Herbal Tea

January 2021 Herb Committee

We drink herbal teas because we enjoy them and we are coming to recognize that there are some health benefits that are useful. According to records, tea drinking has been done for over 5,000 years. Its origins are found in China. The tale goes that a passing bird dropped some leaves into the emperor’s cup of hot water – the aroma and taste had him “hooked’. By definition – though – tea must be prepared from the leaves of the Camilla Sinensis plant.

Herbal tea has been documented as far back as 3,000 years ago in ancient Egypt and China. It was consumed for both pleasure and medicinal purposes. Herbal tea is actually a tisane, a type of infusion. These are caffeine-free beverages without any tea leaves. Rather, they are made from fresh or dried herbs, fresh or dried flowers, spices, leaves, fruits, seeds, bark – even roots. Herbal teas have a long history in folk and native medicinal lore. They have been rediscovered in the past few decades – along with much scientific research to establish those connections.

In the 1st century CE a Greek physician describes the use of more than 600 plants used for medicinal purposes – many of those as infusions/tisanes. In the research of ancient documents/writings, the records show that the herbs were not only used for medicinal purposes but also to bring a sense of calm and spiritual awareness. That practice continues today – as we enjoy the taste and fragrance of the many herbs and herbal blended teas —while seeking more natural ways to enhance our health and sense of well-being. The sheer number of herbal tea products available clearly demonstrates that.

Health Benefits
The benefits of herbal teas are said to be many. Much of the deep scientific research has been done on mice and monkeys; many of the human studies have cited more probability and potential for specific benefits. The broad categories have to do with a calming effect, relief from digestive issues, symptoms of upper respiratory symptoms and their anti-oxidant properties that affect our immunity and aging process.

Most herbal tea is safe to consume in amounts of 2-3 cups day. As consumers we need to still be aware of the source and chemical activity of the tea. When purchasing herbal teas check out the source and processing used. Most of the major suppliers will have info on their website … or if you use an herbalist – ask them. Much of the raw herbal tea product is grown outside the US, and the FDA is responsible to check incoming raw product. That doesn’t always happen – so teas that can be contaminated with pesticides, arsenic, cadmium and lead do reach the marketplace. We need to be educated consumers.

Health Risks
As with anything we consume – there can be risks… Since we recognize that herbal teas have medicinal qualities, we need to share our use of them with our medical providers. This is especially true concerning anyone who is on blood-thinners or anticipating surgery. Yerba Mate, an herb more frequently used in South America, does have caffeine and also the same chemical found in grilled meat and tobacco smoke. It is advisable not to add milk to any hibiscus tea as the high acidity level can curdle the dairy product. Senna tea can be a good laxative – but frequent use can lead to dependence.

Commonly Used Herbal Teas
Most herbal teas are blends, but these are the most commonly used base source.
Chamomile: Derived from the dried flower heads. Calming effect, anti-flatulence, insomnia (contains tryptophan), oral inflammation (rinse), anti-estrogen/? Decrease incidence of osteoporosis, as a polite – soothing to a small wound. Warnings: Can interact with some blood thinners; avoid if allergic to ragweed, daisies, marigolds chrysanthemums. Not advised for infants and toddlers as a minor risk of botulism as flower blossom are the source – similar to warnings for honey.
Peppermint/Mint: stress relief, boost immune system, freshen breathe, decrease symptoms of congestion/colds. Can help digestion BUT is not recommended to be used with acid reflux, hiatal hernia or kidney stones.
Echinacea: a Native American plant, all parts can be used – dried or fresh. High in anti-oxidants, OTC cold remedy, boosts immune system. Can experience side effects if allergic to ragweed, daisies, marigolds and chysanthemums.
Ginger: Soothing for digestive issues, decrease nausea, boost immunity. Can interfere with blood thinners and some blood pressure medications. Avoid with gallstones.
Lemon Balm: insomnia, calming, headache relief
Lemon Verbena: similar to lemon balm
Lavender: promotes sleep, boost mood, anti-oxidants, digestive issues/flatulence.
Sage: used in the American colonies when the English taxed tea, used to treat cold symptoms.
Rosemary: anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, increase circulation, ?minor insulin effect, ?increase brain health. Can interact with some anti-coagulants and ACE inhibitor drugs. Can have effect on lithium levels
Bergamot; Native to swampy areas of US and Canada, used by colonists as a tea substitute, and relaxing. The oil of bergamot is used in Earl Gray tea.
Rooibos “red tea” from South Africa: anti-inflammatory may help increase bone density.

There are endless resources on the internet and in print about herbal tea – its history, uses and recipes – this is just a very brief look.
Any comments welcome.
Submitted by: Pat Navin

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