Now that temperatures are dropping and we’re spending more time indoors, almost nothing beats a cup of freshly brewed hot tea. And aside from the warm and cozy feeling a steaming mug evokes, tea has never looked better. That’s because many ‘true’ and herbal teas are packed with powerful antioxidants and other substances that are great for human health. So before reaching for a pill, why not explore the benefits of medicinal tea?
TRUE TEA COMES FROM THE SHRUB CAMELLIA SINENSIS
It may surprise you to learn that ‘true’ tea comes from the leaves and buds of a shrub called Camellia sinensis. This single plant produces all six types of tea – black, green, yellow, oolong, white and pu-erh. The difference lies not in the source, but in how each one is processed.
Green tea, for instance, is made from the plant’s unwilted and unfermented leaves. Black tea, on the other hand, is produced from leaves that are wilted and fully fermented. And white tea is made from the shrub’s young new leaves and buds that are hardly processed at all.
Tea farm in Asia
These days, herbal teas tend to get all the attention when it comes to medicinal teas. Yet, ‘true’ teas contain thousands of naturally-occurring chemical compounds that offer a variety of health benefits. Of all of these compounds, the largest group are polyphenols. In nature, these micronutrients defend Camellia sinensis against insects and other pathogens. And in the human world, they offer protection against illnesses as well.
In fact, a growing body of research indicates that polyphenols not only act as antioxidants, but also protect cells from free radicals that can damage the body. Studies show that polyphenols found in black and green tea, especially, can improve human resistance to a variety of degenerative illnesses, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.
HERBAL TEA IS MADE FROM HERBS, NOT TEA
Herbal tea, by contrast, does not come from Camellia sinensis. Rather, it is made from the dried leaves, seeds, roots or flowers of an edible plant, or herb. Herbal teas include chamomile, peppermint, ginger, hibiscus and rooibus, among others.
Like true teas, herbal teas contain antioxidants and other chemical compounds that are beneficial to human health. However, the effects of each can differ from person to person. For this reason, it’s important to read the ingredients carefully in case of allergy to the herb or similar plants.
Herbal tea made from fireweed plant
Whichever kind of tea you choose to brew, make sure to steep the the leaves long enough to maximize the benefits; a recommended 5 to 10 minutes. Covering the teapot with a lid or placing a saucer over a mug helps keep the volatile oils in the tea instead of allowing them to escape into the atmosphere.
TOP MEDICINAL TEAS (TRUE AND HERBAL)
Here are eight medicinal teas with a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and helping to prevent disease. All you need to to do is add boiling water.
1. BLACK TEA
The most popular tea among Americans, black tea also contains the most caffeine. This is due to its extended period of fermentation during processing.
Both black and green tea contain an alkaloid called theophylline, which has been shown to increase blood flow and also help maintain a healthy blood pressure. And according to one UCLA study, drinking at least three cups of black tea a day may significantly reduce your risk of stroke.
2. PU-ERH TEA
Pu-erh tea is a type of black tea that has been fermented and aged through a special process. Darker than what most of us in the West know as black tea, it is made from a larger-leaved variety of Camellia sinensis. Pu-erh is post-fermented, meaning it goes through the fermentation process after its leaves have been dried and rolled. This allows them to age like fine wines, with some teas known to last more than 50 years. (Compare that to the shelf life of green tea, which is about one year.)
Moreover, this post-fermentation process gives pu-erh a unique flavor and texture. Not only has this medicinal tea been shown to lower cholesterol levels, but it also may boost blood flow and improve overall circulation. A study published in the journal “Experimental Gerontology” in 2009 found that rats saw a profound reduction in LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol after consuming pu-erh tea.
3. GREEN TEA
Since it is made from the unfermented leaves of Camellia sinensis, green tea reportedly has one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants.
In fact, studies show that the high antioxidant and nutrient content of green tea can have powerful effects on the body, including reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol. Green tea has also been shown to boost metabolic rate and lower blood sugar.
Some research indicates that catechins found in green tea can also kill bacteria and fight viruses like influenza. And, the slightly-bitter tasting brew has a high fluoride content, which may help prevent tooth decay.
4. PEPPERMINT TEA
This classic mint tea with antispasmodic properties is great for those suffering from certain kinds of gastrointestinal problems. That’s because peppermint has been shown to calm and relax the muscles of the stomach, providing soothing relief from pain caused by bloating, gas and diarrhea. Menthol (the main constituent of peppermint) is also effective as a decongestant, thinning mucus to break up coughs and soothing sore throats.
Peppermint tea with peppermint plant
That being said, do not drink peppermint tea if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Peppermint can relax the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus, which may allow stomach acids to flow back up into the esophagus.
5. GINGER TEA
Another powerful medicinal tea for the treatment of gastrointestinal problems, ginger gets the digestive juices flowing, providing relief from nausea and occasional indigestion. Its warming, spicy flavor helps to promote healthy digestion, enabling the body to better absorb nutrients.
6. HIBISCUS TEA
Made from the leaves of the hibiscus flower, hibiscus tea is high in vitamin C and organic acids, which is a great way to strengthen the immune system. Moreover, some researchers believe that chemical compounds found in the magenta-colored tea may also lower blood pressure as effectively as some standard blood-pressure medications.
Hibiscus’ diuretic properties can also help treat fluid retention, stomach irritation inflammation and other types of circulation disorders in the body.
7. LEMON BALM TEA
A perennial herb belonging to the mint family, lemon balm has served for generations as a medicinal tea to treat indigestion, sleep disorders, anxiety and wounds. The slightly lemon-scented herb is a common additive to peppermint tea.
Lemon balm contains naturally occurring chemical compounds that have a mild sedative or calming effect on the body. In addition to helping to reduce anxiety, induce sleep and improve mood, the herb has been shown to improve mental performance in some limited studies.
8. CHAMOMILE TEA
Used for centuries for its medicinal properties, chamomile is a flowering herb in the daisy family. Its primary constituent is bisabolol, a colorless, viscous oil known to have anti-irritant, anti-inflammatory and microbial properties.
Chamomile can be used topically or orally to treat upset stomach and abdominal cramping. And its anti-inflammatory properties make it great for relieving irritation from chest colds and other skin conditions.
A note of caution for ragweed sufferers: the pollen in chamomile is similar and may produce an allergic reaction.
9. ROOIBOS TEA
A member of the legume family, rooibos has been used for generations in southern Africa where it is also referred to as bush tea. Its reddish, needle like leaves are packed with polyphenols, which as I mentioned above, are great for improving health and boosting immunity.
Relatively unknown in the U.S., rooibos tea’s many health benefits come from its high antioxidant content that some say is even greater than that of green tea. Two powerful flavonoids that may lower cortisol levels make rooibos great at reducing stress, relieving headache and promoting restful sleep. It also can ease stomach cramping. In Africa, it is sometimes used as a substitute for milk with colicky babies.
10. SAGE TEA
Sage tea is made from the leaves of the sage plant, Salvia officinalis. In addition to its culinary properties, it has high concentrations of vitamins A, C, B and E. For this reason, it has been traditionally used to relieve such common ailments as sore throat, cough, colds and digestive problems.
But perhaps the best known use for sage tea is to relieve menopause symptoms. Studies have shown that women who drink this medicinal tea on a regular basis show a definitive drop in hot flashes. A word of caution, however. Sage contains a volatile chemical compound called thujone that can be harmful to human health if consumed in large quantities.