We all are likely to enjoy a hot cup of tea, or herbal infusion, at least regularly, if not on a regular basis. But what are the most essential health benefits that most of these soothing teas can give us? For your wellbeing, read on to learn more about the top teas.
“Tea started as a medication and grew into a drink,” writes 19th-century Japanese scholar Okakura Kakuzo in his infamous journal The Book of Tea.
In it, he talks at length about the history of tea and the traditional Japanese tea ceremony philosophy.
Kakuzo was right: modern research on the world’s history of tea drinking reveals that this drink was initially consumed less for fun than as an aid for awareness, calling on the drinker to take slow sips and be in the moment.
Instead, as shown by Prof. Victor Henry Mair, from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) became famous for its medicinal properties in The True History of Tea, early in its history.
Camellia sinensis sinensis and Camellia sinensis assamica are the main varieties of the tea plant that are responsible for most of the tea brews we have been used to: black tea, green tea, white tea, and oolong tea.
Using various other herbs, such as Aspalathus linearis, which is best known as “rooibos” or “redbush, there are many other types of teas and infusions. We will give you an overview of the top five teas that can benefit your health in this Spotlight.”
Green tea has been celebrated for years as a favourite among tea drinkers everywhere for its medicinal properties. Some recent studies have now confirmed some of these advantages, indicating that different aspects of our wellbeing may be protected by green tea.
To start with, this drink has been discovered to boost cognitive functioning, with one study linking it to improved working memory, the sort of drink we use on a daily basis.
Researchers at the University Hospital of Basel in Switzerland found that healthy individuals who agreed to eat a soft drink containing 27.5 grams of green tea extract were more involved in working memory-related brain regions.
Participants who had consumed the green tea extract therefore had stronger communication between the brain’s frontal and parietal lobes, which are two regions involved in learning, memory, and decision-making aspects.
The health benefits of green tea have been related to its polyphenol content, which is a micronutrient with antioxidant properties. These substances, as antioxidants, can protect against the action of free radicals that cause the aging-consistent form of cellular damage.
“A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society found that by interacting with the “building blocks” that form beta-amyloid plaques, one such polyphenol found in green tea, called epigallocatechin gallate, can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
A accumulation in the brain of these plaques is characteristic of this condition and impairs the signaling of brain cells. This study indicates that epigallocatechin gallate may prevent beta-amyloid from developing into plaques, possibly helping to hold Alzheimer’s at bay.
Research led by the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute in California has shown that the metabolism of pancreatic cancer cells can be disrupted by epigallocatechin gallate, thus impairing their development.
What we refer to as “jasmine tea” is a type of drink that typically has green tea at its foundation, to which an enriched fragrance is added with jasmine flowers.
But the advantages of jasmine tea are not solely due to the tea plant’s antioxidant effects, as jasmine blooms also add their own medicinal properties to the mix.
The writers Héctor García and Francesc Miralles note in the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life that the inhabitants of a healthy, long-lived community in the Okinawa Prefecture of Japan are avid drinkers of Sanpin-cha, a special blend of green tea and jasmine.
“Okinawans drink more Sanpin-cha than any other type of tea, a mixture of green tea and jasmine flowers,” they write, suggesting that this blend may play a role in keeping Okinawa residents healthy and mentally agile well into old age. This could be because jasmine flowers contain antioxidants, like the tea plant, which can protect cells from age-related damage.
Jasmine itself has been associated with improved physical well-being and the impact of stress is said to be reduced. That is why some researchers in the search for better therapies have experimented with compounds derived from this plant.
For instance, Prof. Eliezer Flescher from the University of Tel Aviv in Israel noted that the death of cervical cancer cells is caused by methyl jasmonate, which is a compound obtained from jasmonic acid found in the jasmine plant.
And, just because you love the way it smells, if you happen to enjoy drinking jasmine tea, there is actually a good reason for that. Research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology explained that jasmine tea aroma is soothing, capable of calming nerves, and capable of helping to control mood.
Rooibos, or’ redbush tea,’ which is prepared from the Aspalathus linearis plant native to South Africa, is another type of tea with antioxidant properties.
Research has shown that the antioxidant effects of rooibos are close to, if not as effective as, green tea effects.
A recent rat model study has indicated that rooibos tea antioxidants may protect the liver from oxidative stress, helping to make this organ more resilient to induced harm.
The researchers who carried out the study noted that their results indicate that a useful health boost could be provided by rooibos tea or rooibos-derived dietary supplements.
“The results of this study indicate that the daily intake of unfermented rooibos herbal tea or a commercial rooibos supplement may benefit human health by providing an increased antioxidant ability to the liver to reduce toxicant-induced harm.”
In addition, rooibos has also been cited as helpful in reducing blood pressure and calming tense muscles, indicating that one of the flavonoids (pigments) it contains in this instance could be the active ingredient: chrysoeriol.
Rooibos does not contain any caffeine, unlike green or black tea, so it may not have the same calming effects. This makes it safe to drink well into the evening.
Many of you who enjoy a more sour brew’s refreshing taste may also be familiar with herbal hibiscus infusions, a plant whose flowers can be used not only to make invigorating beverages, but also to give salads a subtle “punch,” or as an elegant garnish for sophisticated dishes.
“Hibiscus sabdariffa, also known as the “roselle,” is the most commonly used variety.
Its calyces are typically used for tea, or more correctly “tisane” (herbal tea), although other parts of the plant are safe for consumption, such as the leaves, seeds, and roots.
Studies have shown that there are antioxidant and anti-tumor effects of extracts from the hibiscus calyx and hibiscus leaves.
They can therefore, at the cellular level, protect against the aging action of free radicals, as well as fight certain types of leukemia cells.
Hibiscus leaves, although not so commonly used to brew tea, have also been repeatedly linked to a wide range of health benefits. According to a 2015 study, the polyphenols in hibiscus leaves may therefore help to induce tumor cell death in skin cancer.
Lemon verbena tea
Another herbal tea whose medicinal properties are increasingly recognized is the scientifically dubbed Aloysia citrodora, made of lemon verbena.
It is a better-known citrus-flavored relative of a plant that has been used for years in herbal infusions: verbena or vervain (Verbena officinalis).
For those who, like me, prefer a subtler citrus aroma in their hot drinks, rather than the strong, lemony flavor of commonly commercialized citrus tea blends, infusions made with lemon verbena are perfect.
The first time that I came upon this plant sold as a tisane herb was in a local organic shop that was selling it as “weight loss tea.”
In fact, studies have shown that polyphenols can minimize the formation of fatty acids in this plant, marking its possible use in the treatment of health problems related to obesity.
‘Results show that, depending on the clinical subtype, supplementation with lemon verbena extracts can affect the cytokine [inflammation markers] profile,’ the study authors conclude.
Having a cup of your preference of tea or tisane can be an enjoyable way to carve out some time of self-indulgence and subtly stimulate your body and mental well-being.
But always bear in mind that, as the saying goes, “one swallow does not produce a summer,” and by living a balanced, healthy lifestyle, the most potent health benefits are better reaped.