by Laura Perkowski, ND, Beaumont Integrative Medicine
Have you decided to give up or decrease coffee intake, but weeks have gone by and you still can’t seem to break the habit? Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of tea! Coffee drinker or not, there is sure to be a flavor for everyone. If you are sensitive to or avoiding caffeine, be sure that the package says “caffeine-free” before purchasing. Caffeine-free tea is often referred to as herbal tea, but to be correct, all tea is made from herbs. With the exception of green tea, all teas discussed below are also caffeine-free.
In addition to being a comforting drink, teas have a wide array of medicinal properties. Curl up with a blanket and hot cup of tea, and read on to learn more about some of my favorites.
Green Tea (Camellia sinensis)
Green tea contains theanine, which calms the nervous system. Even the caffeine-sensitive may be able to tolerate green tea, as theanine can offset the stimulating properties of caffeine. In addition to theanine, green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate. Luckily, an abbreviation for this powerful constituent exists – EGCG. Green tea is also high in antioxidants and may help to prevent the development of plaque in the arteries, which is called atherosclerosis.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
The menthol component of this herb decreases spasms, particularly in the digestive tract. It is effective at decreasing gas and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, it is a mild antimicrobial. Applied topically, peppermint tea can calm insect bites, stings, and itchy skin. Be aware that peppermint may aggravate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Traditionally, this herb was used to lift the spirits and encourage longevity. Today, it is used as a relaxing tonic. Lemon balm is a sweet, calming herb that can decrease mild anxiety and depression. It is also useful at quieting heart palpitations and easing digestive symptoms associated with anxiety. On a separate note, lemon balm is antiviral, making it a good choice for viral infections of the upper respiratory tract. Although herbal books often say that lemon balm suppresses the thyroid, there is no evidence that it causes hypothyroidism in those with normal thyroid function.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Licorice is an anti-inflammatory and soothing to mucus membranes, making it a useful tea for sore throats secondary to the common cold or Steptococcus infection (strep throat). Licorice also produces a mucus-like barrier in the esophagus and stomach, decreasing irritation associated with gastritis and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Lastly, licorice encourages the production of hormones by the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located on the top of each kidney and assist the body in adapting to stress. Licorice has the potential to exacerbate high blood pressure.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis)
Dandelion leaf is a diuretic and dandelion root is a detoxifier. Here, I will focus on the root. Dandelion root is a wonderful liver cleanser, but it also supports the gallbladder in removing waste products. When the liver becomes overburdened by waste, disease can develop, such as acne, eczema and hormonal imbalance, among others. Because dandelion root gently stimulates the release of bile from the gallbladder, drinking dandelion root tea regularly may improve constipation. Do not drink dandelion tea if bile duct obstruction or intestinal blockage is suspected.
- Chevallier, A. “Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Reference for 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments.” New York: DK Publishing Inc, 2000. Print.
- Tilgner, S. “Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth.” Wise Acres Publishing: Creswell, OR, 1999. Print.
- Yarnell, E. “Camellia sinensis (L) Kuntze (tea), Theaceae and related species. Bastyr University, Department of Botanical Medicine. 2007.
- Yarnell, E. “Melissa officinalis L (lemonbalm), Lamiaceae and related species. Bastyr University, Department of Botanical Medicine. 2007.