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  • Writer's pictureAnn McLaughlin

Celebrate International Tea Days with Herbal Infusions of the Celtic and Incan Civilizations

Updated: Apr 23

As we celebrate two International Tea Days on May 21st and December 15th and the United States' National Afternoon Tea Month in April, we consider the earliest beginnings of herbal infusions of the Celts and Inca People and the role of tea in Ireland and Peru today.

Long before the traditional teas of China, India, and Africa were imported and centuries before the traditional afternoon tea ritual in the United Kingdom, herbal infusions were nature's medicine. At Celtinka, we focus on the old ways of the Celts and Incas. Although the Celts are united by similar language and customs from a sweeping area, we concern ourselves with the Irish.

What do we know of teas from these ancient civilizations? They were more of an herbal infusion than the traditional teas (Camellia Sinensis) from China, India, and Africa. In the Old Ways, it was the leaves of local native plants revived and soothed.

A camp mug of tea outdoors
Loose leaf teas and infusions enjoyed outdoors

Tea Traditions in Ireland and Peru Today

Ireland has the most avid tea drinkers in the world consuming more tea per capita than any other country in the world, except Turkey. The tea culture is deeply ingrained in the hospitality of the country and most likely you’d be offered a strong black Assam tea blend right after your plane landed In the Emerald Isle. The same offer would happen if you were to arrive in Cusco, Peru, but you’d be sipping on an herbal Mate de Coca green tea.

The Celts and Nettles

In Ireland, Nettle Tea made from the young leaves of the native stinging nettles plant (Urtica dioica) has been prepared for centuries by the ancients for its nutrition and cleansing properties. It is now known to be high in iron, vitamins including B complex, calcium, potassium, phosphorous and has been touted as a superfood.

My introduction to the use of nettles was through literature set during times of the famine of the 1800s as it was the only wild food available. As it was the only nutrient many Irish had to available to consume every day for long periods, its description was not very appealing. One would tire of any one single food, especially when there are no other options. However, it is beneficial as a nutritional supplement to a modern diet. It is described as having and earthy, fresh taste, like that of sweet spinach.

There are many suppliers of nettle tea, both loose leaf and tea bags. While it would be great to have an Irish supplier, I have seen it on Amazon from Traditional Medicinals, among others. If you have access to wild nettles in your area, taking every precaution while foraging, then do take advantage of the many recipes online including nettle soup.

The Incas and Mate de Coca

In Peru, Coca Tea was made from a plant sacred to the Incas and has been cultivated in South America for 8,000 years. Coca leaves play a great part in ceremonial practices with traces of the leaves found in mummies as far back as 1,000 B.C. The Mate de Coca tea is well known as a cure for high-altitude sickness.

Even now, it is the first beverage you’ll be offered when arriving in Cuzco, usually free of charge by hosts to help you acclimatize. While it is a mild stimulant, the herbal infusion is thought to lessen the effects of hypoxia (a deficiency of oxygen in the blood reaching the tissues) experienced at high altitude. It is similar in taste to green tea and mild bitter taste.

Unfortunately, this tea is not legally available everywhere, definitely not in the United States, so you may have to plan a trip to Cusco, Peru to have a cup! There are many other herbal infusions used for generations that are produced in Peru and readily available in local hispanic markets and on Amazon. You might like to try Muña (Andean Mint), Manzanilla, Toronjil, Anis, Hierba Luisa, Yerba Mate, and more.

A Tea Ritual Blending Old and New

Celtinka is based in the United States so naturally we were curious about tea production where we live. There is one tea plantation in the US, and it is quite close to us in South Carolina. It's called the Charleston Tea Garden. The Camellia Sinensis tea plants were originally planted there in the 1700s. We will certainly give this a try!

Aside from importing herbs from the mother lands, sweetening with honey that is local and organic will make your infusion more beneficial, no matter which leaves you use. Honey, if you care for it, has known antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-diabetic, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and nervous system protective effects as stated by the National Institutes of Health.

To celebrate the tea holidays and build an afternoon tea habit, carve some space into your schedule for the perfect healing brew. Choose one that fills your senses and meditate on each culture. Contemplate your connection and open your mind to messages from the ancestors. Let the plants talk to you!



Apr 25

👏 My favorite tea is menta y muña. What’s yours ??

Ann McLaughlin
Apr 26
Replying to

There’s a Peruvian tea company called Tradiciones Andinas that makes my favorite Anis tea… and they also make a nice Muña one, too!

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