Herbal teas are certainly nice and comforting, but is that all there is to them?
“In addition to the soothing aspect, many of them provide medicinal benefits. In fact herbal teas or infusions are a gentle and safe way to use herbal medicine for yourself at home,” said Naturopath and Herbalist Amie Skilton.
She breaks down the five most popular herbal teas and their benefits:
Green tea. This is a staple in your “herbal tea wardrobe” mas it provides several benefits. Green tea is a rich source of antioxidants, particularly catechins like EGCG, which have well established health properties. In addition, green tea is a great source of L-theanine - an amino acid that has calming properties. There are many different types of green tea so you may have to try a few to find the one you like best; the Japanese green teas tend to be more delicate in flavour than the robust Chinese options.
Chamomile tea. Chamomile flowers are a popular tea for two main reasons. They are calming and soothing on the nervous system so are a great evening tea, and they also have the same effect on your digestive system -- making them a popular herb for IBS. They are aromatic but slightly bitter so I like to recommend them in combination with spearmint, or you could add a little dash of honey if you prefer. Incidentally, chamomile tea also makes a great rinse for blonde hair!
Peppermint tea. Peppermint is certainly one of the most popular kids on the herbal tea block and for good reason. It’s refreshing and minty, the volatile oils are also great to increase alertness and it’s carminative to the digestive tract. It is used as herbal medicine for IBS for this reason.
Ginger tea. This is really easy to make at home with fresh grated ginger root, and is great for increasing circulation and reducing inflammation. Awesome year round but especially helpful during winter when extremities can get cold and joints can seize up.
Rooibos tea. Also known as red bush tea, this South African herb is rich in minerals (including iron) and antioxidants. It makes a pleasant alternative to black tea and is less "herby" than other herbal teas.
“To get a more potent result you can make a 'decoction' (which is a stronger version of a herbal tea) by actually simmering the herbs for a few minutes, as opposed to just pouring boiling water over them and letting them steep. Just make sure you keep the lid on the saucepan so you don’t lose too many of the delicate, medicinal volatile oils to evaporation,” said Skilton.
Be warned -- if you're switching coffee for herbal tea to kick caffeine, make sure you read the label.
“Some herbal teas contain caffeine. Essentially if it is from the leaf or bark of the plant, there will most likely be naturally occurring caffeine present at some level. I would caution against buying decaffeinated tea, however, as most commercial processing uses toxic solvents to achieve this,” said Skilton.
Ever wondered if black or English breakfast tea is considered a herbal variant?
“It technically is, but doesn’t have quite the same health properties. Black tea is from the same plant as green tea (camellia sinensis) but the black tea has been oxidised. This is what gives it the unique flavour (much like roasting coffee beans does for coffee!) but it does destroy some of the health benefits in the process,” said Skilton.
This story was originally published on September 19, 2015.