Salabat: Healing with Filipino Ginger Tea

Salabat tea before spa time in Palawan at the Sheridan Resort

Salabat tea before spa time in Palawan at the Sheridan Resort

I've always enjoyed the heat and flavor of ginger. A strong dose of ginger warms the body and as an aromatic brings an exotic pitch to dishes. I've often found while cooking, that excluding or adding ginger as an ingredient is noticeable, for the worse and better. As one of the world's healthiest foods, ginger is also a powerful anti-inflammatory, integral to a healthy diet, particularly one focused on reducing the body's inflammation and improving biological functions. The historical usage of ginger, both for culinary and medicinal purposes, has been found in early Sanskrit texts such as the Mahabharata, at least 4000 years BC. Ginger was introduced to the West in exports from India during the Greco-Roman period.

Ginger is especially powerful for those suffering from autoimmune disorders, glucose issues such as diabetes, and circulatory illnesses. Ginger is part of the same spice family as other Eastern treasures of cardamom, turmeric and galangal. If you are unaccustomed to ginger or do not frequently eat cuisine featuring ginger, it can easily overpower in terms of taste. However, working ginger into your diet and knowledge of it's medicinal properties can truly change your health. One way of working ginger into your diet daily is through consuming salabat tea. 

Growing up, when I was ill with a sore throat, my parents would boil ginger for me as a home remedy. If my illness included a stomachache, my father would boil the ginger in watered down soda. Basically a homemade ginger ale, good for the throat and soothing to the stomach. Ginger tea is otherwise known as salabat in the Philippines.

Salabat tea from Palawan

Salabat tea from Palawan

Salabat is part of Filipino herbal medicine tradition and it can be simply made by boiling raw ginger and then adding Filipino muscovado sugar to taste. The potency of the ginger depends on the amount of ginger boiled and it's ratio to water. Typically, I like my salabat with a strong ginger flavor and will boil a two inch root, sliced, in 8oz water. For sweetening, if I am making salabat from raw ginger, I actually prefer raw honey for health.

For those who are avoiding sweeteners due to diabetes or a cancer diet, sugar can be removed altogether. In perusing various salabat recipes, the addition of traditional muscovado sugar is what makes this version of ginger tea truly Filipino. While brown sugar is a better alternative to white, refined, sugar I understand any hesitancy towards sweeteners. For several years I've drank boiled ginger with just half a lemon in the morning!

Salabat is also available in powdered form with powdered ginger and muscovado sugar already mixed together. In Palawan, I purchased a powdered version of salabat, made in house at a small thatched roof restaurant by the beach.

I've actually recently used salabat for healing. Worn down by month-long travel in the Philippines, I suffered from an upper respiratory cold in Manila. While staying at my cousin's she encouraged me to drink salabat and knowing the health properties of ginger, I was grateful but it was only when she said "salabat" did I know that there was a name for this remedy! Now back stateside, I am again under the weather, from an unfortunately strong reaction to Spring allergy season and I am drinking quite a bit of salabat. It really does make me feel better, warmer, and helps with improving congestion. I find it to be a very comforting remedy and feel better physiologically especially when ill. I am drinking the powdered Palawan salabat and with it's sweetness I have found that I like it after dinner as a kind of healing dessert aperitif! While I focused on salabat as a healing tea it can also be enjoyed as any other drink due to it's lovely flavor. Filipinos may serve it during holiday parties such as New Years and Christmas.