The Health Benefits of Herbal Teas
Did you know that most herbal teas aren’t really tea at all? Though they may bear the name, technically, they’re tisanes—beverages made from herbs, flowers, roots, spices and even barks, and consumed for their health benefits.
Though tisanes don’t typically contain the antioxidant properties found in true tea from the Camellia sinensis plant, studies show that many of their common ingredients do have a variety of healthful properties. Tisanes have been used medicinally around the world for centuries to treat everything from indigestion to insomnia. And since nearly all herbal tisanes are caffeine free, they are a great alternative for times when you want a warm cup of tea but don’t want the buzz.
Just because tisanes are “natural” doesn’t mean they’re safe for everyone. Comfrey, for example, contains alkaloids that can cause permanent liver damage with chronic use. And lobelia contains toxins similar in effect to nicotine. Several herbs are not advised for pregnant women, so be sure to check with your doctor or an herbalist if you pregnant or nursing. Here, a few of the most common tisane ingredients, and what they can do for you:
Chamomile flowers can help aid digestion because they’re antispasmodic (meaning they relax and soothe the intestinal tract) and have anti-inflammatory properties that help treat stomach and intestinal issues. This popular tisane ingredient also alleviates tension and promotes rest and relaxation, making it a top choice for a bedtime drink. Chamomile is a member of the ragweed family, so beware that if you have a ragweed allergy (symptoms usually hit in late summer) you may be allergic to chamomile as well.
Cinnamon is an antibacterial and antifungal that helps combat infection, and it also has properties that reduce elevated blood sugar.
Ginger is a well-known digestive aid. It is both a carminative (a substance that helps eliminate intestinal gas) and an anti-spasmodic. Studies have shown that ginger is an effective remedy for motion sickness and is safe and effective for relieving nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
Ginseng is a potent antioxidant. Drinking a tisane made from it on a regular basis can help boost your immune system, so consider adding it to your rotation during cold season.
Hibiscus flowers—especially the ruby-red-colored ones most commonly available—are a rich source of phenolic acids, flavonoids and anthocyanins. This array of phytonutrients boosts our immune systems and has anti-aging and anti-cancer properties. Hibiscus is also a good source of vitamin C, and it may lower blood pressure in some people.
Licorice is a good one to sip when you have a cold because it is an expectorant that can help get rid of phlegm. It can also soothe inflamed stomach and digestive tract, and it has a mild steroid effect.
Thyme tisane is a remedy used for ear, nose, throat and chest infections. Because it contains thymol, an essential oil with expectorant qualities, it’s also a great choice when you have a cough.
Verbena has antifungal properties that make it helpful in controlling candida (yeast overgrowth) and make it good for your overall digestive health.
Sourcing and Brewing Herbal Tea
Herbal teas are widely available in supermarkets, health food stores and tea shops. For the freshest flavor, cultivate your favorite tisane ingredients in your own herb garden. Working with expert herbalist for sources can be very helpful. An herbalist can also advise you on safe herbs and combinations.
Tisanes are prepared much like black teas. Boil fresh water and steep the bags or herbs for five minutes or more. (There are a variety of strainers, infusers and filters on the market for loose tea.) The longer herbs steep, the more intense their flavor. If you want a refreshing warm-weather beverage, consider brewing a strong tisane to make an herbal iced tea, like our Hibiscus Cooler.
10 cups water
½ cup cane sugar
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
1 sliced orange
1 sliced lime
½ cup hibiscus flowers
Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add all ingredients including oranges and limes. Let steep for 30 minutes. Strain and cool. Sip and enjoy!