Herbal Tea: A Selection of Common Teas for Health and Healing
When Is a Tea Not a Tea?
I'll get it off my chest right now—herbal tea is not a true tea. It's actually a tisane, while a true tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. Herbal teas may consist of spices, herbs, and other vegetable matter, even grains. Black, green, oolong, and yellow tea are true teas. Sometimes, the two marry, and you'll have hybrid black teas with herbal components. For this article, we're going to use the word 'tea' to refer to herbal tisanes. Tea purists, I appreciate your concern, but work with me here in the name of healing and good health!
Herbal teas have been used for centuries to treat health conditions or prevent disease. They're still in everyday use in most, if not all, cultures. Please note that I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. These teas are readily available food products. However, they do have medicinal potential. Be intelligent about their use, as with any food. Know what effect they may have on you and your specific health concerns or condition. Just as a diabetic must be wise about consuming sugar, be wise about what herbal remedies you choose to use. You are ultimately responsible for your own health decisions. Be informed!
Sweet Smelling, Gentle Chamomile
Chamomile. Even the name sounds soothing. I've started this article with chamomile because it's one of the most useful herbal remedies in my pantry. Did I say pantry? It has also found its way into my bathroom, because the chamomile shampoos and chamomile bubble bath are among my favorites as well.
German chamomile, matricaria chamomilla, is likely the variety you'll encounter when choosing a chamomile tea. Because the other widely-known type of chamomile, Roman chamomile, has different properties, please note that for the purposes of this article, I'm referring solely and specifically to German chamomile.
A lovely plant with appealing white daisy-like flowers with yellow centers, the chamomile has an equally lovely and relaxing aroma, reminiscent of apples. It is those delicate flowers that are used in the tea. It has long been recognized as one of the most effective natural sedatives; your great-grandmother likely had it on hand for those sleepless nights. It's also an antispasmodic, appropriate for relieving flatulence and promoting good digestion.
But you probably already knew that about this wonderful, gentle-tasting herb. You might also have seen it as an ingredient in herbal shampoos. You might not know, though, that just pouring a cup of hot chamomile tea over your brown hair as a rinse will bring out highlights and add a sheen to your hair. Better yet, chamomile is very useful for eye complaints. If you buy it in teabag form, you can use the warm teabags (after they've brewed fully) as a poultice for your eyes when they're irritated or have pink-eye (conjunctivitis). I've used it many times to soothe the eyes of my horses after injury or inflammation; I've successfully treated pink-eye in my horses and myself with them. If you wake up with any sort of eye irritation, reach for the chamomile. You can also rinse your eyes with the warm tea or use an eyecup.
Chamomile has also been shown effective as an anti-inflammatory and healing agent in some studies. It contains a flavonoid called apigenin, which has been indicated as an antihistamine.
Chamomile is regarded as a safe herb. Keep it on hand for insomnia, eye complaints, hair rinses, and digestive complaints.
Spunky, Spicy Ginger
Ginger! Not only one of my favorite characters from Black Beauty, but one of my favorite herbs. I keep fresh ginger root in the refrigerator at all times, and ginger tea bags in the tea closet for immediate use.
The rhizome (root-like portion) of the zingiber officinale plant is the part we use. It has been used for centuries to treat stomach complaints and flatulence. It combats nausea, indigestion, and inflammation. It is my own favorite remedy for severe coughing, sore throat, and congestion -- you know those miserable attacks of bronchitis that keep you up at night, hacking until your ribs ache? Grab the ginger root! Ginger also reduces platelet clumping, thus helping to decrease stroke or heart conditions. It has been said to boost the immune system and can even help relieve toothache. What's not to love?
For a fresh, warming cup of ginger tea, peel the thick outer skin off the ginger root. Then, slice or shred it into the bottom of your teacup using a potato peeler. Pour boiling water over it and let it brew. Add a splash of lemon juice and a tablespoon of honey. If you don't feel it immediately begin to relieve your sore throat or to warm your irritated airway, you haven't made it strong enough. You should feel ginger tea as well as you taste it. If you don't have fresh root on hand, use two 100% ginger teabags (such as Alvita). You can also use ginger powder through a tea-leaf strainer. Be careful that you're buying pure ginger, and not the many "ginger-flavored" teabags available.
Ginger is regarded as a safe food. Use it for digestive complaints, coughs, and sore throats.
Do You Ever Use Herbal Teas Specifically for Health-Related Reasons?
The Passionflower isn't just one of the loveliest of blooms -- it boasts an equally appealing Latin name, passiflora incarnata, with a lovely story behind the name -- and very useful medicinal properties. The Passionflower was thus named for its parallels to the passion of the Christ. It has five stamens said to represent the five wounds Christ bore, and each of the remaining parts of the bloom have meaning, as well. The last flower my father gave to my mother was a gorgeous Passionflower he'd carefully picked from a nearby vine. Just days later, he passed away.
The Passionflower has been used for centuries to treat hysteria, insomnia, hyperactivity, and anxiety. It is a calming herb and nature's tranquilizer. It is recommended for people suffering from depression and inability to focus. Fortunately, it's now easy to find a variety of passionflower tea; for those of us who like black tea, it is even available in a black tea blend (although the caffeine in the black tea may counteract the calming properties somewhat).
Passionflower is useful for mood, anxiety, and insomnia issues. It is regarded as safe.
Licorice, the original ingredient in the distinctive black candy by the same name, is an herb to be approached with caution. From the root of the glycyrrhiza glabra plant, it is a powerful remedy for a host of conditions, and has long been used for its value as a cough suppressant. Native Americans used it in a tea to treat earaches, and in many countries it has been used to remedy digestive complaints (including ulcers). It helps ease sore throats, inflammation, and viral conditions. It's naturally sweet (far sweeter than sugar) and highly palatable -- and readily found in several herbal teas.
Here's the catch, though: if used in large amounts, it can cause facial swelling, swollen arms and legs, high blood pressure, and hypokalemia. Patients suffering from hypertension and heart disease should be cautious and avoid over-use. Even people who've eaten a great deal of licorice candy have reportedly suffered toxic effects due to the component in licorice that gives it properties similar to those of cortisone.
You won't find much actual licorice in licorice anymore, meaning that the candy called "black licorice" that is commercially available usually has little or no actual licorice in it now. There are some still made with real licorice, but don't assume so unless you see it on the ingredient list. There are, however, licorice root teabags to be found in the health food section of many grocery stores -- and in several teas that do not target medicinal users. Because of the very sweet taste, licorice root is mixed into some teas just for the sweetening effect.
Licorice root tea is effective for indigestion and easing ulcers as well as calming coughs. It is not safe in large quantities for heart patients and people with high blood pressure. Use with care.
Pomegranate, the common name of the punica granatum tree grown for thousands of years in the Middle East, has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the United States in recent years. People pay a great deal for pure pomegranate juice -- and tea lovers such as myself drink pomegranate tea for the delightful flavor. Because of its abundance of seeds, it has symbolized fertility -- you might have seen the works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood artists, in which auburn-haired women held pomegranates in their sumptuous paintings.
Got worms? Look to pomegranate root bark. It is an accepted anthelmintic (de-wormer) for those with tapeworm. The rind is quite astringent thanks to its tannin content and aids sore throat, fever, and even the treatment of those who sweat to excess.
If you do have a tapeworm, the fruit-based teas won't do too much for you -- it is the root you'd want. A cup of hot pomegranate tea may be just what you need to calm that sore throat, though. I drink it regularly (in a black tea blend) for the appealing flavor.
Pomegranate is regarded as safe, and is known to be effective for purging internal parasites.
If you can stomach the taste of peppermint (I say half-chuckling, because I'm one of the few people I know who cannot tolerate it unless it's buried in milk chocolate), peppermint tea is a most useful tea for digestive complaints -- including reducing gas and nausea. The menthol in peppermint is an antispasmodic, which means it will benefit your irritable tummy. Peppermint has the added benefit of reducing bad breath.
If you don't have peppermint plants (the botanical name of which is mentha piperita) growing in your herb garden, and have run out of peppermint tea, you can easily find the extract and flavoring in the baking section of many stores. Add hot water and the sweetener or other flavors of your choice, and you'll have an acceptable substitute. Use concentrations of any herbal product in moderation -- and make sure you're getting real peppermint, and not just peppermint flavoring.
Peppermint is a useful tea for many digestive tract issues, and is regarded as safe.
Red Raspberry Leaf
Yes, raspberry fruit is a tasty delight. Just the aroma of Raspberry Royale tea just about makes me purr. But it is the leaf that has the properties we want for a variety of complaints. Raspberry leaf is a woman's tea and has been long relied upon to relieve morning sickness. Various studies claim raspberry leaf helps with cramps and other female plumbing issues. It has also been found to have anti-viral and insulin-producing attributes, among other good effects. Thanks to the anti-viral potential, red raspberry leaf has been eyed as a remedy for herpes virus II and as an anti-fungal.
Look for teas containing the leaf, not the fruit (nor the flavor) of raspberry. Make sure it's red raspberry, too. Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger, perhaps the most readily available raspberry herbal tea, does include raspberry leaves in its blend—and it's a tasty tea, too.
Raspberry leaf tea is a great woman's tea, and is regarded as safe.
Which of these herbal teas already has a place in your pantry?
© 2013 Marcy J. Miller