It’s a cold, bright, winter day that is on the verge of feeling like spring. I am wrapped up in a pale pink quilted nightgown that I’ve owned since I was 8 years old, not because I’m feeling stylish, but because our heater has taken an untimely holiday from its duties. All in all, things are not bad though. I am sipping on some of this tea I’ve just made. It’s a homemade drink made of dried mandarin orange peels that I’ve let settle to the bottom of my steamy cup of hot water.
A few weeks back, I made Hawaiian oxtail soup. While I was shopping for those ingredients, I spied these cheerful mandarin oranges, all dressed up with their waxy green leaves, sitting in a bin at our local market and thought they would be just the thing for the photo op. Of course, once the camera was put away, the husband and I got busy popping the juicy segments into our mouths. As I gathered up the peels we had flung to the side, I thought about all of those Chinese medical scholars of yore. They were resourceful people. After all, the Chinese herbal materia medica is filled with roughly 13,000 medicinals, most of them odds and ends of barks, peels, leaves and roots. Nothing went to waste, and the history of Chinese medicine was better for it.
In my hands, I held the fresh version of chen pi, the darkened, aged orange peel used in both the Chinese culinary and medicinal worlds. So, I thought I’d make my own. Traditional Chinese orange peel is aged to the point where it darkens and sometimes, the peel is dry-fried in a wok to speed up this aging process. The more aged the peel, the more potent its therapeutic energy. Freshly dried orange peel doesn’t have the same strength, but it’s still a good source of Vitamin C, beta-carotene, riboflavin and potassium, and therefore a great way to give your immune system an extra boost and ward off colds, especially as we transition into a new season.
Orange peels are considered aromatic in their therapeutic nature, warm in temperature and spicy and slightly bitter in taste. The citrusy brightness and pungency of the fruit makes it a natural mover and shaker of qi. In other words, orange peel can help get things going, especially when mucous in the body (and the lungs, specifically) has you feeling congested and phlegmy. By drying out the mucous and phlegm, orange peel can help re-establish qi flow, soothe coughs and help you breathe more easily.
This concept isn’t mutually exclusive to coughs and colds though. Orange peel also makes for a great digestif because of its moving nature. Feeling like your digestive track is stuck or going one way or the other (think vomiting or diarrhea) calls for some orange peel in your life. It’s a balm for nausea, bloating, hiccups, heartburn and even flatulence (whoops – excuse me!). And orange peel’s flowing and moving qualities even extend emotionally, as it is also known to calm and soothe the nervous system and help with sleep.
Preparing dried orange rind is simple and therapeutic in its own way. I scraped off a bit of the white pith with a spoon to foster the drying process. Another method is to use a vegetable peeler, especially if you’re using a firmer type of orange, like a navel or seville. Make sure to wash the skin and rub off any waxy residue. If it’s possible, buy organic oranges so you don’t have to deal with any residues from pesticides.
Traditional chen pi is made from tangerines, which belongs in the same family as the mandarin oranges and clementines.
Slice the rinds into strips or leave them in larger pieces, it’s up to you. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the strips or pieces out in a single layer. Set the oven at a low 200 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes, until they curl slightly.
Once out, they’ll crisp up more as they dry.
Or…make a tea. Steep a teaspoonful of orange rinds in a cup of boiling water. Take a sip. It feels like submerged sunshine in a cup.
For an extra boost, add the traditionally aged orange peel to your freshly dried ones and steep until the rind has softened and the liquid emanates with a soft, gold-orange hue. Variations-wise, the husband added a stick of cinnamon in his cup for a more energetically warming drink. And a slice of ginger would also be a welcome addition, especially to soothe grumbling, upset stomachs.
May the transition to spring be a happy and healthy one. And stay tuned, there are more recipes on the way!
Dried Orange Peel Tea
- organic oranges (tangerines, mandarins, navel, etc)
- hot water, boiled
- 1 teaspoon honey, or to taste, optional
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.
- Peel the oranges with your hands or using a vegetable peeler. To avoid the bitterness of the white pith, keep the peel shallow, or scrape the pith off with a spoon. If you don’t mind the bitterness, however, it adds to the therapeutic quality of the peel.
- Slice the peel into thin strips.
- On a parchment-lined baking sheet, spread the orange peel in a single layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the peel is slightly hardened and curled.
- Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let cool completely. You can store the peels in an air tight container and keep in a cool, dry place or in the fridge for up to 3 months.
- For the tea, add a spoonful of dried peel into a cup of hot boiling water. Let steep for 5-10 minutes. Stir in a teaspoon of honey. For variations, add a cinnamon stick or a slice of ginger and steep for an even more warming effect.