Tea: one of the oldest drinks known to humankind, we drink it as a pick me up or as a way to wind down after a long day. It has a rich history and culture and associations with medicine, social etiquette, and even fortune telling!
Along with that, multiple health benefits have been steeped in the humble ‘cuppa’. A special focus has been placed on tea infusions, and it has been lauded for its role in common health complaints, and general wellbeing.
Traditional Tea versus Herbal Infusions
Traditional tea refers to the beverage which comes from the leaves of a plant known as Camellia Sinensis.
The way the plant is grown, fermented, brewed, and picked, all influence the final outcome of the tea. In this way, one plant can produce all the household tea varieties we know, which are:
- White tea
- Green tea
- Black tea
- Oolong tea
- Low tannin tea
- Matcha tea
The variety of tea also differs across regions and harvest seasons, for example India produces a delicate Darjeeling tea, where China, the origin of the plant, produces a brew with a different, more aromatic and complex taste.
Herbal infusions, also known as “herbal teas”, may come from any variety of herbs or plants, and are usually consumed for their known health benefits.
A herbal tea might be a single herb, such as chamomile, or a blend such as lemongrass and ginger, serving a particular health issue like indigestion.
Different parts of a plant might be used in herbal tea, including roots, leaves, flowers, seeds or bark.
A variety of herbal choice
When it comes to herbal tea, the possibilities are almost endless!
The following are some common herbs, often used for their health and wellbeing benefits:
- Often touted as the best anti-nausea treatment around, ginger also has benefits for reducing inflammation, increasing circulation, and improving digestion.
- Peppermint doesn’t just improve bad breath, it can also reduce bloating, headaches, and even assist with sore muscles.
- The queen of the immune system, this pretty pink herb leaves a tingly feeling on the tongue. It is frequently used for preventing colds and flu, and is an important component of many immune support blends.
- Made from the root of the plant, dandelion can work wonders on the digestive system. It can assist in reducing bloating, improving bile production, and supporting overall digestion.
- This tiny little flower is often prescribed for insomnia or for calming the mind and body. It’s also useful for reducing bloating, and is often given to children with belly aches.
Health Benefits of Tea and Herbal Blends
Aside from the importance of sitting down and taking a moment for yourself, both traditional and herbal teas have been shown to have a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing.
Tea is known to improve mental clarity, and may help reduce the impact of stress on both mind and body.
Certain herbal teas have a specific action on the various systems in the body, like the nervous system. Brahmi has long been recommended for a good memory, while passionflower is frequently used for nervous tension or anxiety.
The physical benefits of both traditional tea and herbal infusions is where the magic happens; tea is full of antioxidants and other substances which have a positive effect on health.
These are just some of the benefits of tea for the body:
- Improved digestion; such as a healthier liver and better intestinal health
- Clearer skin
- A healthier heart; particularly from green tea
- Improved hydration; notably from herbal blends
- A stronger immune system
The high content of minerals and anti-oxidants in tea leads to improved nutrition absorption, and the prevention of illnesses.
Tea may assist with averting:
- Colds and flu
- Heart disease
- Degenerative bone disease
- Some cancers
Tea may also help reduce the severity of some health conditions such as diabetes, or neurological disease.
Fitness and That Healthy Glow
The use of tea in fitness and health is quite common. Not only can tea improve endurance for athletes, but it may also assist with recovery time after exercise.
The benefits of tea for fitness and wellbeing may include:
- Reduced muscular fatigue
- Better hydration
- Clear skin
- Improved energy
What’s in a cup?
Within the tea family, there are several compounds which come together to enhance health and energy.
A well known stimulant to the nervous system the main function of caffeine is to increase energy, particularly with regard to brain activity.
This, sometimes necessary substance, is found in high quantities in coffee. Lower amounts are found in tea, with black and oolong tea having a higher caffeine content than green or white.
Caffeine in small quantities can be useful for improving concentration and athletic ability. It is important not to consume excess quantities though, as this can lead to dehydration, and may also affect the adrenal glands and liver.
Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant which are found in various forms across a wide range of plant based foods.
The types of polyphenol most commonly found in tea are hydroxybenzoic acids.
Polyphenols are renowned for their health benefits, which include fighting free radicals, reducing inflammation, and supporting the cardiovascular system.
A bitter compounds with a strong astringent action, tannins are a type of polyphenol, and are found abundantly in tea and wine, and also in some herbs such as geranium or wattle.
Tannins are responsible for the dry feeling on your tongue. They dissolve easily in water, and the longer a tea is brewed, the higher the tannin content will be.
Antioxidants are any substance which act against free radicals. In addition to their reputation for promoting healthy skin and immune systems, they are also known for reducing the health complications of some chronic diseases.
Conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis can all benefit from the intake of antioxidants.
Their protective nature means that cells and organs are supported to work optimally, meaning less physical stress and illness.
Tea contains small quantities of potassium, phosphorus, fluoride and magnesium. It also has trace amounts of manganese.
These minerals are essential for healthy bones, as well as regulating the nervous system, and basic cell functions.
Herbal infusions may contain a variety of minerals, including iron, calcium, zinc and copper.
In addition to the health benefits of herbal teas, the mineral content may contribute to daily nutritional requirements.
The Nitty Gritty (Studies)
There are several studies which support the function of tea as an antioxidant, antiviral, and anticarcinogenic beverage.
- Sung et al demonstrated a significant increase in antioxidant capacity in blood plasma, when quantities over 300mL are consumed. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10918460)
- As an antiviral agent, green tea has been shown to be effective against herpes simplex, influenza A and B, rotavirus and enterovirus. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1668240)
- Extracts of green tea have been proven to reduce cell proliferation in some tumours, and it is suggested that regular consumption may even prevent the occurrence of cancer. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12494882)
Herbal teas have hundreds of years of both scientific and anecdotal evidence. For many herbs, modern studies are now supporting traditional use, proving the wisdom of long established health treatments.
How to brew Tea
White, green and black teas will become bitter if left to steep for too long. The recommended steep time is one minute, two minutes, and 3 minutes respectively.
White and green teas should ideally steep for no longer than two minutes, in hot, but not boiling water.
Herbal teas will differ in strength, but a general guideline is that the longer they sit, the more beneficial they become. Each herb will have different responses, and it is best to go with the recommended time on the blend provided.