Do herbal teas actually work?
Jo Chipchase tests a range of herbal tea infusions that promise to boost our health and wellbeing
By Jo Chipchase
When I was growing up in Newcastle during the ‘70s and ‘80s, my Mum would invariably invite family members over for a ‘nice cup of tea’. Increasingly, as I progressed through my teenage years – and towards a phase of hiding alcopops behind the bedroom curtains – I didn’t see what was so ‘nice’ about a pale, greyish-brown vessel loaded with milk and sugar.
Perhaps longer than some now, it took me another two decades to discover that tea wasn’t just a wishy-washy drink brewed by older ladies, and that there was a whole world of fascinating teas – or infusions – that have different functions and benefits for women’s health.
I started browsing speciality teas in supermarkets and health stores and became interested in products that claim to ‘help diet’, ‘aid relaxation’, ‘detox’ and ‘perk you up’, as well as the more commonplace vairants such as green tea, mint, turmeric, and lemon with ginger.
While green tree is a ‘true tea’, brewed from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant – as are white, black and oolong variants – most herbal teas are made from dried fruits, flowers, spices, and herbs. Many have been used as natural remedies for hundreds of years. As well as containing vitamins and anti-inflammatories, they have antioxidants to help us detox and slow the ageing process.
This all sounds great, but do these speciality teas really work or is it just a cynical marketing ploy? To test this out, I bought enough packs to sink a clipper ship and drank functional infusions during a week-long tea binge.
Typically contains: Fennel, peppermint, lemon, ginger, dandelion root, cardamom, cinnamon, burdock, nettle, aloe vera, turmeric, senna, black pepper, cloves.
Taste: Varies widely between brand. Twinings Detox tea has a sharp under-taste, especially when cooling down. In comparison, Lidl’s ‘Wellness’ range Detox teabags are delicious!
Purpose: To help rid the body of toxins.
Verdict: Some brands of this tea are more like ‘digestive’ infusions, while others contain senna and have a noticeable flushing effects.
HLN Recommends: Yogi, Organic Detox, £2.59 (for 17 bags)
TO BOOST ENERGY & MENTAL FOCUS
Typically contains: Ginseng, mango, pineapple, vitamin B6, tulsi, hibiscus, green tea.
Taste: The brand I tried was delightfully fruity.
Purpose: To perk you up and help you think straight.
Verdict: A feasible substitute for morning coffee.
HLN Recommends: Twining’s, Focus, £2.70 (for 20 bags)
TO LOOSE WEIGHT
Typically contains: Matcha, guarana, pineapple, green tea, yerba mate, lemongrass, psyllium, rooibos, cinnamon, artichoke, elderflower, chicory, senna, horsetail, galangal, gingko, hibiscus.
Taste: It has a slightly sharp taste, but isn’t offensive.
Purpose: Increase metabolism, suppress appetite, encourage a diuretic and laxative action.
Verdict: Ingredients vary across brands. It perks you up a bit but has been often criticised for causing a flushing effect, rather than promoting genuine weight loss.
HLN Recommends: Heath & Heather, Organic Slim Tea, £2.99 (for 10 bags)
Typically contains: Lemon balm, lemongrass, orange blossom, passionflower, lavender, oat flower, chamomile, liquorice root, lime flower, Tulsi, cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, apple, vanilla, spearmint, valerian, hops.
Taste: This type of tea generally has a floral taste. The ‘Heath and Heather’ brand was delicious, with spearmint undertones.
Purpose: To encourage tranquillity and sleep.
Verdict: It has a soporific effect if drunk before bedtime.
HLN Recommends: Heath & Heather, Organic Night Time, £2.99 (for 20 bags)
TO AID DIGESTION
Typically contains: Apple, rooibos, aniseed, lemon, orange peel, spearmint, cinnamon, chicory, cardamom, tulsi, fennel, coriander, malted barley, liquorice, peppermint, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves.
Taste: Some brands have a lovely aniseed undertone.
Purpose: To aid the digestion of food.
Verdict: Definitely one to try after that long-awaited, post-lockdown family roast.
TO BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Typically contains: Turmeric, ginger, star anis, orange flavouring, liquorice root, lemongrass, galangal, nettle leaf, burdock root.
Taste: Delicious and refreshing.
Purpose: Curcumin, found in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory properties, boosts immune function and is good for liver health, amongst other benefits.
Verdict: This tea is warming on a winter’s day and quite uplifting.
Typically contains: Various types of green tea and matcha powder.
Taste: This tea tastes rather bitter/astringent. It’s not my favourite cuppa.
Purpose: Antioxidant effects – reputed to be good for liver function, brain power and heart health, as well as weight control.
Verdict: I’m convinced green tea is good for us, so would drink it again.
HLN Recommends: Pukka, Supreme Matcha Green, £2.80 (for 20 bags)
FOR A LAXATIVE ALTERNATIVE
Typically contains: Senna and citrus additions
Taste: I’ve seen online comments calling this tea ‘disgusting’. Ok, it isn’t the tastiest tea on the market, but it’s perfectly drinkable.
Purpose: To move our bowels.
Opinion: It works! Ideal after a heavy meal or if you’re feeling blocked. Just avoid it if you’re planning a motorway journey or lengthy business meeting!
HLN Recommends: Ideal Health, Laxatee, £2.49 (for 10 bags)
TO HELP YOU SLEEP
Typically contains: Valerian, twist of lemon.
Taste: Pleasant and light.
Purpose: To aid restful sleep.
Verdict: It works! You’ll be falling asleep in front of Netflix in no time.
HLN Recommends: Dr Stuarts, Valerian Plus, £2.49 (for 15 bags)
To a certain extent, functional teas do what they say they will on the box. They make a welcome addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle, as well as helping those who have over-indulged to cleanse their systems. As most of these infusions are caffeine-free, they provide an alternative to multiple cups of coffee throughout the day, which is positive. Personally, I felt quite healthy at the end of my tea-binge and won’t be swapping back my herbal infusions any time soon.
Advice for your functional tea drinking:
- Don’t exceed about 3-4 cups of herbal tea a day, especially the types that have flushing properties, as this might cause dehydration and be detrimental to your kidneys. Read the packet for instructions.
- One cup of ‘sleep tea’ is probably enough before bedtime, to avoid arising for nocturnal bathroom visits.
- With detox and diet teas, check for senna on the ingredients if you don’t want a laxative effect.
- Leave the tea bag in the cup for several minutes to achieve the full experience.