With a humble teabag promising everything from a good night’s sleep to protection against colds, Jenna Farmer delves into the science behind the power of herbs, and the benefits that switching to herbal tea may bring
From ginger to peppermint, turmeric and chai, herbal tea has had a steep rise in popularity. With many being caffeine-free, and offering numerous health benefits when compared to your average cuppa, embracing the herbal trend could be a healthy swap to make this month. As herbalist and naturopath Louise Westra notes: “Many herbal teas are a wonderful way of adding additional nutrients to our bodies.”
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular offerings, and explore why adding them to your diet may be a good idea.
Best for bloating: peppermint and fennel
A simple cup of peppermint tea is worth a try for anyone dealing with digestive discomfort, such as the bloating that often accompanies irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Peppermint oil has been proven to help with abdominal pain and other IBS symptoms, making it a great after-dinner drink option if you’ve over indulged. Nutritional therapist Uta Boellinger explains: “Peppermint is great after a meal to help the digestive process and may reduce bloating.”
Another option to beat the bloat is fennel tea, which is thought to relax your muscles (including those in the digestive tract), so it can act as an antispasmodic and help with tummy discomfort and flatulence. A study published in the Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases found that combining fennel oil with turmeric brought a significant reduction in IBS symptom scores, and led to more than 25% of participants with IBS being symptom-free.
Try: Sweet Mint and Fennel ‘Digest’ Infusion Tea Bags, £3 (uk.ahmadtea.com) – a blend of mint, liquorice, and fennel to promote good digestion.
Great for battling colds: echinacea or ginger
Do you always seem to get ill at this time of year? While it’s not a miracle worker, the herb echinacea may be worth trying if you want to decrease your chances of getting a cold in the first place. “Echinacea seems to be better at preventing a cold rather than treating it,” explains herbalist Louise Westra. One study from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found some types of echinacea could reduce the risk of catching a cold by between 10–20%.
However, if you’re currently battling the sniffles, ginger might be a better option. Known for its antioxidant properties, ginger is thought to help with everything from a sore throat to a fever, and the common cold. “Ginger is one of my most recommended herbal teas for colds and infections in general,” says nutritionist Uta Boellinger. “It’s key constituents possess potent anti-inflammatory benefits.”
Try: Twinings Defence Green Tea, £2.69 (twinings.co.uk) – a combination of green tea, ginger, and echinacea root with added vitamin C.
Great for a good night’s sleep: chamomile
The herb chamomile is thought to help with everything from skin issues to ulcers, but its tea is specifically touted for its mild sedative effects – making it ideal for helping you unwind before drifting off to sleep.
“Chamomile is a good option as a herbal tea for sleep; it’s a mild tranquilliser or sleep-inducer, which may be attributed to a component called Apigenin – this binds to receptors in the brain that help to reduce anxiety and initiate sleep,” explains herbalist Louise Westra.
But does it work? Evidence seems to suggest it can really help, with one study in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion showing that consuming it for four weeks significantly improved sleep quality, while another found it decreases the time it takes you to drift off.
“Classic chamomile really does the job – a great combination is passionflower and valerian,” adds nutritionist Uta Boellinger. “Both have a mild sedative effect so can be great for relaxation and also may help with insomnia.”
Try: Deckchair Dreaming Tea, from £3.30 (birdandblendtea.com) – a mix of chamomile, valerian root, and rosehip.
Best for monthly cycle support: rose and raspberry
While you might want to reach for coffee to help with period fatigue, some experts believe that caffeine may actually make period cramps worse because it mildly constricts your blood flow, which makes cramps seem even more painful. A good swap during this time in your cycle is rose tea, which has been shown to reduce menstrual cramps and the anxiety many get around their period.
Raspberry leaf is thought to tone the muscles of your uterus, which is why it’s often recommended in the final stages of pregnancy. However, this may also mean it’s helpful for menstrual cramps and balancing your cycle in general. Raspberry leaf tea is also high in iron – which many find themselves low in during their monthly bleed – and has a diuretic effect that may also help with premenstrual bloating.
Try: Oh my Flo Wellness Tea, £6.49 (ourremedy.co.uk) – a blend of rosehip, raspberry leaf, and goji berries.
“Some experts believe that caffeine may actually make period cramps worse because it mildly constricts your blood flow, which makes cramps seem even more painful”
Best for heart health: green tea and hibiscus
Who would have thought a cuppa could have cardiovascular benefits? A Japanese study found that those who drank five cups of green tea a day were 26% less likely to die from a heart attack.
“Green tea is well-researched and packed with a catechin called EGCG, which has been shown to have a positive effect for the cardiovascular system by improving circulation, potentially lowering blood pressure, and reducing LDL cholesterol,” explains Louise Westra, adding that hibiscus is another good option. “It’s been shown in research to support healthy blood pressure levels.”
While these can’t replace all the other stuff we need to do to keep our heart healthy – such as following a good diet and exercising – they may be a good option for those working on their blood pressure and cholesterol.
Try: Twinings Heartea Infusion, £2.69 (twinings.co.uk)
There’s no doubt that herbal tea can bring real benefits, but it’s also important to remember that no teabag can replace a healthy lifestyle. “I absolutely don’t support herbal teas which claim to support weight loss, ‘burn fat’, or boost metabolism. There is no scientific evidence to support any of these claims,” adds nutritionist Uta Boellinger. However, many herbal teas are a great way to cut down on your caffeine intake, and to easily incorporate the power of herbs into your diet.
To learn more about herbal tea, or connect with a nutritionist, visit nutritionist-resource.org.uk