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Journal of Inspired living

Research shows that Australians drink more coffee than tea. Are you missing out on the health benefits of tea?


We take an in-depth look at the health-boosting benefits of tea

Credit: Sabri Tuzcu

Are you sure you want that latte/long black/macchiato/latte “to go”? Every year, Australians are drinking more coffee and less tea and, in the process, we’re missing a golden opportunity to down a beverage with incredible health punch. Tea is more than a tasty, soothing drink that comes in a variety of flavours — it also has plenty of hidden health talents to treat health niggles, chronic conditions and also protect against disease.

A brew with big benefits

Whatever your cup of choice such as English breakfast, green or dandelion tea – your body enjoys an immediate increase in health-giving antioxidants, such as plant compounds called flavonoids and polyphenols. When you weigh up all the evidence, tea is the healthiest hot beverage you can drink. So it’s a shame that Australian tea consumption has dropped in the last 40 years in favour of cappuccinos and lattes. Tea appears to have more health benefits than coffee and around 50-60 per cent less caffeine per cup. Within 20 minutes of drinking a cup of black tea, there is a measurable increase in the level of antioxidants in your blood.

Tea ranks higher than some fruit and vegetables on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale, which measures antioxidant levels in foods. The polyphenols in tea help protect the body against free radical damage, which harms DNA and leads to disease. Three to four cups of tea a day appear to give optimal benefit.

Tea also has protective effects against the following:

Heart disease

Tea lowers heart attack risk, according to a growing body of evidence, including research by the University of L’Aquila in Italy. The study found that as little as one cup of regular tea per day, which contains around 200mg of flavonoids, helps keep the endothelial lining of the arteries in the heart softer and more flexible. This helps to lower blood pressure, prevent hardening of the arteries and thereby reduce heart attack risk.

Osteoporosis

Elderly women who drink tea have higher bone density, shows research by the University of Western Australia. This may be because tea promotes a more alkaline balance in the body, while a more acid state leads to minerals like calcium being leached from the bones.

Cancer

The polyphenols in tea may help reduce the risk of gastric, oesophageal and skin cancer, shows research. At the School of Public Health at Curtin University, research showed that drinking three cups of green tea a day reduces the likelihood of developing prostate and ovarian cancer. If you develop either of these cancers and you are a tea drinker, your survival rate is also increased.

Weight gain

Many studies have indicated that green tea helps boost metabolic rate, encouraging faster burning of kilojoules. This may be due to an amino acid called L-theanine, which improves alertness without causing over stimulation.

Technique and taste

Most tea comes from the evergreen Camellia plant (Camellia sinensis), the basis for more than 3000 varieties of tea. The more it is processed, the darker the tea leaves. Green tea (eg sencha) and white tea cultivated from the young leaves in early spring (eg Baihao Yinzhen) are the least processed teas and their leaves are steamed. Black or regular tea (eg Earl grey and Irish breakfast), and varieties like oolong (eg Wuyi rock tea), are partially dried before being crushed and fermented.

When people drink chamomile tea five times a day over two weeks, their markers of antibacterial activity increase, helping to boost their immunity.

Most of the health research has been conducted on green tea because its simpler structure makes it easier to study in a lab. However, all tannin teas contain health-enhancing phytochemicals, regardless of how the teas are processed.

To maximise your cuppa, choose a loose-leaf variety and steep it for three to five minutes to extract up to 85 per cent of the flavonoids. Big leaves need to steep for longer while tiny pieces of tea infuse faster.

What about milk?

Though one much publicised study showed that adding milk negated the health benefits, many other studies have indicated that most of the antioxidants from tea are still absorbed whether you enjoy your tea with milk, sweetener or lemon. Keep in mind though that, if you are drinking five or six cups a day and adding two sugars and full cream milk, your healthy tea habit may start to become a liability for your weight and dental health.

To teapot or not?

In recent years, the humble cup of tea has shaken off its tea cosy image. All manner of delectable teas in different flavours are available to be infused via loose leaves or tea bags. The subtle aromatic scent as the loose leaves steep, the ceremonial turning of the pot and associations with emotional comfort, add a sense of occasion to a cup of orange pekoe or Russian caravan.

Though the slow, beautiful tea ceremonies of Japan and China are very appealing, we have our own unrecognised tea ceremony in Australia, which often involves putting on the kettle and sitting down and taking time to pause or chat. Making a pot is well worth the effort not only because the delicate flavour of a Darjeeling or Ceylon tea become richer with loose leaf tea, but because the longer steeping time boosts the flavonoid levels to benefit your health.

Chinese and Japanese tea

Tea ceremonies in Japan and China involve beautiful rituals centred around spirituality and stillness. The teas used in these ceremonies offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. They involve:

  • Non-fermented teas: These include white, green and yellow teas. Popular choices include white peony and cloud mist green tea
  • Fermented teas: These are known as black teas (or red teas in China). They include varieties like golden tips red tea and lapsang souchong.
  • Semi-fermented teas: These fall somewhere between black and green teas. Oolong is one of the best known.
  • Post-fermented: These have a very earthy flower and heicha or Pu-erh tea is one of the most popular.
  • Scented flower teas: Such as chrysanthemum, hibiscus, jasmine and lily.

The healing powers of herbal tea

“Herbal teas” are those that are made by infusing or decocting leaves, flowers or roots of plants other than Camellia sinensis. As these different plants have different chemistries, the herbal teas that result have a wide range of soothing, healing and medicinal properties, which can be utilised to relieve and treat many health issues and chronic problems. To maximise their healing power, buy organic and loose leaf, so that you enjoy the full benefits of the essential oils and antioxidants.

For beneficial herbal brews, here are some to keep in mind:

Chai

Catching up with a friend at a café? Grabbing a hot drink to go? Then it’s nice to treat your taste buds with something a little exotic. Enter chai tea, which offers the flavours of India in a soothing milky tea infusion.

It contains aromatic spices including cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, fennel, cloves, nutmeg, star anise and black pepper. These have a range of medicinal benefits. To name just a few benefits, chai spices can help boost metabolism, reduce inflammation, lower blood glucose levels and insulin, support the immune system, enhance digestion and boost energy.

Chamomile

Native to countries such as Spain, Italy, Germany, Egypt and Morocco, chamomile is one of the most popular varieties of tea throughout the world. It comes from the Asteraceae family of plants that have white petals and yellow stems and look like daisies. The two most commonly used varieties are German chamomile (Marticaria recutita), which tastes a little sweeter than Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). The tea is made from the dried blossoms of the chamomile flower, but fresh blossoms from your garden can also be added for additional taste that has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antifungal and astringent healing benefits.

Chamomile is well known for its calmative and antispasmodic properties. This makes it a great tonic to treat digestive issues including ulcerative colitis and gastritis, stomach pain and indigestion. When inhaled as a vapour, it also works a little like a natural antihistamine to relieve symptoms of cold and flu and allergy.

Kombucha tea can be high in yeasts, so if you have issues with candida you would be better to choose a drink such as kvass (a fermented beetroot beverage) to boost your bacteria levels.

After people drink chamomile tea their levels of glycine increase. Glycine is a nerve relaxant with mild sedative properties — so chamomile can help you destress. Glycine is also an anti-spasmodic, one of the reasons chamomile tea is so effective in helping to relieve menstrual cramps in women.

Chamomile tea contains powerful volatile oils including bisabolol (oxides A and B) and matrician. It’s also rich in flavonoids. One of these, called apigenin, has been shown to strengthen the connection between brain cells and is currently being studied to help treat conditions like depression and dementia. Apigenin binds to the benzodiazepine receptors in the brain, acting like a mild tranquiliser. This is why it can help benefit sleep onset and sleep quality.

Research from the American Chemical Society (using the German variety of chamomile) found that, when people drink chamomile tea five times a day over two weeks, their markers of antibacterial activity increases, helping to boost their immunity. It is also beneficial for skin: herbal infusions of chamomile have been traditionally applied as compresses and skin washes to wounds, ulcers, burns and skin rashes such as eczema to reduce inflammation and speed healing. A chamomile infusion can also be used as a mouthwash for oral ulcers and gum disease or as eyewash to calm dry, inflamed or irritated eyes.

Dandelion

A powerful herb featuring bright yellow flowers, dandelion is loaded with flavonoids, which have antioxidant actions that benefit the heart and may protect against cancer. Historically, it has been used in Europe and Asia as a health tonic and diuretic, so it can relieve fluid retention that arises from stress or hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle and menopause. This fluid-reducing action has been confirmed by research involving the University of North Carolina, which showed a significant increase in the frequency of urination within five hours of dandelion doses.

Like all bitter herbs, dandelion is a strong digestive stimulant so it can help enhance your absorption of nutrients, relieve indigestion and settle nausea. As a herbal lipotropic, this potent herb helps flush fatty deposits from your liver and stimulates bile production, faciliting your liver’s detoxification process.

Dandelion is also rich in inulin and levulin, starch-like substances that help balance blood sugar and act as prebiotics, which feed good bacteria in your belly. However, if you are sensitive to FODMAPS (carbohydrates that can cause digestive problems) then use sparingly as it can trigger gastric irritation or mild diarrhoea in some sensitive people.

Fennel

With its pale green/white bulb, stalks, feathery, green leaves and yellow flowers, fennel looks a little like a hybrid of celery, onion and bok choy. In the Mediterranean, it is known as a carminative herb, so it is a “go to” natural treatment for blitzing belly bloating, flatulence, dyspepsia, indigestion and colic in babies. In Italy, raw fennel is often eaten between meals to aid digestion. The seeds, produced by the yellow flowers of the fennel plant are also a potent spice and medicine.

Fennel can be bought in a ready-made tea or made fresh by crushing fennel seeds lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle, then steeping them in boiling water. Not only high in vitamins C and B, fennel is also packed with minerals including copper, zinc, selenium, magnesium, potassium, calcium and phosphorous, which help strengthen your bones. It packs an antioxidant punch due to its mix of flavonoids, alkaloids and phenols, which also work as anti-inflammatories, reducing ageing and protecting against diseases like cancer.

Studies show that fennel also has numerous hormone-balancing benefits. Menopausal women who take fennel daily experience improved vaginal alkalinity and cell health (Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences). It is also effective at relieving symptoms of PMS (Urmia University). And, when applied topically to women with excess hair growth due to issues like polycystic ovaries, a gel made from fennel extracts has been shown to be effective in reducing hair growth (Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences).

A potent expectorant, fennel is effective when used in cough syrups to help thin mucous secretions and prevent chronic cough or development of bronchitis. Research shows it can also defend against microbes, bacteria and fungal growth, so it can boost good bacteria in the belly and reduce parasites and candida overgrowth. If you have a sensitive digestive system, drink a lower strength tea to ensure it does not have a laxative effect.

Fenugreek

Use of this herb can be traced to ancient Egypt where, on papyrus, the seeds were described as a treatment for burns. Traditional healers have long used fenugreek to treat premenstrual issues and symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause. It is also often used to boost the incoming milk of mothers who are breastfeeding. In the body it may work a little like a natural form of Hormone Therapy. Research from the University of Queensland shows that fennel can boost sexual arousal and desire in women and raise their oestrogen levels. When taken by women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, 46 per cent of women enjoyed a significant reduction in the size of their ovarian cysts and in 36 per cent, the cysts disappeared completely, while 71 per cent enjoyed the return of a regular menstrual cycle, shows research at the University of Houston.

The golden-brown fenugreek seeds have mucilaginous properties, so they can heal and protect the lining of the gut, reducing inflammation, reflux, constipation and appetite. Fenugreek also contains fibre and amino acids, including isoleucine, which stabilises blood sugars, increases insulin sensitivity and reduces risk of diabetes type 2.

Fennel reduces joint pain and kidney stones caused by build-up of plant chemicals called oxalates from foods like kale, soy milk and sweet potato. It also lowers cholesterol and contains steroidal saponins that prevent your body from absorbing harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Plus, it’s a heart-booster, due to potassium levels, which help to balance your levels of sodium and stabilize both heart rate and blood pressure.

To make fenugreek tea, lightly crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle and steep in boiling water. Or add crushed fenugreek seeds to herbal teas. Cross-reactions to fenugreek, such as rashes or anaphylaxis, may occur in people who are sensitive or allergic to peanut. Fenugreek may also be a mild laxative — so use in small doses if you are prone to digestive upset.

Ginger

A relative of cardamom and turmeric, ginger has been used throughout history to boost digestion and circulation. Studies have shown that ginger compounds accumulate in the digestive tract, which may be why it is so powerful in helping to soothe nausea, morning sickness, motion sickness and digestive upset. Plus growing evidence shows that ginger may inhibit the growth and spread of estrogenic cancers of the breast and ovaries as well as other types of cancer.

Gingerols, which are the active component of the thick, knotted rhizome root of the Zingiber plant, have potent anti-inflammatory actions. Gingerols also inhibit an enzyme called COX-2 (cyclooxygenase), which causes inflammation, and they relieve pain by blocking pain receptors in the brain, which respond to heat and acidity. Research shows that ginger can also reduce asthma symptoms (it is a natural bronchodilator, helping dilate constricted airways) and it can help alleviate arthritis pain. If you’re suffering sore muscles, daily intake of ginger can reduce the pain by 25 per cent shows research from the University of Georgia. Buy ginger tea in loose-leaf form or add fresh ginger root to hot water or other herbal teas.

Green tea

Is a star performer when it comes to health benefits. A growing body of research shows that green tea:

  • Can rapidly improve the function of endothelial cells which line the circulatory system; this benefits bloodflow, heart health and also reduces blood pressure
  • Contains potent polyphenols, which can help heal skin cells, improving skin condition and aiding the healing of skin wounds, according to research from the Medical College of Georgia.
  • Is rich in antioxidants called catechins, which can help boost bone density and improve the health of teeth and gums.
  • Contains catecholamines. Research at the University of Sydney has shown that catecholamines help to stimulate further fat burning if green tea is consumed soon after an exercise workout
  • Boasts a phytochemical called (EGCg), epigallocatechin-3-gallate, which has powerful anti-inflammatory impacts that help combat rheumatoid arthritis, according to research from Washington State University. EGCg may also help reduce allergy reactions such as watery eyes and sneezing, shows Japanese research from Kyushu University.
  • May help reduce risk of oral cancers, pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer. Scientists at Purdue University have found that EGCg inhibits an enzyme that cancer cells use to multiply. Numerous trials are now underway throughout the world, to see if EGCg can be harnessed to halt the growth of cancer tumours.
  • Could help improve memory and also protect against dementia.

Kombucha

This fermented tea is brimming with healthy bacteria. It is made by adding a scoby (which looks like a mushroom and contains healthy bacteria), with ingredients such as sugar or rice malt syrup with tea and filtered water. During the fermentation the bacteria uses the sweetener as food.

To maximise your cuppa, choose a loose-leaf variety and steep it for three to five minutes to extract up to 85 per cent of the flavonoids.

Boosting healthy bacteria with fermented food can be extremely beneficial for gut and overall health. Helpful bacteria helps you digest and break down your food, absorb and utilise nutrients and lines your digestive system, providing a frontline of defence against dangerous bacteria that could cause illness or disease. The more varied your bacteria profile, the better your health. Research is now linking unhealthy bacteria to all manner of health conditions including weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes and depression. Scientific evidence suggests that bacteria may influence the foods you crave, by changing the function of your taste receptors and also sending signs to your brain about what it wants to eat. In light of this, maintaining a healthy bacterial balance may also prove the secret to eating less and losing weight.

Bear in mind though, that kombucha tea can be high in yeasts, so if you have issues with candida you would be better to choose a drink such as kvass (a fermented beetroot beverage) to boost your bacteria levels.

Lavender

Historically, herbalists and healers have used lavender to relieve all manner of ailments, from migraines, depression, anxiety and stomach aches, to hair loss and infertility. Lavender is a balancing tonic, which can reduce the levels of bad bacteria so that you absorb nutrients more effectively and experience less digestive upsets, such as gas and bloating. Taken internally as a tea, lavender may help to lower the risk of gastric ulcers. It can reduce indigestion by stimulating the body’s production of digestive juices and bile. It also helps settle acidity in an anxious stomach while it’s antispasmodic effects benefit the sensitive nerves in your digestive system, reducing the likelihood of nausea, cramps and tummy pain or distension.

Lavender tea can also act as a tonic for a jittery nervous system and lead you to a more sedate and still state of mind. Research comparing the use of lavender to sedating benzodiazepine medication for anxiety, has found it provides equal benefit, minus the side effects of the medication, which may include tiredness, trembling, dry mouth, nausea and addiction. Lavender can also help promote skin healing and better quality of sleep.

To make fresh lavender tea, add lavender flower bulbs to a tea ball and infuse for 10 minutes or longer in hot water. Blocked nose? Then inhale the steam while your tea is steeping. Research involving small sample groups has shown that when inhaled, lavender can help relieve symptoms of nasal congestion for up to two hours. This potent purple flower also has antiseptic properties, which can reduce symptoms of a sore, tickly, inflamed throat.

Lemon and lemongrass

In many cultures, lemongrass is served as an after dinner drink to benefit digestion. Lemon tea is rich in vitamin C and bursting with flavanols and flavanones. These natural antioxidants neutralise the effects of disease-causing free radicals and in the process, lessen risk of diseases like cancer. One particular flavonoid called naringenin can combat weight gain by reducing bad LDL and triglyceride levels and normalizing blood sugars, reducing the risk of developing insulin resistance, which leads to Type 2 Diabetes.

Flavonoids also reduce the risk of blood clotting, helping to improve bloodflow through the arteries. The limonoids in lemons can be protective against cancers of the mouth, skin, lung, breast, stomach and colon. Antioxidants in citrus fruits, such as hesperetic are also very powerful in helping to protect cells from damage as they age.

Liquorice

Liquorice has a strong aniseed flavour. It has adaptogenic properties, which means it can help to adapt to your body’s needs and balance stress hormones and sex hormones, as well as boosting energy. Liquorice tea can also:

  • Act as a mild laxative
  • Help boost energy (so is best avoided at night)
  • Reduce adrenal exhaustion and act as an antacid.
  • Reduce inflammation via chemicals called amorfrutins, which also help reduce blood sugar (thereby lowering insulin levels).
  • Be used as an expectorant to help reduce coughs and spasm during conditions like bronchitis.
  • Protect the lining of the stomach –so it can help reduce heartburn and dyspepsia. Research by the University of Maryland has shown that in 90 per cent of people with peptic ulcers, liquorice root eliminates or partially relieves their symptoms.

Mediterranean teas

Though black European teas were not served in the traditional Mediterranean diet, herb teas were regularly enjoyed, to boost health. Sage tea is still very popular in these countries and studies are now confirming that it is very good for brain health and memory. Another popular beverage called mountain or shepherd’s tea, was made from the Sideritis herb (also called ironwort) and attributed with health properties. Studies indicate that mountain tea may help improve gastrointestinal health and help lower blood pressure by encouraging blood vessels to relax.

Matcha

The word “matcha” means “rubbed” or “ground”. It is the name for this bright green tea that contains the entire leaf, which has been stone-ground to a fine powder. It is used in Japanese tea ceremonies and has been utilized by Buddhist monks to help them stay relaxed but alert during long meditation sessions. Matcha tea is high in L-theanine, which helps to boost calming alpha waves in the brain and supports the production of dopamine and serotonin – two neurotransmitters that enhance mood, improve memory and promote better concentration. It also increases T cells, which enhance immunity.

Matcha is made from the tips of tea bushes grown under the shade of bamboo mats, which protect its levels of chlorophyll, the pigment that gives plants their green colour. Chlorophyll has an alkalizing effect on the body and is a natural detoxifier, which can help the body breakdown and eliminate chemicals like hydrocarbons, DDT, PCB, mercury, cadmium and lead.

Like all bitter herbs, dandelion is a strong digestive stimulant so it can help enhance your absorption of nutrients, relieve indigestion and settle nausea.

Powerful antioxidants called catechins in matcha tea, encourage good blood flow and improve the health of vascular cells in the heart. They promote healthier teeth and gums (reducing inflammation in the body) according to research by the University of Fukuoka in Japan. Research has shown that they also boost exercise endurance and encourage a reduction in body weight, waist circumference, body fat and subcutaneous fat (often found around belly and thighs). One cup of matcha can provide up to 10 times the amount of catechins found in other green teas and it can provide energy that sustains for hours.

Enjoy matcha tea hot or as a refreshing cool drink. Research shows that when steeped in cold water for two hours, green tea yields even higher levels of antioxidants. Or you can create a coconut infusion by adding matcha powder to coconut water.

Peppermint

The menthol oil in peppermint tea has many health benefits. It can relieve sinus problems and cold symptoms and stimulate better gall bladder function. It is also great for oral health and alleviating bad breath. Research at the University of Cincinnati has also found that when infused into the air, peppermint can help boost alertness and concentration. So when you pour your peppermint cuppa, make sure to inhale the mentholated steam.

Peppermint tea is best known for its ability to settle digestive issues, which is why people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome often find it incredibly soothing. Mint has carminative properties so it can help reduce the tummy spasms that contribute to IBS and also relieve other symptoms of IBS such as bloating, wind, diarrhoea and pain. In fact, research by the Nerve-Gut Research Laboratory at the University of Adelaide has shown that peppermint helps activate “anti-pain” channels in the colon. If you have reflux though, the relaxing impact may cause the valve at the top of your stomach to relax too much, allowing acid to reflux into the oesophagus.

Raspberry leaf

American Indians, including the Chippawa and Cherokee used the raspberry plant as a blood tonic and remedy for digestive problems, toothache, coughs, fluid retention and kidney stones. The juice from the berries has also been used as a laxative and a treatment for fever and cystitis. Raspberry leaf tea is packed with vitamins including A, B, C and E. It also boosts your levels of potassium, phosphorous and calcium. The shoots of the plant have antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-cancer actions, shows research from the Medical University of Gdańsk. They are rich in ellagic acid, and alter oestrogen metabolism, reducing hormonal oestrogen-fed cancers, shows research from the University of Louisville.

Though it is not recommended in the first trimester of pregnancy, traditionally, raspberry leaf tea has been prescribed in the last trimester, when it is taken to strengthen and tone the uterus, to help it become more supple and flexible in readiness for childbirth.

High levels of natural tannins, give raspberry leaf tea astringent properties that make it beneficial as a cleansing wash for wounds, a mouth wash and gargle to treat sore throat and mouth ulcers and a solution for a sitz bath to treat vaginal candida. Rich in flavanols, research shows these potent berry leaves can stabilize blood glucose by improving insulin sensitivity, via signalling pathways in the pancreas and liver.

Rosehip

Taken from the fruit of the rose plant, rosehips are a potent source of vitamin C. This important vitamin is beneficial for maintaining connective tissue, which is in skin, bones, teeth, gums and blood vessels. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron and copper and combat the effect of free radicals, which can cause cancer and other illness. Vitamin C may also help to reduce the common cold.

Reishi

When the frozen body of Ötzi the Iceman was found in the Alps between Italy and Austria in 1991, the 5300-year-old mummy carried two species of medicinal mushrooms. Their healing properties have been revered for thousands of years in China, Japan, Korea, and Eastern Europe, including Russia and Siberia.

Reishi is known as “the elixir of mortality” and grows mostly on hardwoods like maple, elm, oak and plum. It has a shiny fan-shaped cap, a woody texture and grows in a variety of colours including red, yellow, purple, blue, white and black. In Asia, reishi has long been credited with the ability to support the immune system, address allergies, reduce heart arrhythmias, boost energy and memory and prevent altitude sickness. Research shows it can help regulate blood sugars. In turn, this reduces risk of weight gain, which can lead to hormonal imbalance due to an increase in fat cells, which pump out additional oestrogen.

Reishi mushrooms contain polysaccharides, which help stabilise blood pressure and blood sugars and combat free radicals. They are also rich in triterpenes, which can help activate white blood cells to protect the body. Research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre has shown that reishi has a powerful ability to cause death of cells that cause leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma cancer. Other studies show it suppresses the growth of colon cancer cells and breast cancer cells. Reishi tea can be made by steeping the mushrooms in hot water or be bought ready-made at the health food store.

Tilia (linden flowers)

If you want a warm and soothing tea to melt away the stress of your day, a cup of tilia tea is a tasty way to unwind. Known for its sedative effects on the nervous system, this infusion is made from flowers of the Linden tree (Tilia spp.) and boasts potent calming properties. It can help ease anxiety and induce drowsiness in readiness for sleep. It’s often combined with dried leaves of chamomile, valerian, passionflower and skullcap, to enhance the relaxing effects of sleepy teas.

According to popular myth, the trees that bear the tilia flower store the sun’s warming rays in their honey-sweet blossoms. In Europe, healers and herbalists have used the dried leaves of the tilia flower for centuries to treat everything from cold and fever to high blood pressure, headaches and muscle spasms. The flavonoids in tilia tea help improve immunity and reduce inflammation.

Tulsi

This aromatic herb, often called “holy basil”, is considered sacred in India where it is known as an “elixir of life” and “the Queen of herbs”. For centuries, it has been used as a treatment for everything from asthma, bronchitis, arthritis and anxiety to indigestion, malaria, fever and eye disease. Consumed as a nourishing tea, it lowers stomach acid and increases protective mucous secretions, helping settle digestive complaints. And its methanol extracts have analgesic properties, which can relieve backpain and headache.

An herbal adaptogen, tulsi tea helps restore hormonal balance and homeostasis by supporting body systems that affect hormone and energy production, immunity and cardiovascular, respiratory and lymphatic function. This makes the tea a powerful calming tonic to counter adrenal burnout and stabilise your parasympathetic and autonomic nervous systems. Research has confirmed that it can reduce stress, anxiety and depression as well as improving sleep and reducing exhaustion.

In your liver, tulsi tea enhances bile synthesis, and in your pancreas, where insulin is produced, it protects the islet cells from free radical damage, reducing diabetes risk. Research has confirmed that this wunderherb can also stabilize blood glucose levels, lower blood pressure and lower bad LDL cholesterol.

In addition, holy basil is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It is packed with phytochemicals, which boost your heart health and defend your body against disease. Extracts from holy basil leaves can stop the growth and spread of breast cancer cells and interfere with their life cycle, shows research from Wayne State University.

To enjoy tulsi herb as a tea, steep the tea or fresh holy basil leaves in hot water for at least five minutes. The resulting beverage can be enjoyed hot or cold. Holy basil is a mild anticoagulant, so should not be taken by people on blood-thinning medications and should be avoided several weeks before surgery.

Valerian

This is one of the top tea choices for inducing faster sleep onset and improved sleep quality. It has long been used throughout Europe to treat anxiety, nerves and insomnia. Valerian is often mixed with other calming, sleep-inducing tea leaves including passionflower, skullcap and tilia flower. Though it is not widely studied, scientists believe that valerian increases the amount of GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) in the brain, inducing calm and relaxation.

Flavour boost

Feel like a little extra flavour burst in your favourite tea? Try adding:

  • A dash of honey, rice malt or maple syrup
  • Peel from fruits such as lemons, oranges or limes
  • Sprigs or herbs such as rosemary, mint, sage or basil
  • Spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, cumin or some sliced ginger or turmeric root
  • Loose leaves from another tea, for example mix some lemon tea with ginger or chamomile with raspberry leaf
  • Additional flavours such as vanilla seeds, lemon grass or fresh berries


 

Stephanie Osfield

Stephanie Osfield is an award-winning freelance health journalist. She is an advocate of nutritional medicine and specialises in all aspects of health, from exercise and disease prevention to stress, depression and women’s health issues.