Although I was able to speak about herbal teas on Global News, there is a lot of information I didn’t have time to include in the segment, so here is a more complete answer as to whether herbal teas have any health benefits.
What is the difference between tea and herbal tea?
Tea is anything that comes from the plant camellia sinensis. These include green, black, yellow, oolong, and white teas. The difference between the teas is how they are processed and oxidized. The process results in different colors, different tastes, different caffeine content, and antioxidant content, which is why they all have different benefits.
Herbal teas, or tisane, on the other hand are from any other plant materials including herbs and spices. Most of them don’t contain caffeine, making them a great alternative to coffee when you’re searching for something warm. The question is, do herbal teas offer health benefits like teas to?
Can Chamomile help us sleep?
If we look at herbal teas in stores, most teas that help us sleep contain chamomile. It’s not surprising as one of the compounds found in chamomile tea acts the same way as some minor tranquilizers. So in theory it should work, but we don’t have great evidence for that…
In one study with new moms, half got chamomile tea and the other half received regular postpartum care for 2 weeks. Those who drank chamomile tea did say they felt better even with the lack of sleep.
But, we have also have a study where half drank chamomile tea and the other half only had hot water. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a difference between the groups in terms of sleep. Both groups did feel calmer however. So maybe it’s not the chamomile itself, but the process of making it and having something warm?
And can it do more than help us sleep?New study shows chamomile does more than help us sleep. It can maybe lower blood sugar andd it did in a study where the participants drank 2 cups/d for 8 weeks. Now is it because they’re replacing sugary drinks with tea? We don’t know yet, but it does look promising
Milk thistle and liver toxicity
Can milk thistle help us recover from a night of drinking over the holidays because of its effects on the liver? Milk thistle is a plant that is rich in antioxidants that may protect the liver. In has increased in popularity due to this “detox” mechanism. I don’t like using the word detox as most link it to some sort of cleanse, but it adequate to use in this case as a healthy liver is what’s needed to get rid of toxins.
Some studies show it helps those with fatty liver and cirrhosis and another study claimed it was able to treat mushroom poisoning by one of the most toxic mushrooms. But these studies are in mice, not humans, and it doesn’t always correlate… Even if it does protect the liver, it doesn’t mean we can purposely attack our liver with alcohol for example thinking milk thistle will help. We don’t know enough yet, so why risk it. And even if it does help to protect the liver, we’ll get other issues from the alcohol consumption!
Peppermint and ginger for digestive issues.
You know how we often get a mint after a restaurant meal? Well it can actually be helpful as peppermint allow sphincter muscles to relax, so it’s easier to release gases. Again in animals, we see that is relaxes the digestive tract and can help with things like chronic indigestion and maybe even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Still, we don’t have much evidence in humans. It is also important to note that people with acid reflux, hiatal hernia, or kidney stones should stay away from peppermint as it could make these conditions worse.
Ginger also helps with digestion, but mainly with nausea and vomiting, which is why we even see medications made entirely out of ginger or even ginger chews. Ginger helps with nausea and vomiting because it speeds up digestion, so everything goes down faster. For it to be effective, you would need to drink about 4 cups per day.
Echinacea, colds, and our immune system.
Echinacea extract acts as an antiviral, meaning it kills viruses. In mice, it works especially well for the flu if taken BEFORE exposure to the virus. In humans, there have been some studies where people took right when they felt flu symptoms and it worked just as well an antiviral medications. But you have to drink 5-6 cups/d. There’s no harm in taking it, so why not try. Of course, if your symptoms aren’t getting better, best to try something else. But so far, it looks like it can shorten the duration of the cold, make it less intense or even prevent it.
So again, most herbal teas are harm-free, so why not try them. We don’t have great evidence, but it may offer an extra boost along with other therapies. But if you are taking medications or are pregnant or breastfeeding, always best to ask a health professional (this is especially true for chamomile where there have been some cases where it was thought to provoke uterine contractions…)