Many people associate herbal teas with medicines, and sometimes rightly so. But not all plants created equal, and even though they all possess some medicinal – or rather beneficial for human health – action, some herbs are better used only in healing, while other can be taken more or less safely as part of a healthy diet.
I say ‘more or less safely’ because even the most harmless herbal teas can prove harmful in extremely large amounts or to certain groups of people. That is why before we move onto talking about different herbs that can be taken as tea, I want to clarify who should not drink herbal teas.
You shouldn’t drink herbal teas without consulting your doctor if you:
- Have a serious disease. You must understand that as much as herbs can heal, they can also damage certain organs if misused.
- Are on any medication. Herbs can interact with drugs and either counteract their doing or produce unwanted side effects. You must be very careful and seek medical advice.
- Undergo any treatments. We do not only talk medical treatments here. It also includes such treatments as beauty treatments, UV light therapy, sun tanning and sun bathing. The reason for this is that some herbs (parsley or celery, for example) can make you photo sensitive, which means you are at high risk of getting burns when out in the sun or under UV light.
- Are pregnant. Some herbs are able to cause spontaneous abortion or harm the unborn baby. For this reason many obstetricians advise to avoid all herbal teas at all during pregnancy.
- Are breastfeeding. In general, herbal constituents may pass into your breastmilk and affect your baby, but for nursing mothers it is not the only concern. Some herbs are able to decrease the production of milk, especially peppermint and other mints. Therefore it is wise to avoid herbal teas while nursing or seek professional/medical advice.
- Are a child. Certain herbs are not suitable for children. And children younger than 5 years of age should not be given herbal or any other teas, unless indicated by a medical practitioner as a treatment.
- Are an elder. Elderly have weaker systems and are at risk to experience unwanted side effects from herbal teas.
Having said my warning, I have to add that herbal teas, at least the safest ones, are amazing. They taste good and do good to your body. They can be soothing and relaxing, or stimulating and energising. They can aid your digestion or simply lift up your mood. So if you don’t meet the above criteria, you are welcome to learn a little more about common herbal teas and their health effects.
Chamomile Tea (Matricaria chamomilla)
- Has many varieties: German chamomile, Roman chamomile, Egyptian, Hungarian, etc.
- Chamomile is relaxing, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antispasmodic and soothing for digestion. It is a perfect tea to help you unwind in the evening and prepare your body for a restoring night’s sleep. It may help alleviate headaches caused by tension as well as the tension itself, whether in the body or in your mind. It helps relieve stress and anxiety, soothe irritations, especially of throat and digestive tract.
- Cautions: Chamomile may cause severe allergic reaction in people allergic to ragweed. It should not be consumed by pregnant women as it may cause spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. It may interfere with blood thinning medication due to coumarins found in it.
- Although potentially dangerous for expectant mothers, chamomile can be taken by nursing mothers. But do exercise caution and start with a small amount and watch for your baby’s reaction.
Peppermint Tea (Mentha piperita)
- One of the most popular minty tea, but spearmint and other mints are also used.
- Peppermint is cooling and calming, it can soothe digestion and help with abdominal bloating and flatulence. Peppermint can also reduce nausea and may help alleviate some types of headaches and anxiety, due to its relaxing properties. Some also consider it effective for alleviating muscular tensions and aches.
- Cautions: Some evidence suggests that peppermint might be harmful to people with liver disease. Children should not be given peppermint as it may burn their mouth.
- Peppermint can be taken during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy, but not exceeding 2 cups. In greater amounts it could potentially relax the uterus, causing contractions and premature labour.
- Nursing mothers must avoid peppermint and any mints as they reduce the milk supply.
Fennel Tea (Foeniculum vulgare)
- Is another very soothing tea. Florence fennel is also used as a vegetable because its leaf base is swollen like a bulb. It is most often used in Mediterranean cuisines.
- Fennel tea is a great digestive, antispasmodic and anti-colic and for this reason it is often either given to infants in low doses to help with wind and colic, or taken by the nursing mother, hoping that a small amount of its soothing constituents will pass into the breastmilk. It also reduces bloating. Apart from digestive issues, fennel may soothe and help clear upper respiratory ailments. People use it for backache, bedwetting and visual problems. It is also sometimes used by women to increase lactation and promote menstruation.
- Cautions: Fennel tea should not be used in people with bleeding disorders. Because it is estrogenic, it should also be avoided in hormone-sensitive people, especially those with breast cancer, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, etc. It may cause severe allergic reaction in people sensitive to celery, carrot or mugwort.
- Fennel should not be used during pregnancy because of the estrogenic action and its ability to promote menstruation.
- Although it has been long used by nursing mums, current recommendations say that fennel is possibly unsafe for the infants of nursing mothers, since there have been two cases of nerve damage in infants after their mothers drank tea containing fennel.
Ginger Tea (Zingiber officinale)
- Ginger root is a rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale and is closely related to Turmeric and Galangal, much favoured in Indian and Thai cuisines respectively.
- Ginger tea is effective for nausea of any kind, including post-operative and post-chemotherapy nausea and morning sickness. It may be effective for arthritis.
- Cautions: Ginger is generally safe, but it can cause allergic reaction, especially in the form of a rash, it can also cause upset stomach, heartburn, gas and bloating. Ginger may interfere with anticoagulants, such as aspirin or warfarin, enhancing their effect and increasing the risk of bruising and bleeding. It may also be unsafe for people with gallstone disease, because ginger increases the flow of bile
- Ginger is possibly safe to use in pregnancy, the studies have found no harm. However, its safety has not been established officially.
- There is currently no reliable information whether it is safe to use ginger while breastfeeding.
- Is a daily-like purple flower, commonly called Purple Coneflower.
- Echinacea may help boost immune system and help fight common cold and flu viruses and relieve their symptoms, like sore throat.
- Cautions: It is not suitable for prolonged use; prolonged stimulation of immune system may just as well exhaust it. It also should not be taken on empty stomach. Taking Echinacea in amounts greater than recommended may be dangerous. It may cause allergic reactions, upset stomach and nausea. It may interfere with medication, alcohol and smoking. Do not use Echinacea if you suffer from any of the following conditions: Tuberculosis, any autoimmune disorder (e.g. Lupus), multiple sclerosis (MS) or AIDS.
- Echinacea should be avoided in pregnancy, as there is no reliable information on its safety.
- It is possibly safe to be used by nursing mothers, but if so, it is to be used with caution.
Hibiscus Tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
- Deep crimson-coloured tea, made from the sepals of the Hibiscus flower. It has a tart flavour and is widely used in Sudan. It is considered to be a great thirst-quencher.
- Hibiscus tea may lower blood pressure (as most sour/tart things do).
- Cautions: Hibiscus is considered to be generally safe, but can be toxic to liver in large doses. Because it has the potency to lower blood pressure, it should be avoided by people with low blood pressure or on antihypertensive medication. It may decrease blood sugar levels, so it is to be used with caution or avoided at all by people with diabetes or post-operations. There is also a risk of allergic reaction.
- Hibiscus should be avoided during pregnancy, as some evidence suggests that it could cause miscarriage by promoting menstruation.
- There is no reliable information for breastfeeding mothers, so staying on the safe side is advised.
Rose Hip Tea (Rosa rugosa/Rosa canina)
- Rose hip teas very high in vitamin C, so it may be effective for preventing cold and flus as well as vitamin C deficiency. It is beneficial to people with osteoarthritis and can reduce pain and stiffness. It may slightly reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels in obese people. Some people use it to reduce mild fevers, but the evidence of its effectiveness is insufficient.
- Cautions: Rugosin E may slow blood clotting; avoid or seek medical advice if suffering from bleeding disorders. For the same reasons it should be avoided before surgeries and surgical procedures. It can increase Iron absorption so caution should be exercised in people with hemochromatosis or anaemia. Large amounts of vitamin C may increase the risk of kidney stones.
- No reliable information exists on its safety for nursing and expectant mothers, so it is advised to not consume rose hips in amounts higher than normally found in foods.
Red Raspberry Leaf Tea (Rubus idaeus)
- RRL has been commonly used for centuries for expectant mothers. The evidence is mixed, but it is possibly effective for toning the uterus, which may make the active stage of labour shorter and easier. It is also said to increase milk supply in nursing mothers and help the uterus bounce back faster after childbirth. It is high in vitamin C, so it can be used in prevention of colds and flus, as well as vitamin C deficiency.
- Cautions: RRL tea should be avoided by people with hormone-sensitive diseases, such as breast, ovarian and uterine cancers, and uterine fibroids.
- Some health professionals advise against the use of RRL tea in the 1st and 2nd trimesters of pregnancy, but in most cases it can be safely used in the 3rd trimester, although it can increase the amount of Braxton hicks contractions. It is better to be safe and avoid the use of RRL if you have a hypertonic uterine dysfunction or a placenta praevia.
- RRL during breastfeeding appears to be safe and may promote milk supply.
Rooibos Tea (Aspalathus linearis)
- Also called Red Bush tea, it is native to South Africa and comes from a broom-like bush. The reddish-brown colour of the tea is produced as a result of oxidation. Unoxidised green tea variety also exists.
- Although it is now sold alongside other common Camellia sinensis teas, Rooibos does not contain caffeine and is much lower in tannins than Camellia sinensis teas. It is also high in polyphenols.
- In South Africa, it is traditionally used to relieve allergies, eczema, asthma, headaches, insomnia and hypertension. It can be given safely to children and pregnant women. The antioxidants in Rooibos fight free radicals, thus possibly protecting from cancer, premature ageing and other diseases, such as heart disease. Rich in Calcium, Manganese and Fluoride, it promotes healthy bones and teeth, while an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory Quercetin fights free radicals, lowers blood pressure and promotes a healthy heart by preventing LDL (low density lipoprotein, or simply bad) cholesterol from attaching to artery walls and increasing HDL (high density lipoprotein, or good) cholesterol. For people with diabetes, it can help balance blood sugar and increase glucose utilisation while also increasing the production of insulin in the pancreas. In small children it is able to aid with wind and colic. Without the oxalic acid that is present in regular black tea, Rooibos is great for kidneys and does not contribute to kidney stones development. It is truly one of the safest herbal teas out there, but there is one downside.
- Cautions: Since it is so powerful with its phenolic content, it may interfere with certain medications and diseases. One being chemotherapy. It has an estrogenic effect and should not be used in people with breast cancer and other hormone-related cancers. With existing kidney and liver conditions it may also do more harm than good, so it is advised to avoid Rooibos tea in those cases. Overall, it should be used as prevention and not cure for diseases.
- Rooibos tea is safe to be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Verbena Tea (Verbena officinalis)
- Long associated with supernatural forces, Verbena, or Vervain, has been called by many names, including ‘Holy herb’.
- Verbena is calming, mildly sedative and antispasmodic herb. It may be found in evening and night time herbal tea blends. It may relieve tension and stress, help with depression, alleviate headaches and migraines. It promotes menstruation and increases the milk secretion in nursing mothers. People use verbena to alleviate colds, upper respiratory ailments, coughs and nasal congestion.
- Cautions: Verbena should not be used during pregnancy because it may cause miscarriage or abortion.
- Verbena might be safe during breastfeeding, but there is no sufficient information.
Tulsi Tea (Ocimum Tenuiflorum)
- Also Ocimum Sanctum, or Holy Basil. This tea is becoming increasingly popular and can be found on the shelves of supermarkets. It has been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years.
- The chemicals found in Tulsi can lower blood sugar, which is of benefit in diabetes and pre-diabetes. It may reduce anxiety, stress and depression and promote sleep. It has been used for common colds, headaches, upper respiratory infections and other illnesses, but there is not enough sufficient information on its effectiveness.
- Cautions: Long-term use (over 6 weeks) might not be safe – more information needed. The use of Tulsi before surgeries (at least 2 weeks prior) is discouraged due to possible issues with blood clotting.
- There is not enough information on Tulsi’s safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so avoidance is advised.
If I missed any tea that you would like to know about, please do not hesitate to leave a message. Teas – herbal or not – are an extremely broad topic and cannot really be discussed in one sitting.
All of the above information is taken from medical and scientific sources, such as:
Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only. It must not be used to diagnose and develop a treatment plan. I do not advise taking any herbal or regular teas without seeking medical advice first, therefore I cannot be held liable for any side effects as a result of the use of the herbal products mentioned above. If you decide to put any of this information into use, you are doing so voluntarily and at your own risk.