Everyone loves a good health hack and one of my favorites is tea – I encourage everyone to start brewing their way to better health. While black, green, white and red teas have numerous benefits and are great ways to start the day, herbal teas have loads of pluses too, and no caffeine, so they won’t keep you up at night, no matter when you imbibe. Teas under the herbal umbrella — made from flowers, dried fruits, spices and herbs — are rich in antioxidant polyphenols which can help reduce the risk for chronic disease. We’re all for that.
What’s also great about herbals is that just about any kind of flavor can be iced into a refreshing, hydrating brew with major benefits, timely intel now that summer is almost upon us. What’s more, herbal teas make a healthy alternative to summertime sugar-bombs like lemonades, sodas, juices and 1,000 calorie frozen coffee drinks, so they won’t mess with your blood sugar or your wallet. Which tea to add to your shopping list? Here’s ‘the tea’ on what to look for, plus a few of my herbal favorites – and how they give your health an effortless boost:
Make your herbal tea count.
When it comes to herbal teas, as with most things, you get what you pay for, so buy the highest quality tea possible. Look for minimally processed herbal teas, organic, fair-trade and non-GMO certified to keep the bad stuff out of your brew. The more you know about the source and the way your tea leaves have been grown and handled, the better. For everyday drinking, brands like Nami, Terra Teas, The Art of Tea, Arbor Teas, Choice Teas are a good place to start. And If cost is a consideration, try mixing higher-end herbal teas with more moderately priced ones, but always steer clear of super-cheap, heavily processed, bulk-buy teas which are far more likely to be loaded with pesticides and/or processed in ways that can negatively impact the health-supporting compounds you’re after.
Manage your dose.
Non-herbal caffeinated teas like black, red, green and white all contain caffeine to varying degrees, anywhere from roughly a third to three-quarters less than a cup of coffee. If you’re keeping an eye on your caffeine intake, have your cup of coffee or tea early in the day to ensure that the stuff doesn’t keep you up at night. (Remember, caffeine can keep you buzzing up to 8 hours after your last cup!) In the early afternoon, switch over to jitter-free herbals, so you can keep sipping and still sleep well.
Hold the milk, skip the sugar.
Also, no matter when you drink your tea, herbal or otherwise, lose the sweeteners and reacquaint your palate with less sweet drinks and less sugar hitting your bloodstream, always a good thing. While you’re at it, skip the milk too as the subtle taste of some herbals can get overpowered by it, and it can also block the body’s ability to absorb some of your brew’s healthy compounds. If you just have to have your tea with milk, herbals like chamomile, valerian and rooibos can usually stand up to a splash (just don’t leave your brew out to spoil in the sun!). For fruit teas lovers, adding milk can make your cup taste sour, so that’s a bit of a no-no taste-wise too.
Make DIY your default.
Though the beverage manufactures are finally starting to get the message about reducing sugar in their drinks, many bottled herbal teas still contain an almost comical amount of sugar, with totals ranging from 10 – 30 grams per bottle! But for your body, all that sugar is anything but a laughing matter, so always think DIY. Though home brew is the best option by far from a health perspective, when you’re pressed for time, opt for unsweetened, fresh-brewed organic or bottled herbal teas. Look for ones marked with the Certified Organic seal. If it also carries the Fair Trade Certified, Non-GMO Project and Green America seals, even better – then you’re looking at a decent herbal substitute, almost as good as the stuff you brew yourself.
Drink better to think better.
Got brain fog? Topping up your tank with herbal teas can help there too. As roughly 75% of your gray matter is water, even being mildly dehydrated can have a significant impact on how well your brain functions. Studies indicate that hydration, or lack thereof, can impact mood, concentration, alertness and motor skills – as anyone who’s suffered through a heatwave can probably attest. Those feelings of confusion, brain-fog and headache are signals that you’re in serious need of fluids, so keep your herbal brews close at hand.
You’ll breathe easier indoors and out.
It’s not just your brain that needs hydration but your lungs too. They need enough fluid intake to prevent the mucous lining from getting too thick — keeping the herbal teas flowing is a good way to do that. Another reason to keep those refreshing herbal teas on tap in your fridge? Exercising in an under-hydrated state can boost inflammation and set you up for exercise-induced asthma. Bottom line: drink up – particularly if you plan to exercise outdoors this summer.
Herbal teas with flavor – and benefits.
So, now’s the fun part – selecting the brew that’s best for you. But, why just stop at one flavor? I say the more the merrier, and with a few more flavors on hand, the broader range of benefits your body will enjoy. A word to the wise though: if you have allergies to certain plants or foods, or are pregnant or nursing, or on blood thinners or blood pressure reducing drugs, check with your health care provider before you go herbal. Assuming you’re good to go, here are a few of my favorites and what they can do for you:
It’s a classic and one of the world’s most popular for good reason. It’s a great chill-out tea, perfect for calming the nervous system when you’re feeling stressed during the day or at night, supporting restful sleep. Chamomile also comes with soothing digestive properties, so it’s great for helping your body prepare for rest. Though you might think of it as a cozy winter drink, it makes great iced too, with a squeeze of lemon or a sprig or two of mint – or both.
2) Ginger Tea
If you like your tea with a spicy, flavorful kick, ginger tea is just the ticket. And if you like your tea with (health) benefits, ginger tea’s got ‘em too. First up, it’s great for calming upset stomachs and relaxing the digestive system. It can also lower blood pressure and it’s helpful for soothing nausea and stress-triggered belly troubles. A tall glass of iced ginger tea will deliver a nice dose of antioxidants plus an immunity boost, so it’s helpful if you’re feeling run-down but don’t want to jack up your system with caffeine.
3) Hibiscus Tea
These days, we’re liable to appreciate hibiscus tea for its deep pink color, appealing scent and tart floral taste that’s reminiscent of cranberry or pomegranate. But it was used medicinally as far back as the ancient Egyptians to aid with heart and nerve problems. Another notable feather in its cap is its antiviral qualities as well as being rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants. It’s also valued for its ability to help lower blood pressure (so don’t overdo it if you’re on BP meds) and is thought to have powerful anti-cancer properties due to its high polyphenol content. How to take yours? It’s delicious hot or cold, but for summer, add ice, and your choice of berries, lemons, limes, oranges, basil and/or lemon zest, plus an optional dash of raw stevia or monkfruit.
4) Peppermint Tea
This one is perfect for summer – its built-in menthol makes it naturally cooling, refreshing and flavorful – and you don’t even have to put the kettle on to enjoy it. You can cold brew peppermint tea simply by packing leaves into a container of cold water and letting it sit for a few hours. Doesn’t get much easier than that. Once it’s brewed, pour over ice, add a few cucumber slices and enjoy not only the refreshing flavor, but also peppermint’s antioxidant, antibacterial and antiviral properties. Got digestive issues? Peppermint tea can also help relieve cramps, headaches, nausea and indigestion, so it’s great to have on hand no matter the season.
5) Rooibos Tea
Even if rooibos tea wasn’t the beloved, healthy drink I was raised on in my native South Africa, I’d still be among its biggest fans. Rooibos is simply terrific stuff! It’s caffeine-free and loaded with antioxidants which help protect us from free radicals—those toxic by-products of normal cell metabolism, which can contribute to aging and weaken the immune system. It brews into a beautiful rust red color with a slightly sweet, slightly nutty flavor. I also love that it’s so rich in minerals, including copper, iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and potassium, and that it’s beneficial for healthy bones and strong teeth and may be helpful for taming inflammation. It’s also useful for relieving nausea, constipation and heartburn and doesn’t contain oxalic acid, which can cause kidney stones. What’s more, it is delicious over ice, the perfect jitter-free alternative to caffeinated black teas.
6) Turmeric Tea
Turmeric is currently the ‘It Girl’ of the herbal tea universe and you can thank the spice’s anti-inflammatory compounds for that. This golden brew has been in heavy use in Asia for thousands of years, including in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, to soothe a litany of ills and to support the immune system and gut health. More recently, it’s gone mainstream, thanks to benefits which include reduced arthritis symptoms, cardiovascular complications, inflammation and digestive problems. It’s been found to be helpful for managing IBS symptoms and diabetes and is thought to be helpful in protecting against liver damage and lung problems. Though most people think of turmeric tea as a cold weather treat, it’s great for summer too, either on its own or blended with other tasty, anti-inflammatory spices like ginger and cinnamon. And don’t forget the ice and lemon!
7) Tulsi Tea
Last but not least, honorable mention goes to the herb ‘holy basil,’ a relative of basil, which is brewed into tulsi tea, a medicinal staple in southeast Asia for over 5,000 years. As a tea – check to make sure yours hasn’t been blended with black tea – it acts as an adaptogen, helping the body to adapt to and manage stress. Keep a pitcher in the fridge and chill out on demand.