Historical evidence suggests that chamomile was valued for its medicinal properties as far back as the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Greece. It was commonly used to treat a host of ailments, from anxiety to indigestion. Chamomile herb tea continued to be highly regarded throughout the Middle Ages, when it became indispensible for other reasons, as well. Its strong, pleasantly pungent aroma made it the ideal “strewing herb”; it was scattered on the ground in public places as a primitive air freshener. Chamomile was also important in breweries, and was used prior to the wide availability of hops to give beer its characteristic bitterness. Throughout centuries of use, across several continents, chamomile continued to be valued and respected as an important part of medicine.
Many ancient “healing” techniques have been proven ineffective, or even harmful, by modern science; bloodlettings, the use of leeches, and magic spells have all been replaced by treatments that actually work. Chamomile, however, is quite different. Ancient healers trusted it, without any real knowledge of how or why it worked. Instead of proving it ineffective, scientific research has instead led to documented evidence of the properties of chamomile that make it a legitimate wellness remedy for a number of conditions. Perhaps most commonly known for its soothing properties, chamomile contains compounds that can relieve muscle spasms and relax the nerves. These compounds can ease the discomfort of mild aches and pains and provide an effective relief from stress and anxiety. Research has also shown that chamomile metabolizes into phenolic compounds, which have antibacterial and immune-boosting properties. It has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The active components in chamomile make it an ideal remedy for the symptoms of ailments like the common cold, allergies, insomnia, and arthritis. A topical salve made from chamomile can also be effective in treating conditions like eczema and hemorrhoids.
Chamomile has powerful medicinal properties; when consumed regularly, its effects are compounded. However, consuming a chamomile infusion won’t ever be confused with taking medicine. It has a distinctive flavor; it’s light, slightly tart, and fruity. If the flavor of chamomile by itself doesn’t suit your palate, you can still enjoy this healthy beverage in one of the many flavor blends available from a number of different brands. Chamomile mixes very well with many fruit infusions like peach and berry, as well as earthy herbal flavors like jasmine and lemongrass, and floral flavors like orange blossom and hibiscus. No matter what your taste preference is, there’s a chamomile tea that you will love. Enjoy a chamomile tisane any time you want to relax and feel better; consumed regularly, chamomile is an important part of your natural journey towards a healthier life. Because it’s an herbal infusion, chamomile is completely caffeine-free and a great way to encourage a restful and restorative night’s sleep; steep a cup of pure chamomile or an herbal blend and drink about half an hour before going to bed. Healthy, natural chamomile is a daily treat for a better life.
South Americans have been enjoying their favorite brewed, caffeinated beverage since long before the first coffee bean landed in north of the Equator. Native to the rainforests in the northern countries of South America, the yerba mate plant has provided indigenous peoples with a jolt of caffeine and energy since the 1500s. It is a hardy plant that matures from a lush shrub into a towering tree and produces leaves that can be harvested, cured, and steeped into a tasty and energizing beverage. While Brazil is the largest producer of processed yerba mate leaves, yerba cultivators can also be found in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Yerba mate leaves are cured by drying and/or smoking (which imparts a more complex flavor), and then crushed and packaged for sale. Mate drinks, the beverages made from dried yerba mate leaves, are available in a number of preparations. After being steeped in hot water, they may be enjoyed hot or cold, plain or sweetened, pure or flavored; its versatility and popularity mirror that of coffee drinks in the United States or Europe. Plain mate has an earthy and slightly bitter flavor; many prefer the less bitter and spicier flavor of a toasted mate beverage. Drinking mate is a social construct in South America, and people can often be seen gathering in mate shops, where a group of friends will pass and share a communal mate cup. It is common to see individuals toting their personal mate cups as they travel around town.
In addition to its unique flavor, mate has been popular throughout northern South America for centuries because it provides an energy boost thanks to a caffeine measure equivalent to coffee. While mate delivers the same lift as other sources of caffeine, a slightly different caffeine composition makes mate less likely to cause the jittery effects and addictiveness so common with large quantities of coffee. It is also packed with a variety of vitamins. Regular drinkers of yerba mate also claim that the herb increases mental alertness, decreases fatigue, and helps to relieve anxiety. Perhaps thanks to these energizing effects, many mate fans also assert that the beverage aids in weight loss. Certain bioactive compounds in yerba mate have been isolated and studied for their curative properties; preliminary evidence suggests that yerba mate could have a hand in killing colon cancer cells.
While some early research is promising, it is important to remember that yerba mate is a newcomer to the nutrition market in the United States. Continuing study could discover many more health benefits of this South American favorite. In the meantime, it seems like yerba mate continues to gain popularity in the United States for its distinctive flavor, versatility in preparation, and natural energy boosting properties. It is readily available in natural and health food stores across the country, as well as from a wide variety of reputable online distributors. More and more tea and coffee shops are adding mate drinks of all varieties to their menus, and popularity is growing.
The local people of the Western Cape region of South Africa have recognized and enjoyed the benefits of the rooibos tea bush for centuries. In the last few decades, awareness of this plant and its amazing potential has spread throughout Europe and the Americas. In the mid-1700s, a Swedish botanist observed that the leaves of this bush could be harvested, processed, and steeped into a hot beverage similar to black tea. Locals would pick the leaves from the bush, which grows exclusively in the mountainous terrain of this small area in South Africa, and then bring them back to level ground for a primitive curing process. The leaves were chopped and bruised, and then left out in the sun to dry. Once fully dried, the leaves could be steeped and served in place of black tea, which was in limited supply and very expensive.
While rooibos infusions remained a very popular drink in South Africa, it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that advancements in cultivation of the rooibos bush made increased production and distribution a possibility. A special sifting process was developed to isolate the rooibos seed, and thus the bush could be planted and raised under the watchful eye of local farmers. Further developments in the curing process enhanced the flavor and appearance of the final product, making it even more popular in South Africa and the rest of the world.
When steeped into a tea-like infusion, rooibos has a pleasing, naturally sweet and slightly nutty flavor. Dried rooibos is graded for quality, with higher grades containing a larger proportion of leaves to stem pieces. The highest grades of dried rooibos have the darkest, richest, and boldest flavor. A rooibos infusion tastes great on its own, and also mixes very well with a variety of other herbal infusions and true teas to create a countless array of blends and flavors. Many people enjoy the taste of rooibos; is it rich and complex like a black true tea, but lower tannin levels leave rooibos without the slight bitterness that many black teas have.
Beyond its pleasant flavor, rooibos contains a number of compounds that make it a healthful drink; its growing popularity is largely due to its health potential. Rooibos is packed full of powerful antioxidants, which help to neutralize and destroy harmful free radicals in the body. It also boasts a wealth of phenolic compounds and is completely caffeine-free. It has long been used to ease tension, relieve the symptoms of allergies, and to combat digestive issues. Although there is no scientific evidence to support the efficacy of rooibos in these medicinal applications, it is a relative newcomer to the Western world; research is ongoing. Even if further study proves that rooibos is ineffective in treating anxiety or digestive problems, the antioxidant properties alone make rooibos a valuable addition to a healthful life. With its health benefits, delicious flavor, and numerous blending possibilities, rooibos is sure to continue to rise in popularity and consumption in the U.S.
While many Americans are very familiar with the popular spicy Chai tea from India, few people are aware of one of its key flavorings: cardamom. A relative of ginger, cardamom has been a valued and widely used spice in Asian culture for centuries. The cardamom plant produces pods, which contain the seeds. It is these pods that are harvested so that the seeds can be used in culinary and medicinal applications. There are two categories of cardamom plants; one produces smaller, light green pods and the other produces larger, brown or black pods. Both varieties have a warm, mildly spicy flavor that adds depth to both savory and sweet dishes in many Asian cultures, most notably Indian. Cardamom is the spice that gives Chai tea its distinctive, vanilla-like taste. In terms of price, only vanilla beans and saffron are more expensive than cardamom; its cost is indicative of the demand for cardamom, as well as the limited areas in which it grows. Cardamom is indigenous to India and Nepal, although it has been successfully cultivated in other warm, tropical regions. While purchasing whole cardamom pods is preferred to preserve freshness, it is the seeds inside the pod that yield the health benefits.
Cardamom has a well established history as an important medicinal spice. Pods can be chewed whole, or the seeds can be crushed and steeped in boiling water to create a bold, spicy infusion. Cardamom is very high in antioxidants, particularly phenolics and flavonoids. Regular consumption of cardamom tisane can promote healthy tissue function and fight free radicals. These same antioxidants help to fight inflammation, so cardamom is a common component of holistic remedies for arthritis. It is also commonly used as a digestive aid; the same essential oils that give cardamom its distinctive spicy flavor also encourage healthy function in the stomach and intestines. It has been shown to be effective against all sorts of digestive problems, from nausea to flatulence. It may also relieve cramping due to antispasmodic properties. Cardamom is a natural detoxifying agent; it can help to clear out harmful waste compounds and allow your body’s organ systems to function more efficiently. Its anti-bacterial properties have long been used in dental care; cardamom can help heal infections in the teeth and gums, and can curb halitosis (which is often the result of bacteria in the mouth and digestive tract). Cardamom may have been the first teeth-whitening agent; ancient Egyptians steeped strong infusions for just that purpose.
The vast collection of health benefits attributed to cardamom is enough reason to add this exotic spice to your infuser. But an even more compelling reason might be its unique flavor. The delightful warm spice of cardamom is wonderful alone, and pairs well with a lot of other flavors. Add cardamom to black tea (true tea) for a morning pick-me-up that is more flavorful than gourmet coffee. Or, blend cardamom with cinnamon, ginger, or vanilla for a delicious personalized mix. Cardamom is so tasty you’ll forget how healthy it is.
From the buzz and popularity around “super foods” to a wide range of vitamin supplements, Americans can’t seem to get enough of the trends in health and nutrition. The vitamin industry alone boasts hundreds of formulas: multivitamins, isolations of specific vitamins, vitamin combinations designed to target particular conditions and concerns, kids’ formulas, and compositions aimed at every stage of adulthood and activity level. Most supermarkets and health food stores have whole aisles devoted strictly to the wealth of vitamin products they offer. But what could potentially provide as many, if not more, health benefits are frequently found a few aisles away: herbal tea.
Technically, herbals teas aren’t actually teas; they come from a wide variety of plants around the world, but not the camellia sinensis plant that is the exclusive source of true teas. The vast range of plants that can be made into herbal teas, or tisanes, offer as vast an array of vitamins, chemicals, and compounds that are proven to offer myriad health benefits. For everything from occasional discomforts to chronic conditions like diabetes, there are teas that can ease severity and relieve symptoms of a host of ailments. Stomach upset, nausea, and digestive problems can be relieved with a tisane of ginger, peppermint, licorice root, or lemon. The antihistamine and immune-boosting properties of Echinacea makes it the ideal choice for fighting cold and allergy symptoms. Some tisanes, like chamomile, have soothing and calming characteristics; tisanes of Rhodiola and ginseng provide a boost in energy and vitality. Passionflower and lavender may alleviate the nagging pain of a headache.
While many conditions are incurable, herbal tisanes have been shown to be beneficial in helping to manage them and promote health. Diabetes, for example, can be very difficult to manage. Spikes in blood sugar can lead to a host of related health problems. Several herbals can help a diabetic manage his or her condition. Fenugreek may absorb excess sugar, preventing it from getting into the system; raspberry and bilberry infusions can help to lower blood sugar. Herbal infusions are helpful in easing the symptoms of a number of other chronic conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and anxiety. Some herbs can relieve colic and digestive issues in infants; others can boost lactation for nursing mothers.
Tisanes are ideal treatments for a wide range of conditions and maladies. But they also offer preventive properties. Most herbals contain antioxidant compounds, which are known to destroy the free radicals that have carcinogenic characteristics. Nutrition experts recommend consuming foods high in antioxidants to help in the fight against cancer; most agree that getting your antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients from natural, food-based sources is preferable to taking expensive supplements. Herbal tisanes are a convenient and easy way to load your diet with a variety of compounds to promote a healthful life. And unlike vitamin supplements, tisanes are delicious, too. They are available in a wide variety of flavors, from fruity choices to spicy options like cinnamon or ginger and a host of blends.