Is there any greater comfort on a cold day than a nice cup of hot tea? It’s the perfect way to wind down, or while away the afternoon. The British believe that a “hot cuppa” can fix any situation, and much of their social life revolves around the drink. But what’s the difference between a traditional black tea and the herbal varieties that have become increasingly more popular?
What is Herbal Tea?
The defining feature of herbal tea is that it isn’t actually “real” tea. Tea comes from the tea leaf – the leaf of a specific plant known as Camellia sinensis. Herbal tea instead uses the leaves, seeds, roots, or bark of various other plants and herbs.
If you’re trying to avoid the caffeine that’s found in coffee and black tea (and to a lesser extent, green tea), then herbal tea can be a great substitute.
Caffeine-free herbal teas are renowned for their healing properties and natural medicinal qualities of the plants from which they’re derived. Some have been used for hundreds of years to ease a wide range of ailments, from aiding sleep and digestion, to calming an anxious mind. They can also be a great source of vitamins and minerals.
You can think of herbal teas as “liquid aromatherapy,” as each herb is filled with essential oils that, rather than steaming into the air, you’re drinking instead.
Each herbal tea variety has its own unique benefits, so depending on what you seek, you can choose your “medicine.” When shopping for herbal tea, read the ingredients carefully. Some brands will add all sorts of fillers. Seek out organic teas made with only the herb you’re looking for. Or better still, make your own at home – it’s so incredibly easy that you’ll wonder why you’ve never done it before!
How To Steep Herbal Tea
To properly steep herbal tea, you should always keep it covered. This is so all of the benefits from the essential oils are retained in the drink and not released into the air. You should steep herbal tea for at least 10-15 minutes to ensure that all the goodness is drawn out into the water.
Six of the Best Herbal Teas
1. Peppermint Tea
Peppermint tea is probably best known as a herbal antidote for digestion problems, and studies tend to agree. Research suggests peppermint is able to help soothe the muscles of your stomach and improve the flow of bile. Your body needs bile to digest fat.1,2,3
Many studies are currently focused specifically on peppermint and irritable bowel issues, such as bloating and gas. Studies have shown promising results for those with milder symptoms and more severe symptoms.
Because peppermint contains menthol, it can be a great decongestant for coughs and colds.
Menthol is commonly found in chest rubs because of its ability to thin mucus. So, it can be soothing to sip on peppermint tea when you have a sore throat or a persistent cough.4
Peppermint tea can be the perfect end to a meal. While it helps your body digest, it also cleanses your palate. However, if you suffer from heartburn, you may want to avoid it, as peppermint tends to irritate this condition.5
As one of the most commonly grown herbs, you can easily make your own peppermint tea by simply steeping the mint leaves from your own garden.
2. Ginger Tea
Ginger is chock full of antioxidants. It’s been used for centuries to calm the stomachs of seasick sailors and pregnant women alike.6 In fact, in one study, pregnant women who took 125 mg of ginger extract four times a day for four days experienced significantly less nausea.7
Ginger may also have a health benefit for chronic high blood sugar sufferers, with studies showing that 2 grams of ginger per day (which could easily be made into a delicious tea) could result in lowering fasting blood sugar by 12 percent.8
Not bad for one little root! Make your own ginger tea by steeping a piece of ginger root just as you would a tea bag.
3. Chamomile Tea
Known for its mild, sedative-like effect, chamomile is famed throughout history as a soothing, sleep-inducing herb that can help calm anxiety and ease insomnia.
These sedative effects of chamomile have been well studied. Chamomile contains a flavonoid called “apigenin,” which has a calming effect on your brain.9 In one particular trial, cardiac patients were reported to have fallen into a deeper sleep after drinking chamomile tea.10
Chamomile is one of the most popular herbal teas, but did you know that it’s actually the flower of the chamomile plant that contains all the goodness? You can make your own chamomile tea by steeping these cute, tiny, daisy-like flowers.
4. Dandelion Tea
Yup, those dandelion weeds in your garden? You can actually drink them! (However, it’s probably best to buy dandelions from a trusted source, such as your local health food store.) And, better than that, they’re full of wonderful health benefits.
Dandelion tea relies on the flowers, but for those who love coffee, dandelion root can be made into dandelion “coffee,” as the roasted dandelion root has a similar taste to coffee.
So, what’s so good about this common garden weed?
Historically, the Chinese used dandelions for purifying the blood and boosting the immune system. Arabic cultures believed that it could help liver and kidney problems.11
Today, dandelion roots are still used for many ailments, including liver problems, and as a diuretic for bloating and weight loss. Though scientific studies are still lacking, herbalists continue to turn to, and trust in, dandelion as a herbal remedy.12,13
To make fresh dandelion tea, steep about 1-2 teaspoons of dried dandelion flowers.
5. Rose Hip Tea
Rose hips are very closely related to everyone’s favorite flower, the rose. In fact, they’re the fruit of the rose plant and they’re one of the richest sources of vitamin C around. In fact, they contain much more vitamin C than oranges!14,15
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that’s essential for tissue to be able to grow and repair itself.
Furthermore, It helps your body make collagen – the protein that’s found in the connective tissue of all your body’s organs and bones. This includes your skin, where collagen works to help promote firmness and elasticity to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Vitamin C also helps your body absorb iron, which can be especially important for women, vegetarians, and vegans.16
To make your own rose hip tea, you can brew either fresh or dried hips. First, you need to slice each hip in half, and remove the inner seeds. For fresh rose hip tea, you’ll need around twice as many hips as if you are using dried. Steep about eight fresh rose hips for 15 minutes.
6. Lemon Balm Tea
If you’ve never tried lemon balm, it’s a delightfully fragrant herb. Visually similar to a mint leaf, the lemon balm leaf tastes and smells like actual lemons.
Lemon balm has been used for mood swings and anxiety dating back as far as the Middle Ages – where it was even added to wine to lift the spirits. It’s a perfect antidote for your busy, modern lifestyle.17
In studies, lemon balm has also shown effectiveness in improving insomnia, cold sores, bacterial infections, pain, and even brain function.18
Lemon balm makes an incredibly refreshing iced tea on a hot summer’s day. Brew up a big batch of freshly picked leaves, then refrigerate until your tea is icy cold.
More Than Just A Tea
Herbal tea is also beneficial because it keeps you well hydrated. A cup of tea is, after all, a cup of water. If you find it difficult to get an adequate daily intake of water, sipping on herbal tea throughout the day can easily up your water intake without the effects of caffeine or sugar. What are you waiting for? It’s tea time!
For more health wisdom from Eastern philosophies, keep reading here:
Holy Basil: The Divine Benefits of Tulsi (aka Ocimum Sanctum)
Chaga Mushroom: Looks Ain’t Everything! (3 Incredible Health Benefits + A Tea Recipe)
How to Relax Your Mind Like an Urban Monk