How to Choose an Herbal Tea
Disclaimer: This is not medical or personalized nutrition advice, but general education. Discuss your own nutrition needs with your healthcare provider or qualified nutritionist.
Even just thinking about it makes me feel relaxed. Tea can elevate a dreary afternoon, energize a meeting, or calm me when I’m anxious. I have a whole cabinet full of tea. Sometimes, it’s hard to choose which one to drink because I love them all!
Herbal tea is frequently recommended to my clients. Usually, we are trying to address a nutritional or organ system imbalance by gently supporting it. This is often better than attacking the problem with strong doses of supplements, and it offers a lovely ritual to promote mindfulness and reduce stress.
Here’s a delightful summary of all the things tea can do for you. I’m just addressing herbal tea, because true tea (camellia sinensis) is a whole other thing. Read on, and drink up!
When choosing a tea, ask yourself 3 things:
1) What mood am I in now?
2) What mood do I want to be in?
3) What body system(s) am I trying to support?
Some teas elevate mood, and others promote relaxation. Some teas stimulate digestion, while others calm it. And yes, some teas taste better than others. You can mix and match many of these, and I’ve included links to brands that make combinations I love. All herbal teas should be steeped in very hot water for at least 5 minutes.
Rich in vitamin K, minerals and chlorophyll, alfalfa can lower LDL cholesterol, support the kidneys and bladder, and improve clotting. If you’ve been nutrient-deprived for an extended period of time, alfalfa can help you replenish your body. Not safe if you take warfarin. It can lower blood sugar if yours is elevated, so use caution if you take insulin. Avoid if you have an autoimmune condition, or with estrogen imbalance conditions (breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer, fibroids, endometriosis). If you take birth control pills, medication that increases your sensitivity to sunlight, or medication that decreases your immune system, avoid alfalfa.
The root is used in tea, and can also be eaten as a vegetable. Burdock reduces bronchial inflammation, inhibits H. pylori adhesion and stomach inflammation, reduces oxidative stress, and decreases joint inflammation and fatty acid production. Slightly sweet and earthy, burdock mixes well with other herbs and is a great base herb for any combination. Avoid if you’re allergic to ragweed.
Fragrant and calming, chamomile is known as a tea to drink before bed. It’s also a general fix-all, great for soothing digestive upsets, reducing inflammation, and reducing anxiety. Topical chamomile is fabulous for skin conditions as well. Chamomile mixes well with other herbs and makes a great base for an herbal blend. Chamomile interacts with birth control pills, estrogen therapy, medications that use the liver’s cytochrome P450 pathway such as lovastatin and Allegra, and sedatives. As chamomile can thin the blood, it should be avoided if you take blood thinners.
Spicy and sweet, cinnamon lowers blood sugar and improves circulation. As it is rich in polyphenols, cinnamon has high antioxidant activity and is useful for improving cellular health. Drinking the tea after meals lowers postprandial blood glucose, which is helpful for people that are concerned about developing diabetes or metabolic syndrome. Use caution if you take medications that lower blood sugar or stress the liver.
Supports fat digestion by prompting bile flow from the liver, balanced blood sugar by increasing insulin production, and releases fluid retention by acting as a diuretic. No wonder it’s at the top of the list in many detox teas. Roasted dandelion root is used as a coffee substitute because of its rich, earthy flavor. Dandelion is safe for almost everyone, but if you have a ragweed allergy you might react to it. It hasn’t been proven to be safe during pregnancy, but that’s the case for most herbs.
This herb is well-known for immune support, but it can also reduce insulin resistance. While research is inconclusive as to whether echinacea actually cures colds, it does help prevent illness in general when a targeted approach is used. Short-term (less than 4 months) use will help it be more effective. Echinacea has an earthy, slightly floral taste. If you drink a lot of coffee or soda, keep in mind that echinacea slows down caffeine metabolism, which could cause sleep problems, elevated heartrate, headache, or jitteriness. You should avoid echinacea if you take immunosuppressants, medications processed by the liver, or have autoimmune disease.
Anti-inflammatory, balances blood sugar, prevents clotting, and supports heart health. Ginger also has numerous digestive benefits. The tea can reduce nausea and period cramps, improve arthritis pain, and support dizziness. Ginger is spicy and mixes well with other sweet herbs. It’s also a great balance for earthier-tasting herbs, like Tulsi/Holy Basil. Don’t use ginger tea if you have a clotting disorder or take mediation for clotting, and use caution if you take medication for diabetes or high blood pressure.
Hawthorn & Hibiscus
Supports heart health by improving circulation and reducing blood pressure. Hawthorn also reduces anxiety, and hibiscus can help you have a normal appetite. These often come together, but you can certainly drink them separately! These herbs are bright and fruity, and taste delicious iced in the summer with a squeeze of lemon. Don’t take Hawthorn if you take digoxin, blood pressure medications, erectile dysfunction medications, or nitrates. Hibiscus reduces effectiveness of acetaminophen, so drink your tea on days that you aren’t taking that medication.
One of the best herbs for stress and anxiety. Holy basil has been shown repeatedly to reduce stress response by inhibiting the release of cortisol. It can also enhance overall brain function and improve digestive and liver health. If you have high homocysteine levels, holy basil tea may help! It improves homocysteine and lipid levels. Don’t drink holy basil tea if you take pentobarbital or medications for clotting.
This is one of my favorite teas, because it tastes delicious and has many proven benefits. Lemon balm contains rosmarinic acid, tannins, and terpenes, which have tonifying effects on the digestive system. It has ben proven to reduce depression and anxiety, improve sleep, support stress management, and improve PMS! It can also inhibit the herpes virus. Because lemon balm can cause sleepiness, you shouldn’t use it with sedatives.
Another fabulous all-in-one herb, licorice has so many benefits. It reduces swelling and supports lubrication of the mucous membranes in your throat and digestive tract, and mades a great tonic for hearburn. It also supports adrenal function good for stress management. Licorice has a slightly sweet taste and a syrupy mouthfeel, and is often used in sore throat remedies. Avoid if you have high blood pressure or elevated androgens. Licorice diminishes the effectiveness of warfarin and estrogens. It also alters the breakdown of medications in the liver, so consult your doctor or qualified herbalist or nutritionist before consuming if you take any medications.
This herb used to be used to make marshmallows, which is how the candy got its name. It’s still a favorite in the tea world, as it soothes inflamed skin and digestive tissue, reduces blood sugar, and may support breast milk production. Marshmallow may increase lithium in the body, and it inhibits absorption of all oral medications if taken at the same time.
Nettle (also called stinging nettle) supports immune function with lutein, xanthophyll, and carotenes. It has antiviral properties, reduces inflammation and allergic rhinitis, reduces insulin resistance, and supports prostate health. It can lower blood pressure and act as a diuretic, so use caution if you are on medications for these issues. Nettle stimulates uterine contractions and is unsafe during pregnancy.
These beautiful flowers also make fabulous tea. The bright floral fragrance gives way to a slightly earthy taste. Passionflower has been shown to be as effective as oxazepam for treating anxiety, with fewer side effects. I love passionflower in sleep and stress teas because it relaxes without acting as a sedative. It’s also safe for children in small doses! Passionflower stimulates the uterus and should not be used in pregnancy, but is great for supporting PMS and irregular periods. It also shouldn’t be used with sedative medications.
One of the most popular herbs for tea, peppermint is equally uplifting, energizing, and calming. It contains rosmarinic acid and other phytochemicals with anti-viral, anti-microbial, and antioxidant effects. Peppermint reduces nausea, heartburn, and gas, supports headaches and mental fog, and opens clogged sinuses. Its intense flavor is delicious by itself or mixed with other herbs. Avoid if you have diarrhea or take medications that tax the liver
This tonifying herb supports menstrual health and stimulates uterine contractions, leading many mothers to use it around the time of childbirth. It also lowers blood sugar and reduces oxidative stress, making it an excellent option for diabetes management and prevention. The earthy flavor makes a great iced tea when mixed with lemon or berries, and some tea combinations include raspberries to compliment it. No medication interactions have been established for raspberry leaf, and it is likely safe for children.
Rich in antioxidants, which support blood sugar, cardiovascular health, and skin health. Rooibos has been shown to lower blood glucose in diabetics, and protect against oxidative stress. Rooibos tea is also called “red tea” because of the reddish tint it has when steeped. It’s a great base for spiced teas (such as chai), as well as fruity blends and lemon balm. There are no known interactions.
Rosemary has astringent, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, which can be used to support digestive concerns or mild infections. Has been clinically shown to reduce inflammation markers, improve LDL and HDL cholesterol, reduce arthritic pain, improve memory, reduce depression and anxiety, and slow tumor growth. It may not be safe during pregnancy, and you should avoid it if you have an aspirin allergy seizure disorder, or bleeding disorder.
This fragrant herb promotes memory and cerebrovascular function, which is a fancy way of saying it makes your brain circulation awesome. Rich in superoxide dismutase, thujone, rosmarinic acid, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Can promote estrogen metabolism, decrease blood sugar, and normalize period cycles. Should be avoided if you are pregnant or have an estrogen-sensitive condition. Interacts with sedatives and anticonvulsants.
Calming and stabilizing, this herb is fabulous for anxiety. It is neuroprotective and can calm the stress response, supporting sleep, stress, and cortisol regulation. Often present in blends rather than on its own, skullcap has a slightly bitter, earthy taste. It has no known interactions, but should be avoided surrounding surgery as it may potentially interact with anesthesia medications.
The darling child of natural medicine, turmeric has many benefits. It’s strong anti-inflammatory effect supports sinus clarity, gut and cardiovascular health, blood sugar regulation, and normal immune activity. If you take medication for depression, turmeric can improve your symptoms even more. Taken around your period, it reduces PMS. Turmeric also reduces liver dysfunction in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Turmeric is uses in curry and has a bright yellow color which will stain whatever it touches, so use care when brewing. It can slow blood clotting, so avoid if you take clotting medications.
This pungent herb has a strong taste and strong effects. It acts as a sedative, which many people find to be a wonderful alternative to sleep medications and melatonin. Valerian supports insomnia by reducing the time it takes to fall asleep and improving sleep quality. It can also reduce hot flashes in postmenopausal women, and may improve the effects of St. John’s Wort on depression. Most people don’t like the taste of valerian and choose to take it in capsule form, but it can be found as a plain tea or in tea blends that disguise the taste. Avoid this tea if you’ve had an alcoholic drink within a few hours, or if you take Xanax or sedatives. Valerian can also decrease medication processing in the liver, so use caution if you take statins, Allegra, or ketoconazole.
This list is certainly not complete…there are many more herbal teas out there!
However, this list should get you started if you’re just getting into the world of tea, or if you love herbal tea but want to branch out a bit. Let me know what is your favorite tea in the comments!