These days, pretty much any beverage made by throwing some herbs into water gets described as “tea.” If you believe everything you’re told, you might be convinced that tea is a magic elixir, offering health and vitality to all who partake. And while with good tea, that reputation is almost entirely deserved, it definitely doesn’t apply to some pretenders to the throne. To clear up the confusion, here are some teas you should be drinking, and a few you shouldn’t.
You should be drinking black tea. Not only is it delicious in its many varieties, it offers many health advantages, from weight loss to battling diseases like cancer, diabetes, and many more. However, like many things in this world, the devil is in the dosage. The issue with black tea is in its (tiny) fluoride content, which ordinarily wouldn’t be enough to cause you harm, even if you drink a dozen cups a day.
However, if you drink as much tea as one 47-year-old woman did, you might end up in trouble. She drank a gallon of tea a day for almost two decades, brewing it with between 100 and 150 tea bags each time. It is estimated that she was consuming in excess of 20 milligrams of fluoride per day (way, way above the recommended dose), and after 17 years of this, her bones were like glass. She ended up in the hospital suffering severe pain from brittle bones, and had to have all her teeth removed. Other than that, though, she was probably super-duper healthy.
Ginger has long been used in traditional medicine to treat nausea and other digestive issues, which makes it an excellent choice for use in teas. It is especially useful for pregnant women experiencing morning sickness, since it’s safe to use during pregnancy and will help with menstrual pain.
People who exercise might also find benefit from a cup of ginger tea, since studies have shown it can reduce exercise-related muscle pain, as well as inflammation. It also happens to taste pretty good, which is more than can be said for some “teas,” real or otherwise.
In many countries, drinking tea is a ritual (sometimes involving tasty biscuits) that generally leaves you feeling fairly relaxed after. However, if your stress issues are more serious, a diversion from the traditional high-tea brew might have a greater benefit for your health. Consider hibiscus tea, for example. While it isn’t made from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, a recent study showed that regular consumption of hibiscus tea was linked to a noticeable drop in blood pressure, in a group of patients suffering from elevated stresses and pressures. The study didn’t consider the effect of consuming tasty snacks with the tea, but since a chocolate biscuit never made anyone feel worse, it was probably just inferred.
And now for the no-no’s …
You shouldn’t be drinking detox teas. Apart from the whole “detox” industry being basically one big scam, there is an ingredient in most detox teas that you should only really be taking in certain circumstances. Senna leaf is known to irritate the lining of the bowels, which has a laxative effect. This is fine if you’re constipated, or a surgeon wants to operate on your digestive system and doesn’t feel like working around last night’s dinner. However, if you consume it regularly in teas, it will not be fine.
In the short term, these teas will mostly just “detox” your bowel, which, admittedly, will probably leave you feeling a bit less bloated. Unfortunately, it will also dehydrate you and “detox” out a bunch of important stuff, like electrolytes and healthy nutrients, which do more good inside you, especially if you intend to have a nice, long, pain-free life.
For those of us who are prone to injury, a cup of tea made from comfrey might sound like a good idea. After all, comfrey is said to promote the healing of wounds, bruises, and even broken bones. It’s also claimed to help with digestive issues, though it isn’t a friend to every part of your body. Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which, when metabolized and consumed in sufficient quantities, can cause severe damage to the liver. The risk varies depending upon when the plant was harvested and which part of the comfrey plant is used, but because of the risk, its sale is banned in the US and many other countries for anything other than topical applications (and even then, there’s a danger of buildup).
Bags of dried leaves are still available online, however, and although they should only be used to create creams and ointments, it is totally possible to throw them in some hot water and make a lovely cup of steaming liver failure.
Most herbal teas
Aside from ginger, hibiscus, and peppermint—which have clinically recognized health benefits for the consumer—steer clear of basically any herbal teas. Any positive effects perceived after drinking any other herbal infusion may be, at best, a placebo effect (or possibly leftover good feelings from the chocolate biscuit). Until more studies have been done, the only information about most herbal teas comes from largely non-scientific or traditional medical sources. While there certainly could be merit in ancient tea-based remedies, without studies to back them up, you might as well fall back on a traditional New York prescription for your problems. We refer, of course, to the Long Island Ice Tea—because you definitely won’t be feeling much pain after a couple of those.