Herbal Tea Drinkers: Here's Your Pocket Guide To Traditional Medicinal Herbs
MARCH 22, 2021
Herbal teas have been household staples for thousands of years — but these days, as we become household staples ourselves (thank you, quarantine), the stuff is growing increasingly mainstream. We're seeing more and more varieties of iced and packaged tea in our local health food stores, celebrities are touting the benefits of various holistic botanical blends, and we're even clocking strains of wellness tea in our targeted Instagram ads.
That said, as we continue to stock our kitchen cabinets with boxed blends of jasmine and eucalyptus, do we actually know anything about the roster of herbs depicted on their labels?
For the most part, herbs used in consumer teas come from long-standing holistic traditions; they've been used as remedies throughout history. So, while scientists have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to verifying the benefits of plant medicines, we still have years of anecdotal evidence to help us make our personal, medicinal selections in the realm of herbal tea. That’s why we consulted tea purveyor Traditional Medicinals' clinical herbalist, Amber Valenzuela, for some essential info on the 29 herbs most classically found in commercial teas. Of course, everyone is unique, so be sure to talk to your doctor, herbalist, or other healthcare provider to see if these herbs are right for you:
According to Valenzuela, "digestive health is where herbs easily shine." Digestive upset can take many forms, including painful bloating, trapped gas, nausea, muscular cramping or digestive spasms, constipation, and nervous stomach. Introducing an herbal tea can be an excellent way to soothe symptoms.* "The key to supporting digestive health with herbs is first taking the time to understand what it is you’re actually feeling. Then, if you know what you're looking for, digestive teas are an excellent self-care option," she says. Below are her herbal selects when it comes to tackling run-of-the-mill tummy troubles:
"As an herbalist, when I think of seasonal wellness, I imagine several categories," says Valenzuela. "Broadly speaking, we have immune support, preparatory immune reinforcement, and support for discomfort or physical symptoms."* Here are Valenzuela's herbal recs when it comes to bolstering your seasonal defenses.
It's no secret that the mind and the body are intertwined when it comes to holistic health. So herbal approaches to relaxation can sometimes have outsized effects on how we feel, physically. "In addition to identifying and addressing the source of stressors or physical discomfort, herbs can provide a soothing buffer to help us interact with our world," says Valenzuela. Here are her go-to selects for herbal unwinding.
Keeping our energy levels high, our skin clear, and our cardiovascular system in tip-top shape is certainly a substantial undertaking. But without investing in a 17-step skin serum and a Peloton, herbal tea can be an excellent starting point. "Drinking high-quality, organic herbal tea, in and of itself is a form of self-care," says Valenzuela. "Depending on your lifestyle, there are a number of herbs that could be great compliments to one’s daily health routine."* As a first pass, she recommends beginning with the following.
*FDA Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
ILLUSTRATED BY RIVER COUSIN, DESIGNED AND ART DIRECTED BY MICHELLE K LIN
Menthol gives the peppermint plant its delightful minty scent, but the plant as a whole has been known to reduce occasional bloating, gas, and other gut unpleasantries.* "Peppermint is an herb with antispasmodic abilities, meaning it's a great ally in relaxing muscles in the digestive tract that might cause GI cramping," says Valenzuela.*
"For occasional constipation, senna is an herb traditionally used for its laxative benefits," Valenzuela explains. Senna contains chemicals called sennosides, which act on the lining of the bowel and can get things moving.*
Licorice earned its place in the “wellness tea” family thousands of years ago. The plant itself contains hundreds of compounds with roles in supporting respiratory and digestive health.*
Ginger’s origins lie in Southeast Asia some 5,000 years ago, but today, folks typically use the root to help ease symptoms from occasional tummy troubles — including motion sickness.* According to Valenzuela, ginger is also a carminative herb, which makes it a particularly potent aid for bloating.*
"Chamomile can help soothe the digestive system as well as the nervous system," Valenzuela advises.* "It would be a great choice for someone experiencing butterflies or a nervous belly."
You've likely heard this one referenced throughout medieval literature. Meadowsweet — or, less appetizingly, mead wort — is traditionally used by some to soothe the occasional upset stomach.*
Fennel is used in cuisine all over the world. The plant’s seeds and bulb have long been cited as digestion aids.* Like chamomile, it's a carminative herb, which makes it particularly helpful in moving gas along, according to Valenzuela.
Schisandra berries, native to China and the Russian Far East, are known as the “five flavor berry” because they are the only fruit to contain all five "tastes" in Traditional Chinese Medicine. These berries can alleviate periodic stomach upset and promote liver health.*
"Other organs and bodily functions support the digestive process such as the liver, kidneys, and mucous membranes," says Valenzuela. "That’s where herbs such as dandelion shine.*" Dandelion has its roots in traditional Chinese and Native American medicine, and herbalists today support its use in stimulating the liver and promoting healthy digestion.*
Elderberries are considered a popular Eastern balm for folks in need of seasonal care. "Elderberry is best consumed when you're already feeling subpar," says Valenzuela.*
"A medicinal mushroom, such as reishi, has been traditionally used to reinforce the body’s immune function and ability to adapt to stress," Valenzuela explains.* "A tea with reishi mushroom is a great one to introduce to your daily routine throughout the year in preparation of the colder months."
"Aromatic plants like eucalyptus have traditionally been used for lung and respiratory support," says Valenzuela, noting that the olfactory effects alone can help you feel refreshed.*
The flowering plant echinacea is a mixed bag of nifty active compounds, all of which are generally believed to give your immune system a boost.* Valenzuela recommends keeping this particular tea in your kitchen cabinet at all times for convenient use when you're feeling under the weather.
Rosehip, which is an accessory fruit of the rose, is often blended with hibiscus to make an absurdly delicious tea. Rosehip contains vitamin C and is often used to support the immune system during the winter months.* Plus, you can make jam and soup out of rosehip, too, if you wanna get cute.
"Demulcent herbs like slippery elm have components in them that create a 'slippery' quality when steeped in hot water," says Valenzuela. "That makes them ideal for throat support when taken as a tea."*
Valerian is a little like a sleep-aid in its benefits. This plant has been used in traditional medicines as a natural sleep-helper for thousands of years. "If you have difficulty relaxing at bedtime, an herb like valerian might be a great place to start," says Valenzuela.*
Passionflower can be a wonder herb for folks with intermittent forms of restlessness or anxiety. The stuff is pretty widely renowned for its sedative effects, and according to Valenzuela, it can be a godsend for those in need of a long, particularly restful night of sleep.*
Kanna has been a staple in South African medicine for centuries, primarily for fighting occasional
Tulsi is an herb used in Ayurveda, a medicinal system with roots in India. This member of the mint family can help support the body’s response to stress and maintain daily wellness.* "Wonderfully fragrant herbs like tulsi can help take the edge off, without sedating," Valenzuela advises.*
The roots and leaves of skullcap have been used throughout traditional medicinal practices to support stomach and respiratory health in a variety of ways. "Skullcap is a nervine herb that also has antispasmodic effects, making it a great ally for premenstrual or other muscular tension," says Valenzuela.*
This plant has been known to promote mood boosts (something we could all use at the moment).* Lemon balm is sometimes referred to as "the bringer of gladness," and Valenzuela thinks it’s the perfect plant ally for when you’re feeling down. It also has a delicious smell, and pairs well with dense pastries.
Lavender is a staple plant in a wide variety of products due to its pleasing fragrance – most of us can attest to the soothing effects of a lavender-scented candle. And in herbal medicine as well, it is often used to promote calm.*
Ah, hemp — the stuff of our modern-day teas, T-shirts, and targeted ads. If you haven’t had hemp explained to you by a born-again hippie at the health food market, know that it refers to varieties of cannabis that contain less than .3% of the phytocannabinoid known as THC...meaning, hemp is non-psychoactive and is not going to get you high. But when paired with other medicinal herbs it can support joint health, mental focus, or stress relief.*
Turmeric, curry’s main event, was introduced in India 4,000 years ago and has a long history of medicinal use in South Asia. The plant is commonly used to support digestion, the respiratory system, and inflammation associated with an active lifestyle.*
Yerba mate has been widely commercialized — and likely found in decorative bottles beside apple cider vinegar shots at your local grocery store. But its roots are in the Guaraní native culture of Argentina, where the plant’s leaves and twigs were used both medicinally and as currency. The beverage is naturally caffeinated and packed with vitamins and minerals, making it a choice option for folks looking to boost their energy, immune system, and digestion, according to Valenzuela.*
If you look up images of red clover you may be surprised to find that it is the purple-ish pink flower you dared your childhood friends to eat from your parent's backyard. Containing calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C (among others), the plant is traditionally used all over the world to aid in skin health.*
These particular berries are central to Traditional Chinese Medicine. They act as an excellent source of polyphenols, which may help cleanse the system and support cardiovascular health.* "The cardiovascular support of hawthorn might be a great companion for those with an active lifestyle," Valenzuela says.
Hibiscus is also known to support the cardiovascular system in a myriad of ways. Plus, hibiscus tea tastes incredible, and it’s an excellent option at most big-box cafés when you’re not in the mood for a mappacappafrappalappa.*
Herbalists view nettle as "the Mother of all spring tonics" because it can help kick start your body when you are feeling stagnant. Nettle is great for overall wellness, and supports joint health.*