Need chamomile tea to fall asleep? Yerba mate to stay awake? Love the taste of lavender tea? Wondering what the heck rooibos is? Enter the wide world of herbal teas!
What are herbal teas?
Herbal teas are, according to Wikipedia, “made from the infusion or decoction of herbs, spices, or other plant material” (including roots, bark, flowers, leaves, etc.) “in hot water.” Technically, herbal teas, also known as tisanes (tea-ZAHNs) are not true tea. Whereas all other kinds of tea are made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, herbal teas are made from fruits, flowers, and herbs. For this reason, herbal teas rarely contain caffeine, making them great for relaxing before bedtime. (A lot of health articles incorrectly list “green tea” as an herbal tea; nope, it’s still made of tea leaves and has caffeine.)
Some people drink herbal teas because they’re just darn tasty. Others like them because they’re non-caffeinated, relaxing, or even have certain…
In the interest of truthful blogging, I have to make a confession: I’m an herbal skeptic. Partly because when I’m sick or hurting, I’m the kind of person to reach for the Claritin D, the Ibuprofen, or the Pepto-Bismol. At the same time, however, I understand that there may be safer options than these. As someone who gets stress headaches, I’ve been trying peppermint tea as an alternative to my usual Excedrin. (I think it’s helping.)
I also side-eye many health trends. Marketing can do a lot to exaggerate the healthy powers of a food or drink, such as the recent “superfood” trend.
I did some research and found mixed results. While I found many articles about the health and medicinal benefits of herbal teas, some articles contradicted these statements, citing a lack of scientific evidence. However, some herbs such as ginger, hibiscus, and peppermint turned out to be legitimately helpful, particularly when consumed a few times a day. I’ve also met plenty of people who consistently turn to certain herbal teas when they’re not feeling so hot, because they know from past experience it will help them feel better.
My conclusion is this: although I make no guarantees, I think herbal teas are worth trying if you’re looking for something besides pills to make you feel better. Every person’s body is different, so what works for one individual may have no effect on another. Tea, as I always say, is a supplement to a healthy lifestyle. And if you like the taste of certain herbs, well then, there’s no question!
Popular herbal teas
There’s a tea for just about every kind of herb out there. I’ve compiled a list of the most popular, along with the medicinal benefits they’re supposed to have.
- Chamomile – Soothes sore throats. Supposed to have relaxing properties; you see this a lot in “sleepytime” and “bedtime” teas.
- Echinacea – Boosts the immune system, good for colds.
- Ginger – Soothes stomachaches, speeds up digestion.
- Hibiscus – Helps lower blood pressure.
- Lavender – Calming, uplifting; sometimes considered an antidepressant.
- Lemon balm – Calms nerves, aids anxiety.
- Lemongrass – Aids digestion as an after-dinner drink.
- Peppermint – Soothes an upset stomach, aids indigestion, helps relieve headaches.
- Rosehips – High concentration of vitamin C, supports the immune system.
- Rooibos – (ROY-bus) A very popular herbal tea, rooibos is made from the leaves of a South African bush and enjoyed as much for the color and flavor as for its immune system-supporting qualities.
- Yerba mate – (YUR-bah MAH-tay) Made from the leaves of the yerba mate plant, most commonly found in Argentina and surrounding South American countries, this is one of the rare herbal teas that serves as a caffeine alternative, providing a clean, smooth boost of energy.
Pointers on buying herbal teas
- If you’re going for a tea’s health/medicinal benefits, research the herb first. Make sure you know what it does and that it won’t have any wonky side effects.
- Especially if you’re pregnant, on medication, or otherwise susceptible to certain substances.
- When in doubt, ask your doctor.
- Stay with major retailers and reputable tea stores.
- Read the ingredients. If you see laxatives like aloe or castor oil, or anything else that could potentially be harmful, stay away!
- Usually work best made in a teapot
- 1 tsp per 6 oz. water
- Heat water to 200° – boiling
- Steep for 4 – 5 minutes
Where to buy herbal teas
Mountain Rose Herbs (especially good if you buy in bulk!)
- The “Herb” tab on this alternative medicine guide by the University of Maryland Medical center is a good way to learn about many popular herbs.
- Some articles about the benefits of herbal tea:
- A Science Daily page that links to several studies on herbal tea
Got a go-to tisane when you’re feeling less than your best? Or a favorite yummy infusion? Tell me all about it in the comments!