& Health: Exploring Herbal Teas and Infusions
Photos By Ellen Easton ©2006 All Rights Reserved
Check out more of Ellen Easton's Tea Travels™ articles and recipes.
The dictionary describes herbs as
any plant with a succulent stem
which dies to the root every year. A decoction is any root, seed,
bark, or course leaf that is prepared by boiling water to release
the flavors of consumption. While an infusion or tisane includes
leaves, flowers, fruits, berries, and spices that are not boiled, as
the essential oils would be destroyed by evaporation. Infusions are
prepared with just boiled water poured over the herbs in a teapot
that has been warmed. One steeps the infusion until the desired
taste is reached.
Herbs and spices are not regulated by the FDA, nor are they approved by the medical authorities. Only lab controlled studies, built on scientific evidence, can determine the measured outcome of a substance. Herbal medical uses have always been experimental and thus not regulated.
In our modern times as the current baby boomers are coming of age, combined with our awareness of good health in our society, herbs and teas are in the forefront of the news. It is important, not only to understand the basic principles and components of teas and herbs, but to respect the power they contain, both good and bad.
It is important to consider the source of information before embracing it. It is equally important never to begin any new dietary or supplementary regime without consulting with your personal physician.
It is, therefore, wise to proceed with awareness and caution before using any herbal infusions. Do not rely on the knowledge or perhaps lack of knowledge of a salesperson. Educate yourself before you make any purchases. Know about the hazards, allergic reactions, and possible drug and other food interactions involved with your choices. As an example, ginkgo biloba or ginseng, in and alone, are not necessarily harmful; however, if one is taking aspirin or other medications, fatal bleeding or stroke can occur.
Just because a product is labeled natural or organic does not necessarily mean it is safe. Know your sources from whom you are buying, especially if you are using the internet. Do not hesitate to call a licensed professional for advise.
Herbal teas may or may not be an oxymoron, depending on what has been prepared. A true herbal tea would have to include a blend of either red, black, green, oolong, yellow, or white tea in conjunction with one or more herbs, spices, or tisanes. An herbal infusion would, in fact, contain no tea at all.
There are thousands of varieties of teas and herbs from which to choose:
Each tea blend will require different brewing instructions. Follow the methods best described for each. Check out How To Brew Perfect Tea and also A Tea Tasting to better understand about different tea blends.
For brewing, I prefer a glass, ceramic, or porcelain teapot. To avoid a metallic taste, do not brew herbals in an aluminum, metal, or silver teapot. A silver teapot is best used for hot water, not brewing.
The good benefits of herbal teas have been widely publicized. When the minerals magnesium and potassium, vitamins B complexes and C, chemicals and enzymes, polyphenols, flavonoids, amino acids, and catechins that are contained in tea are released upon brewing, it is said they reduce the risk of some cancers, heart and gum disease, protect against viruses, bacteria, hardening of the arteries and blood clots, improve circulation, fight infection and migraine headaches, strengthen bone density, may help to promote weight loss, and deflect the carcinogens in grilled or fried foods.
The Harvard Medical School states that due to the anti oxidants in tea preventing and repairing the free radicals attacking ones cells, if one drinks only a cup of tea per day, they reduce their rate of a heart attack by forty-four per cent.
The bad effects are not as well known. No herbs, spices, or medications should be given to children, especially under the age of six, without the consent of a doctor. Honey should never be given to a child under the age of six without the written consent of a doctor as well.
Teas can produce negative side effects. Too much tea or the
consumption of very strong tea blends can induce symptoms of
insomnia, irritable stomach membranes, gall bladder attacks, cause
kidney stones, constipation, and yellowed-stained teeth.
The following herbs should be avoided entirely. They are dangerous and some have been banned. Read all labels carefully for hidden ingredients in products. If you do not understand or know of an ingredient - ASK!
Popular herbs such as St. Generate (hypericum perfoatum), Ginseng (panax schinseng), Ginkgo (ginkgo biloba), Echinacea (encinacea angustifolia), and Valerian (valerianacease) should all be used with great caution.
When used with aspirin or great fruit juice, violent reactions can occur. Some cause excessive bleeding, while others cause blood clotting. If you plan on having any medical procedures or operations, be certain to let your doctor know what herbs you have been taking and for how long. It could be a matter of life or death.
The Don't of Tea Drinking: