Tea or Camellia sinensis
The leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, are known to be rich in caffeine. The tea plant produces caffeine as a response against insects and other stress factors, and it is believed that the wilder the tea plantation is, the richer in caffeine it will be.
The leaves of Camellia sinensis are also packed with polyphenols and other antioxidants, responsible for the astringent taste and easily bound to milk proteins – which explains why tea with milk is not as astringent as tea without milk.
The tea plant produces these antioxidants as a response to physical stress and other environmental factors that are so various that it is impossible to quantify the exact amount of antioxidants in tea.
Tea is estimated to have around 30,000 different polyphenols, out of which the catechins are of the highest interest to the scientific community. Some of these catechins have been shown to protect and delay damage to vital body organs such as heart, brain and eyes. They work by removing harmful free radicals and preventing them from accumulating and attacking the cells.
Another benefit of tea, green tea and matcha in particular, is that they can promote fat loss. Several clinical trials have shown that some substances in these teas interfere with the fat formation in the body, preventing our fat cells from growing and promoting the use of fat as a source of energy.
Tea is a great alternative to coffee, containing less caffeine but many more antioxidants and other active and protective substances. Like any other antioxidant drink, tea is known for its anti-ageing properties. All teas from Camellia sinensis are anti-ageing, but white tea is thought to be highest in antioxidants and therefore the most anti-ageing. The polyphenols from the tea leaves can reach our skin and protect the cells from getting damaged. Tea’s antioxidants have also been shown to strengthen collagen and elastin, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines as well as protecting the joints from ageing. Tea is also diuretic, and as such, helpful in the elimination of retained water.
Also known as marigold, calendula flowers are often used in skin care products to calm irritated or burnt skin and to reduce swelling. Calendula has high levels of antioxidant flavonoids and its essential oils appear to be anti-microbial. It is especially high in lutein – an antioxidant that has been used to promote eye health and treat various eye conditions.
Calendula tea is used to treat mouth and stomach ulcers by promoting the regeneration of tissues and decreasing inflammation. It is also often used to treat fevers and digestive cramps.
Cardamom is highly antioxidant due to its elevated content of polyphenols. The active substances of cardamom are mainly essential oils – which explains why this spice is so aromatic. Cardamom has one of the most complex mixtures of essential oils of all the spices, making it useful for several health conditions.
Cardamom is considered anti-septic, destroying bad bacteria and yeast, as well as digestive, stimulating the digestive organs to release enzymes and fluids. Cardamom is also believed to be effective against respiratory tract infections such as colds and flus, and it is used in the treatment of coughs and sore throats.
Finally, cardamom is also diuretic and can be useful in the elimination of retained water and the prevention of urinary tract infections.
Cinnamon is a bark rich in essential oils and flavonoids – it is one of the most antioxidant foods known.
Historically, cinnamon has been used to support digestion in conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, candida overgrowth, abdominal cramps and indigestion. Its essential oils are thought to be anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, however, it is not known to affect the good bacteria in the intestinal tract.
Cinnamon is also thought to regulate blood sugar levels by pushing the body to respond better to insulin. As a consequence it can be particularly useful in the control of sugar cravings and valuable for patients suffering from Diabetes Type II.
Chamomile flowers infusions have been enjoyed for centuries as a relaxing beverage. The active substances in chamomile are flavonoids (e.g. apigenin), essential oils and phenols, which mainly affect the central nervous system. Chamomile acts as a mild sedative, but it can also act as a mild analgesic, reducing pain and inflammation.
Besides acting on the brain and nervous system, the essential oils of the chamomile flowers contribute to the relaxation of the stomach muscles, improving digestion and mititgating stomach cramps.
Chilli is known to have a positive effect in regulating blood circulation in the body and strengthening the heart, arteries and capillaries. Besides being highly anti-bacterial, it is also considered to be immune boosting due to its high content of carotenoids and flavonoids.
Chilli’s spicy taste comes from an active substance called capsaicin which has been shown to be an effective pain killer. Other benefits of chilli include the stimulation of digestive organs that release fluids and enzymes to break down foods, and stimulation of the body temperature – a potentially great way to increase the release and breakdown of body fats.
Traditionally, fennel has been enjoyed after meals as a digestive tonic to treat various digestive disorders, including excessive gas and stomach ailment. The active substance of fennel is a trepenoid called anethole, which has been shown to reduce muscle cramps in the digestive tract. Fennel’s essential oils have also been shown to have anti-microbial properties, which may explain why it is so effective in preventing flatulence.
Ginger is known for its amazing anti-nausea properties. It works as a digestive tonic, promoting the natural movements in the digestive tract and preventing spasms that could lead to nausea.
As an aromatic bitter, ginger can stimulate the release of stomach fluids and digested foods. It also stimulates the liver and pancreas to release bile and digestive enzymes, making the digestion more efficient and thus preventing indigestion and flatulence.
Ginger also has substances called gingerols, similar to the capsaicin from chilli, which gives ginger its spicy taste. When ginger is heated the gingerol transforms into zingerone that is much less spicy than the original substance. However, if ginger root is dried, the gingerol converts into substances called shogaols that are twice as spicy as gingerols. These spicy substances are highly anti-inflammatory and thermogenic, pushing the body to produce body heat from the breakdown of body fats.
The flagrant flowers of hibiscus are used widely in the food industry to improve the flavour of drinks. But hibiscus has also been used in traditional herbal medicine to help with high blood pressure, liver disorders and fevers. Hibiscus is also thought to be useful for regulating bowel movements and reducing water retention.
Hibiscus flowers consist of up to 15-30% of fruit acids such as citric and malic acid, and they are high in antioxidants including anthocyanins, quercetin and vitamin C.
Also known as Melissa, this herb has a beautiful fragrance derived from a cocktail of several essential oils including citronellal and geranial. Lemon balm has been used in traditional medicine to prevent and treat digestive issues such as upset stomach, acid reflux and nausea. It has also been shown to improve the liver function and to regulate the release of bile to help with the digestion of fats.
Lemon balm leaves contain an active substance called rosmarinic acid which is believed to be effective in relieving stress and anxiety. In clinical trials this substance has been shown to have an effect on the central nervous system through regulation of the energy in the brain, contributing to a more balanced mental state and calming the brain, without causing drowsiness
This herb has a beautiful citrus-like aroma. Packed with citral and other such essential oils, it can be used to soothe the digestive tract. Lemon verbena is effective at relieving digestive disorders such as indigestion, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
Lemon verbena also has other useful active substances including verbascoside, a moderate antioxidant that has been shown to protect white blood cells from oxidative damage and muscle cells in heavy physical exercise.
Liquorice root has an intense sweet taste resulting from glicosides that simulate the effect of sugar on our taste buds. Its active substances are glycyrrhizin, glycyrrhetinic acid and antioxidant flavonoids and isoflavones. Liquorice is known for its cortisol-like, anti-inflammatory properties.
Liquorice has been shown to be effective in treating stomach and mouth ulcers. It has also been used as an adrenal tonic for treating conditions such as chronic fatigue and stress, and as an anti-viral aid against colds, flus and cold sores. In Chinese medicine, liquorice is regarded as a powerful liver supporting herb that is very important to the detoxification of unwanted substances in the body.
Peppermint’s active substances are essential oils, menthol and menthone, which are known to relax stomach and intestinal muscles and prevent spasms. They are also considered very useful for heartburn and acid reflux.
Peppermint is often used to treat flatulence and to stimulate the gallbladder to release bile to the small intestine. The latter is very important for the neutralisation of acid stomach fluids and in aiding the digestion of fats, which could be particularly interesting for people prone to gallstones due to high cholesterol in the bile.
Rooibos is considered one of the most antioxidant infusions in the world due to its high levels of flavonoids, flavones, flavonols and other phenolic substances. These substances are known to be extremely effective as antioxidants and provide protection to several body organs including the heart, liver, kidney and brain.
Growing interest in rooibos has led the scientific community to conduct several clinical trials with this plant, some of which have found evidence of the protective effects of rooibos in the liver in situations of overload of toxins and in the brain in situations of chronic psychological stress. Some trials have also found evidence of reduction in the production of stress hormones by the adrenal glands. More recent studies have also shown evidence of a possible inhibition by rooibos of the harmful bacteria Helicobacter pylori which has been linked to stomach ulcers and gastritis. In traditional medicine, rooibos has been used for its anti-inflammatory and anti-histaminic effects in conditions such as allergies, asthma and gout.
Also known as Eleuthero, Siberian ginseng is considered a powerful adaptogen: it supports the adrenal glands and enhances the ability to deal with stress.
Siberian ginseng is a complete body tonic, and as such it is beneficial to the brain, heart, skin and immune system. It contains a wide range of active substances called eleutherosides that are known to stimulate the immune system, protecting the body against infections such as colds and flus.
This herb is particularly interesting for the improvement of mental and physical performance, especially useful for people with demanding lifestyles. It has also been used for centuries to promote longevity.
This powerhouse of nutrients gives a painful sting when fresh, but as the leaves dry, they become inoffensive. The stinging nettle is known to have over fifty different active chemical constituents and it is one of the most widely used herbs by herbalists and other therapists to treat several health conditions.
Nettle leaves are particularly high in the flavonol quercetin, a well-known anti-histaminic, making this herb very useful for allergies such as hayfever. It is also a diuretic and anti-inflammatory, being of particular interest for people with conditions such as arthritis and gout.
A widely used herb, thyme is not only great for cooking. It is high in antioxidant flavonoids such as apigenin, luteolin and thymonin, and has a long history of use in traditional medicine, especially in treating respiratory illnesses.
Thyme is rich in essential oils, of which thymol is by far the most abundant. This volatile oil is considered anti-septic and effective at killing harmful bacteria and yeasts.
Thyme is also widely used to treat coughs, bronchitis and chest infections. It works by removing excessive mucous from the lungs, making it particularly useful for treating stubborn chesty coughs.
Also knows as Holly Basil, this herb has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine as a tonic for the retention of youth and for slowing down the aging process. Tulsi is also known for its calming properties on the central nervous system, being especially useful for people with stressful and demanding lifestyles. The powerful essential oils of tulsi have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, and they are considered to balance blood sugar levels.
Interest in mate has been continuously rising in the western countries due to its unique nutritional profile and potential health benefits. Mate is known to be one of the most nutritious plants in the world particularly high in vitamins A, beta carotene, B1, B2, C and E, as well as phosphorus, iron and calcium.
Mate tea is very rich in polyphenol antioxidants, being slightly more antioxidant than tea made from camellia sinensis, although with a different antioxidant profile. Dry mate leaves are high in caffeine and the antioxidant chlorogenic acid – recent studies have shown an association between the use of chlorogenic acid and the reduction of the size of fat cells.
In recent clinical trials this ‘superplant’ has also been shown to contribute to the health of the heart. It is considered to lower bad cholesterol and reduce the overall fat content in the blood, especially in people with high fat diets.