herbal tea

Herbal teas are a part of the human diet and have been around for millenniums. There are hundreds of different kinds of herbs which can help with various conditions.

But what about the teas we drink regularly? Can they help us to feel better? I have researched the four most popular tea varieties to find out how they can benefit our health.

When we talk about tea we usually have in mind some form of black or green tea , from the plant Camellia sinensis. However there is a wide range of plants that can be and are used in making herbal teas (infusions). For making these infusions herbs or plant material like stems, roots and bark can be used. Herbal teas have been around and a part of human diet for millenniums. There are documents dating back to Ancient Egypt and China that discuss them.

Herbal teas are the most common form in which herbs are administered in alternative medicine. However, the wide range of plants that can be used for medicinal purposes, whether as a cure or for prevention, makes it difficult to conduct thorough scientific research. Some conducted studies have found evidence about herbal teas healing effects but most herbal teas are considered good for your health because of their long history as cures and prevention methods. I am not trying to say that herbal teas do not work, they do, but to a certain extent. Many of the pharmaceuticals in use today have a long history of use as herbal remedies.
Since there are so many plants that are used in making herbal teas, it is very hard to write an article that contains substantial information on all of them. I am going to describe several herbal teas that are among the most common.

Camomile tea

camomile tea

There are two most commonly used species of camomile: Matricaria chamomilla (German camomile) and Chamaemelum nobile (Roman camomile).

How to make camomile tea

To make camomile tea use two teaspoons of dried camomile flowers per cup. Brew them with near boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Keep the cup covered so that the essential oils don’t evaporate.

Please don’t use tea bags, since you have no idea what is in there beside camomile. Companies always use the lowest grade of plants for them. This goes for all herbal teas I will discuss here.

Health benefits of camomile tea

Camomile tea has been used for centuries as a medicine for sore stomach or as a sleep aid. There are many beneficial effects of camomile tea, however more medical research has to be done before reaching definitive conclusions. It is very rich in antioxidants that fight inflammation and protect against chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc. There exists even certain evidence that camomile tea can help decelerate the spreading of breast cancer cells, but this is  yet to be confirmed.

Anti-inflammatory effects of camomile may help in reducing the pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis and help with inflammatory bowel disease.

As I mentioned before it has been used as a sleep aid for centuries. That is because it has mild sedative effects, and may as well help in easing anxiety which is one of the causes for insomnia.



Possible side effects of camomile tea

However, as beneficial as camomile is, there are some side effects that you should be aware of. If you have an allergy to plants like sunflowers, dandelions, echinacea, and the like you might also have a reaction to camomile due to pollen allergies. The reaction may vary from mild to severe to life threatening.
It can also worsen asthma. If you suffer from this condition you should check with your physician before introducing it to your diet.
Because of its sedative effects it may cause drowsiness so you should avoid driving after drinking camomile tea.

Camomile can have another serious effect: since it can be a uterine stimulant it can increase the risk of miscarriage. So if you are planning to conceive a child or you’re already pregnant it is best to avoid it. Knowledge about camomile effects is very limited, so if you are breastfeeding, you should consult your physician before you start drinking it regularly. The same goes for giving this tea to your baby.

Camomile tea is not considered safe during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester

Peppermint tea

pepermint leaves

Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is a hybrid mint. It’s a cross between watermint and spearmint. The tea made from its leaves is known as peppermint, or mint tea.

How to make mint tea

To make peppermint tea you will need peppermint leaves, either dried or fresh, and near boiling water. It is best to let the water reach boiling point and then let it cool for some thirty to forty seconds. Add one teaspoon of dried leaves, or a handful of fresh leaves per cup, and let it brew for at least two minutes. You can brew it longer, which is recommended if you are trying to calm an upset stomach. Unlike black tea, it will not become bitter if you brew it for too long.

Health benefits of peppermint tea

Menthol, which is naturally present in this plant, is a muscle relaxant.  It can help you relieve stress and sleep better. It can also help with sinus problems because it is a natural decongestant. Peppermint tea lowers appetite so it may help with your diet plan if you are trying to lose weight. It helps with bloating and gas, so a cup before bed may help you with these problems.

Peppermint tea helps with weight loss by reducing appetite.

Menthol also fights oral bacteria that is why mint is part of many toothpastes. Drinking mint tea can help your oral hygiene and fight cavities.

Peppermint has a very high antioxidant content, actually one of the highest in comparison not only to other plants used to make tea infusions, but to all fruits, vegetables and foods in general. For example the antioxidant rosmarinic acid which is found in mint can help with symptoms of seasonal allergies.

peppermint tea

Possible side effects of peppermint tea

As for the side effects, peppermint tea, and peppermint in general can aggravate heartburn. People with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are advised to avoid it. Some research shows that it may induce liver disease, while other evidence indicates that it may help in protecting the liver from damage made by heavy metals. It all seems to depend on the specific type of plant (cultivar) and dosage used. Mint tea may induce allergic reactions in some people, with symptoms like abdominal cramps, diarrhea, heartburn, dermatitis, etc. Also people that have, or have had gallstones should be cautious with mint tea.

Mint tea can worsen symptoms of heartburn and is best avoided if you have heartburn or GERD.

Hibiscus tea

hibiscus sepals

There are several types of the plant Hibiscus, but tea is made from the Roselle flower (Hibiscus sabdariffa) native to West Africa. Although it is usually said that hibiscus flowers are used to make tea, it is actually made from dried sepals. Since people drink it all over the world, there is a range of different names for this beverage.

How to make hibiscus tea

To make a cup of this tea you will need a cup of boiling water, and two to three teaspoons of dried sepals. Add the sepals to your teapot, fill it with hot water, and brew for 5 to 10 minutes depending on how strong a tea you like.

Health benefits of hibiscus tea

The main health benefit linked to hibiscus tea is that it can lower blood pressure. There are studies showing that it can even achieve effectiveness of some hypertension drugs. Although this is mainly true for people with mildly elevated blood pressure. There is not enough evidence to show if it can also reduce stage 1 and 2 hypertension. Studies are being conducted but in the meanwhile it cannot hurt to try it.

There is certain evidence showing that it can lower cholesterol levels in people with diabetes. Hibiscus is also known as a natural diuretic. Its high level of vitamin C may help you boost your immune system.

Depending on the part of the world hibiscus is traditionally used for different purposes: It is used in Egypt and Sudan to help maintain body temperature, in North Africa for respiratory and throat health, in Europe for helping with constipation, throat health and better circulation.

Possible side effects of hibiscus tea

However, although it is mostly safe to drink it, there are certain side effects. It is best avoided during pregnancy since it can start menstruation, which can lead to miscarriage. Also, evidence of hibiscus tea effects during breast-feeding is limited so it is best to avoid it, just to be safe. It lowers the levels of blood sugar, so if you have diabetes, and are on medications, you should consult your physician before introducing it to your diet.

Hibiscus tea is not safe to drink during pregnancy.

Rooibos tea

rooibos tea

This infusion is made from the plant Aspalathus linearis, and its name means “red bush”. It originates from South Africa, and it made its way into many countries around the world where it is consumed today. It can be red, which is the more common version, or green. Red rooibos is oxidized, hence the reddish-brown color. The oxidation process also strengthens the flavor of the tea.
Green rooibos is unoxidized, the production is similar to green tea, but more complicated than for the red tea, which makes it more expensive than the red rooibos.

How to make rooibos tea

When it comes to brewing, it is similar to other herbal infusions: bring the water to a boil, add one and a half to two teaspoons of tea per cup and brew it for five to six minutes. Like with black tea, some like to add milk to it.

Health benefits of rooibos tea

rooibos-tea-plants

Rooibos tea plantage

The main health benefit of rooibos tea is its richness in antioxidants, especially two polyphenols called aspalathin and nothofagin. The first one is found only in rooibos, and the second one in rooibos and New Zealand red beech. Antioxidants protect the human body from free radicals and help in prevention of various degenerative diseases and types of cancer. I even found certain claims that it has 50% more antioxidants than green tea, but that seems over exaggerated.

This beverage can also help proper liver functioning. It keeps cortisol levels low helping to relieve stress.
The lack of oxalic acid (which can worsen kidney stone symptoms) in this infusion makes it an excellent choice for people with kidney stones.
Antispasmodic agents in the tea can ease abdominal pain and stomach cramps. In fact the first use of rooibos as a natural remedy was for relieving colic in babies. Science still does not recognize the mechanism behind colic soothing, but decades of usage show that it works, and it is probably due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Rooibos tea soothes stomach cramps effectively.

Possible side effects of rooibos tea

When it comes to side effects, it can interfere with certain treatments and that includes chemotherapy for cancer patients. It has even shown to increase estrogenic activities so it is best avoided if you have hormone-sensitive cancer, like breast cancer. So if you have one of these conditions, it can do more harm than good.

There is one thing that these herbal infusions have in common: they are all caffeine free. So if you are caffeine sensitive and want to enjoy a tasty drink, these beverages might be a good choice for you. If you cannot stomach the taste there are many combinations of these infusions with other herbs, spices, and fruits. Explore a little, you might be able to find something you like. As for the sweeteners, I prefer honey to sugar, and brown sugar over white. Also I do not like artificial sweeteners, but if you are diabetic, and that is your only choice, go for it.

If you start exploring you will find a lot of different herbal infusions. These are just among the most popular in the world. What is your favorite herbal tea?

Photo credit: Camomile by jaamaa, Gloria García, mint leaves by Darya Pino, Rooibos Tea Fields by Betsie Nel, Fresh Mint Tea by Chris RubberDragon, roselle tea, Bourbon Mint Tea by thebittenword.com