I know A LOT of people who don’t drink water. They say they don’t like the taste. So they opt for soda, juice, coffee, alcohol, power drinks, and powdered additives to flavor their water and “make it more palatable.”
While I am definitely not against drinking other liquids, most of them are packed with hundreds of calories, artificial sweeteners, sugars, and caffeine. The human body is simply not designed to live on these things constantly.
Enter the concept of herbal infusions. Their common classification of “herbal tea” is a bit of a misnomer as they don’t contain any tea (camelia sinensis) at all. I am also not referring to sweet tea, green tea, white tea, or black tea. The proper name for herbal tea is actually an “herbal tisane” or “herbal infusion.” Most herbal tisanes that are commercially available in grocery stores, convenience stores, and even gas stations are deliciously formulated combinations of beneficial and medicinal herbs that can nourish, strengthen, hydrate, and even have an effect on our mood and physiology. Most of the time no sugar needs to be added as the herbs used are sweet and tasty on their own or a small amount of honey, maple syrup, or stevia can added to enhance the flavors.
Why drink water when you can drink herbal tea? Water replaces fluid. Which is important, but basic. Herbal tea not only replaces fluids, but it also nourishes the tissues, strengthens the lymph and blood, improves digestion and general immunity, and moderates mood and the endocrine system. There is no bodily system that isn’t affected when herbal tisanes are consumed.
In cases such as sweet tea, large amounts of sugar are added to improve the taste. Where as herbal tisanes contain several herbs and extracts that make for a super delicious combination. I’ve found that some tisane combinations only need 1 bag for a satisfyingly strong cup. Others, I definitely prefer 2-3 bags. It really comes down to preference and purpose of the tisane. A stronger preparation will have more medicinal properties and effects, where as a weaker preparation will simply support and nourish the body.
First, lets explore a couple of terms that are used to describe different herbs:
Adaptogen: “Adaptogens are substances that help the body adapt to stress, support normal metabolic functions, and help restore balance. They increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors and provide a defense response to acute or chronic stress.” (source)
Bitters: Herbs that taste bitter. “Bitters change the way our guts work, especially when we taste them, making our stomachs feel fuller more quickly and affecting the secretion of enzymes that digest our food and the hormones that control our appetite.” (source) “Many digestive problems are due to ‘bitter deficiency syndrome'” (source)
Carminative: “Plants rich in aromatic volatile oils that stimulate the digestive system to work properly and with ease, soothing the gut wall, reducing any inflammation, easing griping pains, and helping the removal of gas from the digestive tract.” (source)
Digestive: a food or medicine that aids or promotes the digestion of food.
Flavonoid: Flavonoids are antioxidants found in most fruits, berries, vegetables, and even dark chocolate. They work by fighting free radicals (toxins in the body that create oxidative stress and damage to cells) and therefore are heart protective as well as anticancer agents. They also have antihistamine and antiviral properties. (source)
Immunomodulant: “A substance used to strengthen the immune system and help the body fight off opportunistic infections of other diseases. Does not necessarily stimulate the immune system.” (source)
Tannins: The primary source of astringency taste and mouthfeel. Tannins are mildly bitter and extremely toning to tissues. They can promote healing and numbing, and reduce inflammation and halt infection.
Common herbs found in Herbal Tisanes and why they are delicious AND nutritious:
Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa): Sour, Astringent, and Cooling. High in vitamin C, bioflavonoids, anthocyanins, and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. Hibiscus helps the body cool down as well as soothe irritated and inflamed tissues and mucus membranes throughout the digestive and urinary systems. Hibiscus is also a “mover” helping to to thin, move, and eliminate stuck mucus and energy throughout the digestive, respiratory, circulatory and reproductive systems. Gives your infusion a beautiful deep red color.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Sweet and Demulcent. High in glycyrrhizin, polysaccharides, and amino acids. Licorice is known as the “Great Harmonizer” and synergist in herbal formulations making other herbs more bioavailable as well as softening the nature of other herbs. It is an immunomodulant and adaptogen that restores, relaxes, and softens the body and mucous membranes throughout the body. It’s main constituent, glycerhizin, is 50 times sweeter than sugar.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogan citratus): Sour, Astringent, Pungent, Cooling, and Refreshing. High in volatile oils including geranial, citronellol, linalol, and limonene. Lemongrass is a carminative, which means that it helps improve digestion as well as dispel intestinal gas. In some areas, lemongrass infusions are used as an immune stimulant for cold care and to help reduce fever. The volatile oils are antibacterial, anti-fungal, antispasmodic, and antiviral. Lemongrass adds a pleasant lemony taste to herbal infusions.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita): Cooling, Drying, Refreshing. High in volatile oils, flavonoids, and tannins. Peppermint is a carminative and well-known, often-used digestive. It helps stimulate digestion as well as dispel intestinal gas, cramps, and testy stomachs. It helps relieve nausea in pregnancy as well as motion sickness. Peppermint has long been used in Chinese medicine to stimulate the liver and digestion. It is often added to herbal blends to improve the tastes.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Strong, warming, pungent, and spicy. High in volatile oils, antioxidants, and sesquiterpenoids. Ginger is a carminative and digestive aid. It is also antispasmodic and anti-emetic. Ginger is often used to help dispel nausea, improve digestion, stimulate circulation, and boost the immune system. It is a strong taste that stands on its own and is often paired with lemon. Dried ginger is considered hotter and dryer than fresh ginger.
Marshmallow root (Althea officinalis): Sweet, Cooling, and Moistening. High in starch, flavonoids, sucrose, and tannins. Marshmallow root is soft and soothing and helps round out the consistency of an herbal blend. It is often used to counteract the astringency and bitterness of other herbs. It is highly nutritive to the body and it’s tissues. Marshmallow is anti-inflammatory and is often used to soothe sore throats, gastrointestinal discomforts, as well as the bladder and urinary tract.
Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum): Aromatic, Astringent, Spicy, Sweet, Heating, and Drying. High in antioxidants, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds. Cinnamon has a well-liked sweet flavor and brings a warmth and familiarity to herbal blends. Cinnamon is Carminative, Digestive, stimulating to the circulatory system, and an alterative (gradually improves bodily functions to health). It is believed to have a regulating effect on insulin production and blood sugar regulation.
Raspberry/Blackberry leaf (Rubus spp.): Mild bitter, Astringent, Cooling, and Drying. High in Flavonoids, tannins, vitamins E, C, and B-complex, and minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. Raspberry leaf is highly nutritive and pleasant as a stand alone infusion. It is nourishing to the musculoskeletal system, nervous system, and female reproductive system.
Orange peel (Citrus sinensis): Mild bitter, Astringent, uplifting. High in volatile oils, vitamin C, and polyphenols. The peel has nearly three times the daily value of vitamin C as the inner fruit. Orange peel is uplifting, pleasant tasting, and beneficial to the digestive system. It is often used to lighten and improve the taste of herbal blends.
What I look for in a tea company:
- Easy to Source in Local Stores: Sometimes, buying herbal tea is a bit of an impulse buy and I like to be able to look at a bunch of options on a shelf rather than try to broadly search online. Sometimes, I simply don’t know what I am looking for until I see it. Also, buying tea in person is usually less expensive than buying online. Plus you don’t have to pay extra for shipping.
- High Quality Ingredients: The ingredients in my teas need to be good quality and as fresh as possible. I look for herbal teas that are Kosher, Non-GMO, and preferably Certified Organic if possible. Since many companies source their herbs from other countries, it is not always possible to find 100% certified organic herbal teas. That is why I also look for Ethical Sourcing, and Social Responsibility within the company. The herbal tea packaging will often advertise the quality of their ingredients with the logos of Non-GMO Project and the USDA Certified Organic Stamp.
- Social Responsibility: I love when a company gives back to the community. Many herbal tea companies love to take care of the farmers and their families that help grow, harvest, and process the herbs used. They set up non-profits or participate in non-profits that educate and provide opportunities to improve the lives, communities, and environments of the people. This information can be found on the websites of the herbal tea companies. I’m pretty skeptical of a company that does not list it’s community enrichment programs.
- Ethical Sourcing: I want my tea to be sourced form communities and areas that treat its people right and with dignity, pay them fairly, and don’t participate in over-harvesting, strip-farming, or slash-and-burn techniques. Look for Certified Fair Trade and/or Certified FairWild. This takes a little bit of searching for but can usually be found on the company’s website if they participate in ethical sourcing. If a company website is mum on the subject, I assume that they are unable to make ethical sourcing claims.
Here are four trustworthy, ethical, and delicious herb companies to support (in no particular order). Most grocery stores carry at least one of these:
- TRADITIONAL MEDICINALS: Traditional Medicinals is a Certified B Corporation and is located in Sebastopol, California. Traditional Medicinals can be easily found in local grocery and healthfood stores. They use Certified Organic herbs, Non-GMO Project Verified, FairWild certified, as well as Fair Trade Certified Ingredients. They are committed to using renewable energy and resources and have a decades long tradition of giving back to their community as well as to the families and communities where they source their ingredients. By being Certified Fair Trade and Certified FairWild, Traditional Medicinals ensures ethical and sustainable sourcing of their ingredients. Find out more about Traditional Medicinals here.
- YOGI TEA: Yogi Tea is a Certified B Corporation located in Portland, Oregon. Yogi is easy to find in local grocery and healthfood stores. They are members of the Rain forest Alliance and use Certified Organic ingredients, are Non-GMO Project Verified, and use environmentally friendly packaging and recycled materials. Yogi Tea regularly gives back to the families and communities of it’s ingredient sources in Honduras, Nepal, India, and Madagascar. They also give back to the Oregon community by donating to and participating in events, food banks, and multiple organizations. Yogi Tea has an entire manual outlining requirements and expectations of ethical business integrity. Find out more about Yogi Tea here.
- THE REPUBLIC OF TEA. The Republic of Tea is a member of the Ethical Tea Partnership and is located in Larkspur, California. They can be found in healthfood stores as well as online. The Republic of Tea uses Certified Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified ingredients that are Certified Kosher, Gluten-Free, Carb-free, and Sugar-Free. They are Certified Fair Trade as well as Demeter Certified Biodynamic. The Republic of Tea works hard to ensure employee well-being and satisfaction through education, child-care reimbursement, and wellness reimbursement. They also give back to their community by participating in and contributing to at least nine different organizations and charities. Find out more about The Republic of Tea here.
- BIGELOW TEA. Bigelow is a Certified B Corporation located in Fairfield, Connecticut. They have a wide selection of herbal teas that I love and are often found in grocery stores, healthfood stores, convenience stores, and even some gas stations. Bigelow is pretty easy to find locally. They are committed to “green manufacturing” and everything minus the pouch (which is foil-lined to preserve freshness) is recyclable. Bigelow gives back to their employees, their immediate community of Fairfield CT, the American troops, the communities they source from, as well as contributing to local charities and organizations throughout the world. Find out more about the Bigelow company here.
Of course, these four aren’t the only great tea companies out there! There are so many great local tea companies that offer amazing and unique blends that are not only good tasting, but also good for your body, the community, and for the environment. Check out your local farmers markets, health food stores, and local herbal apothecaries to find more great blends!
Start drinking herbal tisanes for better health, and amazing tasting “water.”