There might not be a Fountain of Youth hidden in a jungle somewhere but some ancient and natural medicine has proven to have life-long health benefits. Tea is the one of most popular drinks in the world – we drink it from Bone China tea cups, from thermoses at the top of a ski, or while holding a Yerba Maté gourd in a drum circle. For thousands of years, teas and herbal teas have been steeped, brewed, and boiled for purpose of healing ailments, preparing one for the day, and to bring community together.
In recent years, medical science and research is proving to various degrees of sureness that many of these beverages can stunt the growth of tumours, defend against nasty bacteria, and soothe the spirit. Though organizations like the Food and Drug Administration are quick to caution us against substituting our modern medicine for the homeopathic stuff, if done right the benefits can be monumental over a long life. Thankfully today if you do not have the adventurer’s kick to climb the tallest trees or highest mountains to find some ancient herb, you can order it online or right from a store.
From South America to Asia, there are many roots, leaves, and stems with benefits to share. Enjoyed hot or cold, the list below will give you an idea about how powerful nature can be whether you are looking for healing and preventative measures or psychoactive thrills.
Guayusa from Ecuador
From the leaves of holly trees in the Ecuadorian Rainforest, the plant that is used to brew Guayusa is a close cousin of Yerba Maté. The beverage has been used for more than a thousand years by medicine men and by night watchmen in Ecuador. Guayusa has a very similar flavor profile as Maté when air-dried or roasted and like Maté it has roughly the same caffeine content. Unlike coffee, guayusa provides energy and wakefulness without a caffeine crash or an upset stomach. The magic of Guayusa extends to the various vitamins, minerals, and chemical compounds that it contains. Guayusa contains Theobromine also found in dark chocolate which previously been shown to improve mood and cognition – it is part of what reduces the jitters of caffeine. It can also potentially reduce blood pressure and glucose level in Type-1 diabetics and help ward off cancer. While Yerba Maté can easily be confused with Guayusa in terms of taste, chemical composition, and drinking customs some preparations of Maté have been linked to higher rates of cancer making Guayusa the obvious choice.
Pu-erh from China
Dark, fermented, and pressed in to bricks, Pu-erh can be the most expensive tea in the world with several ounces selling for over $3,500. There are hundreds of varieties of Pu-erh in China touching many levels of quality and price points. Pu-erh like a fine wine improves with age when humidity, air-quality, and light exposure is controlled. Once brewed, pu-erh tea leaves unfold and give way to a deep dark color and milky opaqueness. The tea itself should taste earthy with a little smoke. Pu-erh like all teas from the Camellia Sinesis plant contains some caffeine to provide energy however is research in animals shows that pu-erh can lower the triglyceride levels (that often come from bad diet and overzealous drinking habits) healing the liver and promote good HDL cholesterol while suppressing bad LDL cholesterol. Be wary of where you purchase your Pu-erh though, low-cost varieties might contain lower quality or mouldy leaves and dangerous fluoride levels.
Ginger from South East Asia
The Swiss Army Tool of natural remedies, you are given ginger when feeling nauseous, after getting wisdom teeth pulled out, and to ease the symptoms of the worst cold that you have ever had. Throughout the world, ginger is used as a folk remedy for colds and stomach pain in shapes like capsules or ginger beer. Ginger is served often in savory Asian cuisine and cookies but where it packs the most punch is in a Chinese cold remedy where ginger and orange peel is gently boiled for twenty minutes then served. The concoction will be hard coming down but it will soothe much of what ills. Potential benefits of ginger also range from stifling tumor growth and lowering cholesterol. As a stomach settler and cold symptom annihilator there is nothing better than ginger. Whenever you feel like you are coming down with something, you can find ginger in the produce section of your local grocery story.
Hibiscus Tea from Mexico
When air-dried and steeped the bright red Hibiscus flower results a deep crimson beverage. Hibiscus cultivars can be found throughout the Southern Hemisphere and is a popular drink in South America and parts of North Africa where the Hibiscus is highly prized. Served either hot or cold, it has a cranberry-like tartness and is often sweetened with other fruits or sugar.
It contains moderate amounts of Vitamin C and minerals giving it a moderate medicinal quality. Hibiscus Tea in clinical trials conducted by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana reduces blood pressure in people with Type 2 Diabetes and people who are at risk for high blood pressure. Hibiscus Tea could be a part of maintaining cardiovascular health in helping maintain cholesterol levels alongside managing high blood pressure. Like Ginger, Hibiscus also has qualities that soothe symptoms of coughs and colds but with a less harsh taste.
Rooibos from South Africa
Almost dessert-like, Rooibos when brewed takes on a tastes of cinnamon creme brûlée with a little imagination. Rooibos bush leaves look like bits of broken broom when prepared but as an herbal tea it has a surprising range of benefits. The pale-red beverage is caffeine-free and can be enjoyed at any point in the day. Packed with free radical-hunting antioxidants, Rooibos is a potential cancer fighting agent and its flavonoids help defend against hearth disease. In natural medicine, Rooibos is often called upon to help alleviate allergies and dermatological problems when applied to the skin. Scientific observations have resulted in some of the claims of Rooibos being substantiated and with limited risk factors – Rooibos should earn a place in your tea cabinet.
Lemon Balm Tea from the Mediterranean
A good night’s sleep is the best way to have a wakeful day. However, getting to sleep is not always an easy task. Instead of downing cough syrup or sleeping pills give Lemon Balm Tea a try. As an herbal tea, a cup or two of it before bed can have a mild sedative effect and calm down the nerves to help you get to sleep. Lemon Balm Tea is also used to tread gastrointestinal problems such as gas and vomiting. One effect of Lemon Balm Tea is improved cognitive function leading some to think of the Lemon Balm as a potential treatment for ADHD. Many of the effects of Lemon Balm can be considered miracles but its potency has been known to reduce the effect of some drugs used to treat thyroid problems and HIV.
Silver Needle White Tea from Southern China
The lesser known sibling of Black and Green Tea, White Tea shares the same caffeinated lineage but with a more delicate taste and heightened bacteria killing powers. Silver Needle White Tea is pulled off the tea plant and left to wilt in the sun for a while as opposed to being processed and fermented quickly like green tea. This process allows the white tea to retain more antioxidants with a less concentrated dose of caffeine with many of the same health benefits. Antioxidants and compounds in white teas have been shown to defend the body from certain types of cancer such as colon cancer and improve cardiovascular function. What makes White Tea unique however is its ability to combat bacteria and bacterial growth warding off infection and illness before it happens. While consumed in less quantities that green and black tea, the quality and benefits of Silver Needle White should not be ignored.
Ayahuasca from the Amazon Rainforest
Legends of religious visions by Amazonian Tribes must have been a direct result of Ayahuasca. The beverage is brewed using the bark, leaves, and stems of the caapi vine and a mixture of other plants including Guayusa. Originally and still used today as a part of a religious ceremony by Amazonian shamans to induce psychedelic affects allowing one to feel closer to their spirituality. While those affects are certainly worthwhile, Ayahuasca also forces the body to detoxify through vomit and diarrhea cleaning away harmful toxins and parasites. Obtaining plants to produce Ayahuasca is difficult in many parts of the world due to it containing a powerful psychedelic DMT and being scheduled as a narcotic. The non-addictive properties of Ayahuasca though have made it a useful tool in helping addicts wean off opiates and contribute to improved mental health.