No one knows how long herbs and herbal teas have been a part of the human pharmacopoeia and culinary landscape.
As people learned how to use the resources of their environment, herbs became a natural part of both cooking and healing.
People on every continent and in every culture have adapted herbs for both cooking and medicinal use. The properties of many are intensified by extracting oils or drying leaves.
Early use of herbs is documented as far back as 5000 B.C. in a list of medicinal herbs on a Sumerian clay tablet.
A book from China from 2500 B.C. details the use of many herbs that are still used today. These lists suggest that the tradition of using plants for healing was already well established by the time the documents were made.
Also known as tisanes, herbal teas use elements of natural flowers, shrubs, trees and grasses in decoctions which are prepared by infusing the desired part of the plant in boiling water. This can range from seeds, flowers or leaves. Some plants must be steeped for several hours.
The decoction is then strained and may be sweetened. Many of the plants used in herbal teas can also be used for cooking and some even have medicinal and healing properties.
Today, traditional herbs and spices continue to be used in cooking and healing throughout the world. Herbs such as ginger, ginseng, lemongrass, peppermint, turmeric, cloves and cinnamon are just a few examples. .
Popular flower and fruit additions are used to flavour and enhance the health benefits of herbal teas. This includes echinacea, rose hips, hibiscus, camomile and jasmine. You can enjoy your cup of herbal tea knowing that it is not just satisfying the senses. Herbal tea can heal, soothe and invigorate the systems of the body.
What are the Health Benefits of Herbal Teas?
As cultures intermingled, traditions also blended. Traditional uses of herbs were often considered 'folk medicine', steeped in tradition but without scientific verification of the claimed health benefits.
With the increased demand of consumers for more natural, safer medicines, herbs are now being investigated scientifically. The result is that many have been found to have health benefits and have been incorporated into allopathic medicine. They may still be designated as alternative or complementary medicines, but they are taken more seriously by the medical community.
Herbs are used to complement treatments for ailments ranging from pain and inflammation to upset stomachs and irritable bowel syndrome.
Some herbs are known to affect the actions of prescription medicines. Many doctors now routinely ask what herbs patients are taking to account for possible interactions. Not all health benefits touted by advocates of herbal preparations have been substantiated by medical research.
Many herbs often used in foods and herbal teas including turmeric, anise and ginger, have antioxidant properties. Others, like peppermint, have been found to help with digestion.
Often, a new finding about the possible health benefits of a herb will make the headlines as the definitive remedy or cure for a specific ailment. This often leads to commercial interest with new products put on the market that may have health benefits. However, the most common herbs are time-tested and have been used for centuries in a balanced dietary and health regimen.
Popular Herbal Teas
It may be no surprise to find out that some of the most popular herbal teas are those that have been used for hundreds of years for their aromatic and soothing effects, as well as their health benefits.
Camomile and peppermint teas are among the most popular worldwide, followed by ginger and rooibos. Flower teas such as hibiscus and jasmine also rank high in the list of popular herbal teas.
Camomile is one of the best-known and most popular herbal teas. It has been used for centuries for its sedative and calming effects. Camomile is a member of the Asteraceae or sunflower family, one of the largest families of flowering plants.
There are various types of camomile: Roman camomile, or Chamaemelum nobile, and German camomile, or Matricaria retutica. The flowers of both types of camomile are used in herbal teas.
Camomile tea has been used to soothe an upset stomach and to help people fall asleep. Camomile has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also traditionally used to calm nerves and reduce anxiety. It contains several terpenoids and flavonoids, which may contribute to its sedative effects. Other properties of camomile may stimulate the immune system.
If you’re feeling anxious, can’t sleep or have an upset stomach, a steaming cup of camomile tea may be just what you need to relax and rest.
The refreshing aroma of peppermint tea is hard to resist, creating a feeling of cool, fresh air. This sensation comes from menthol, one of the primary ingredients of peppermint.
The herb is a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family, which includes the culinary herbs basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory and marjoram. Other members of the mint family include spearmint, lavender, pennyroyal and catnip.
Peppermint, officially known as Mentha piperita, is a hybrid of water mint and spearmint. Although it is native to Europe and the Middle East, it is grown throughout the world.
There are many health benefits associated with peppermint tea. It’s used as a digestive aid and is said to help with indigestion and nausea. Some people find that it helps relieve the symptoms of motion sickness. It is high in antioxidants which can boost the immune system. It’s also used to relieve pain, clear stuffy noses and reduce inflammation.
Peppermint has strong antibacterial and antiviral properties. Peppermint oil, a primary ingredient of the leaves used in tea, is recommended by doctors in Europe for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.
If you have a headache or migraine, a cup of peppermint tea may help. Put on the kettle and settle in for a relaxing few minutes while you enjoy the taste, aroma and cooling effect of a warm mug of peppermint tea.
Australian Lemon Myrtle Tea
Lemon myrtle, officially known as Backhousia citriodora is native to the tropical rainforests of Queensland. The tree is member of the Myrtaceae family, which includes eucalyptus, clove, bay rum and guava.
The tangy, lemon-flavoured leaves of this tree were used for both medicinal and culinary purposes by indigenous Australians. The renewed interest in the use of native plants has brought Australian lemon myrtle to the forefront as an important and tasty herb used in teas and cooking.
Lemon myrtle is known for its fresh, sweet, lemon flavour. The leaves are rich in essential oils and have the highest concentration of citral of any known plant, even higher than tea tree oil and lemongrass.
The oil in the leaves has strong antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties. Citral is also an antioxidant. Antioxidants protect the body from damaging free radicals or molecules that can weaken the immune system.
Lemon myrtle is also believed to have sedative effects, help calm the mind and reduce pain. It is rich in calcium, vitamins A, C and E and is a good source of zinc and other minerals. Some find the lemony, slightly menthol aroma and taste is a good way to soothe a sore throat or reduce the symptoms of a cold.
Enjoy the atmosphere of Australia’s tropical rainforest with a cup of lemon myrtle tea, refreshing either hot or cold.
Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, is one of the most popular medical and culinary herbs in the world with documented use going back more than 4000 years. Ginger is a member of the Zingiberaceae family, which includes cardamom, turmeric and galangal.
Native to Asia, it’s an important healing element in Chinese, Ayurvedic and Arabic medicines being used for nausea, digestion, pain, inflammation and heart conditions. The rhizome, or root, is used both fresh and dried.
Ginger has a sweet, pungent fragrance and a taste that is often blended with other herbal plants such as lemongrass and lemon myrtle for a refreshing tea. It’s often combined with black tea, clove, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon and other spices to make spiced chai tea.
Ginger is considered a warming element in Chinese medicine and is used to ‘warm’ the lungs and help soothe coughs and colds. It is high in vitamin C and important minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Warm up with a cup of ginger tea on a cold day, or enjoy the aromatic blend of ginger tea with lemongrass, lime or lemon myrtle served either hot or cold any season of the year.
Lemongrass has been used as a tea, in cooking and for healing throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America for hundreds of years.
The herb is a member of the Poaceae family, which includes cereal grasses and bamboo.
There are several species of lemongrass. The most common species used for cooking and teas is Cymbopogon citratus.
The tea helps stimulate digestion and is a mild diuretic.
Lemongrass contains vitamins A and C as well as several of the B vitamins. It also contains a powerhouse of minerals that include calcium, zinc, iron and copper.
The subtle lemon scent and taste of lemongrass make it a pleasant tea. Some people prefer it to lemon because of its sweet undertones and lack of tartness. The dried leaves used in the tea are often combined with ginger and honey for a zingy, refreshing taste. Enjoy it either hot or cold for its sweet, lemony taste and therapeutic attributes throughout the year.
As a hot beverage in winter, herbal teas soothe and comfort us and help us to relax. During summer, they can be enjoyed chilled, helping to cool us down.
Many of the herbs used in teas may have health benefits such as antioxidant properties that help rid our bodies of pollutants and toxins. Several herbs are believed to induce sleep, ease inflammation and reduce pain. Many are used to stimulate digestion and help reduce bloating.
When you shop for herbal teas, look for brands that disclose the source of the tea and how the company grows, harvests and packages its products. Purity of product, attention to growing conditions and materials used in tea bags and packaging can affect quality and taste.
As a word of caution, the components of some herbs used in teas may affect the actions of prescription medications. Be sure to tell your doctor if you are using herbal products. People who have allergies to certain plants may find that drinking teas in the same family can worsen symptoms. Pregnant women should discuss the use of any herbal tea or herbal product with their doctors to avoid possible complications.