It’s that time of year. On the East Coast of the U.S., it’s been rainy, cold, and generally gross outside. The days are getting shorter and darker, it’s cold and flu season, and just generally, people could use some cheering up.
May I suggest a cup of tea? It’s good for what ails you. No, really. While I could wax lyrical about the deliciousness of tea, the simple joy in the ritual of brewing a cup, letting it steep, and then adding what you wish until it’s the perfect flavor and temperature, instead what I’m going to focus on here is how different types of tea can smooth out some of the bumps in your life. (Also, if you would like to read a beautiful post about the ritual of tea, Hattie’s got you covered.) When I say “tea” here, I’m choosing to define it as “any dried plant matter you pour hot water over” ““ not just tea leaves! I’m a big fan of herbal teas and tisanes, and while they may contain little to no actual tea leaves, don’t even think about taking away my hibiscus and lemongrass tea.
Now, I’m not going to suggest tea as a replacement to any formal medicine, and it’s not as if there are NIH or Mayo Clinic studies backing up every single claim below. But between my experiences, my friend’s experiences, and thousands of years of culture in some places, I think it’s safe to say that tea does a body good, and indeed, specific types of tea can help specific issues. So what’s troubling you today?
Headache? This goes first because it’s my biggest personal issue, and it’s also what I put the most stock in. For me, if I’ve got a headache (and I frequently do) the best thing I can do for myself sometimes is brew a cup of peppermint tea. There was a period of time when I literally carried peppermint tea bags with me at all times, as they were the best, quickest way to alleviate a headache. Peppermint oil has been used as an aromatherapy treatment for headaches and stress for quite some time, so while the tea is brewing, I breathe deeply over it. And while I did say that there isn’t hard science backing up every claim here, Medline Plus, the NIH’s database, has rated peppermint “possibly effective” for use with headaches, especially tension headaches, so there is a degree of legit science backing up the idea that peppermint will make you feel better.
Indigestion? There are a variety of different ingredients you’ll want to look for if you’re turning to tea to cure indigestion. For nausea, ginger tea works incredibly well, and for an otherwise upset stomach, tea with fennel is your most solid option. Studies have shown that fennel can calm and regulate your digestive track, no matter the issue. Both peppermint and chamomile are used to calm a stomach as well, but I’m pretty sure those two teas are helpful no matter your issue.
Can’t sleep? There’s a tea for that. I am convinced that the ritual is important in this situation, as taking the time to brew and drink a cup of tea can either calm you down from the rest of your day, or distract your mind from the dreaded, “Why can’t I sleep? I should be trying harder to sleep. I must sleep NOW” stress spiral that can, ironically, keep you awake. Chamomile is the queen of the teas that will calm you and make you sleepy, as chamomile flowers contain relaxants, and drinking something hot before bed has been a time-honored effective way of getting to sleep. While the idea of sugar before bed seems counterproductive, honey apparently also induces sleep, so put a bit in your tea. Additionally, one of the more popular herbal tea companies has started selling tea with valerian root in it, a mild sedative, if chamomile by itself isn’t doing it for you. (Yes, I think of Harry Potter every time I drink valerian root tea, if you were wondering.)
Can’t wake up? Hoo boy, do I have some teas for you! All of the teas discussed above, as they’re herbal teas, contain no caffeine in their pure forms. However, actual tea, brewed from tea leaves? Tons of caffeine! Yerba MatÃ©, long popular in South America, is slowly making inroads in the U.S. as a coffee alternative. Yerba MatÃ© is technically an herbal tea, as the matÃ© plant is actually related to holly, not tea. It contains less caffeine than coffee, but considerably more than tea, so if you’re a non-coffee drinker in search of a strong caffeine hit, Yerba MatÃ© is the way to go.
But now, let’s get down to real, actual tea. Generally, there are four different kinds of tea leaves ““ black, green, oolong, and white. They all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, and their different colors come from when they’re picked, and how they’re treated. Black tea comes from leaves that have been dried, then oxidized or fermented. Green tea has not been fermented, rather, the leaves have just been dried. This explains the somewhat grassy flavor. Oolong tea is halfway between the two, being partially fermented. White tea, the mildest of all teas, is made from young tea leaves picked at specific times, and then only partially fermented. Lots of different lovely things can be mixed in with these tea leaves to create different flavors. Jasmine is frequently mixed with green tea, oil of bergamont mixed with black tea creates the citrusy Earl Gray tea, and black tea can be flavored with dried berries, fruit peels, and herbs to create complex tastes. White tea usually contains less caffeine than its more robust siblings, but all of these teas will give you the pick-me-up you may need.
Wish you were somewhere else? Steeping herbs in hot water is a near-universal human habit, and different cultures have different ways of making and enjoying their tea (or otherwise steeped herbs). Indian chai (which is simply Hindi for “tea”) has recently become popular, with its strong mix of spices such as cardamon, clove and cinnamon, combined with black tea. Masala chai is traditionally served with milk and sweetener, to counter balance the spices. Rooibos, which can also be known as red tea or bush tea, is an herbal tea from South Africa that has become popular globally in recent years. Yerba MatÃ©, as discussed above, has been a staple in much of South America for hundreds of years. And, of course, East Asia, the home of tea, has been drinking the stuff for thousands of years.
Overall health? Tea is incredibly high in antioxidants. Antioxidants may fight cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and macular degeneration, among other things. (There are studies which both prove and disprove the connection between antioxidants and preventing these illnesses, so I’m not going to definitively say that they do or don’t, because hey, science still isn’t sure.) If you want to up your antioxidant intake, though, tea is a great option. Green tea has also been shown to speed the metabolism, if that’s something you’re interested in. Caffeine-free tea is also hydrating, and we could all use a bit more hydration in our lives. Tea can also contain vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamins C, K, and E.
So do you drink tea? Do you drink it for its health benefits, its deliciousness, or a combination of the two? Did I miss any ailments that can be alleviated by tea? Let me know in the comments!