cut into large rings (a red onion gives the tea a darker color)
- – 1 apple, cut into pieces
- – Half a lime, peel removed and cut into pieces (you can leave the peel on if the lime is organic)
- – 1 cinnamon stick
- – 3 sweet cloves
- – 3 dry allspice fruits, crushed
- – 2 star anise fruits (from a trusted brand in the supermarket to make sure it is authentic Chinese star anise)
- – A piece of ginger (the size depends on how pungent you want your tea to be), peeled and cut
- – 1 1/2 cups of water
- – 1 fresh vanilla pod, split lengthwise, the insides scraped into the tea, and then the pod added (optional)
To prepare the tea, put all of the ingredients into a saucepan and simmer over a low fire for about 20 minutes. Your kitchen will be filled with a wonderful sweet scent. As the tea simmers, it acquires a light yellow color (if you use white onion as in the picture) or a light reddish-brown color (if you use red onion). The apple and spices bring a sweet taste to the tea; the lime adds a sour taste, the ginger a pungent kick, and the onion a hint of bitterness.
After 20 minutes, strain the mixture to remove the solid ingredients, and the tea is ready. If you have a sweet tooth, you can add some honey to this tea. Enjoy the rich palette of flavors and tastes as you sip this cup filled with Dominican culture on a cold fall or winter evening!