If you’re like most people, you start your day with a cup of joe—even when you’re feeling a little under the weather. However, what might be more beneficial is reaching for a hot cup of tea instead. Like coffee, some teas contain caffeine to jump-start your morning, but unlike coffee, there’s tea for illness.
Teas derived from the camellia sinensis plant have high-powered, natural antioxidants that help parts of the body, like the heart, lungs, and brain, function better. But teas made from other plants have feel-good benefits, too. So, it might be worth it to brew a cup of tea for feeling sick. Read on to learn about the types of teas, tips for picking teas, the right teas for your symptoms, and more.
Types of Teas
Tea leaves that come from the tea plant hold a lot of nutritional value. When these leaves are harvested, they go through various stages of oxygen exposure to get their distinct color, flavor, and health attributes. In using these leaves for tea, you’ll get more flavor out of the really oxidized leaves (black tea) and more of the healthy stuff from the least oxidized leaves (white tea). Let’s break it down.
- Black tea. In black tea, you’re tasting the most oxidized tea leaves. That means the leaves have been exposed to air for a long time—until they turn black. Sometimes, they’re even broken and mashed up, so all parts of the leaves get aired out. Doing this makes black tea strong and robust in flavor and amps up its theaflavin content, but reduces the other healthy perks. The great news is that theaflavin is a chemical that can promote heart health and improve focus and blood sugar levels.
- Oolong tea. Oolong tea is the traditional Chinese tea, and while it’s the least consumed tea in the world, it’s teeming with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It’s partially oxidized and may prevent diabetes, support heart health, and help with weight loss.
- Green tea. Green tea leaves are left to dry in the sun or by pan-fire. Because these tea leaves don’t get as much air, they have a high antioxidant content and beneficial micronutrients. Green tea is known to have a positive impact on skin health, weight loss, and cardiovascular conditions.
- White tea. One of the rarer forms of tea and the least processed and oxidized teas, white tea is made using only baby tea leaves and undergoes natural drying after harvest. In this natural state, it contains the most antioxidants and may lower blood pressure, improve circulation, and decrease the risk of heart disease.
How to Pick the Best Tea for Illness
Since ancient times, drinking tea has been considered a health-promoting habit, but today’s tea selection varies widely. To pick teas that provide the most benefit, be sure to:
- Read the label. Check the ingredients and nutritional facts to confirm you get a good serving of the tea plant and fewer additional flavors.
- Keep it simple. Stick to green, black, white, oolong, and pu-erh teas in their simplest form for the biggest antioxidant boost.
- Avoid the trendy stuff. Stay away from fad-diet teas, fancy tea lattes, and bubble teas that may harm your health more than good with the excessive sugar they have.
- Come prepared. Don’t rush to grab anything on the shelf. Some teas provide more health benefits than others, so know what you’re looking for before heading out the door.
What Illnesses Does Tea Help With?
Tea helps ease a variety of illnesses, like coughs and sore throats. And with wintertime being the official cold and flu season, knowing what tea is best for your immune system is the key to relief! Below, we break down the common symptoms of these illnesses and teas that might help you cope.
Echinacea: An immunity booster, it helps your body fight germs and infections. It can shorten the duration of a common cold or flu and alleviate symptoms.
Slippery elm: Containing mucilage, a sticky mixture of sugars, it coats the throat to prevent irritation and reduces your cough.
Peppermint tea: The workhorse in peppermint tea is menthol, which is a decongestant that cools a sore throat and may ease swelling in the sinuses.
Licorice root: From the licorice plant, glycyrrhiza glabra, its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects target upper respiratory conditions.
Green tea: Packed with antioxidants like catechins, polyphenols, and flavonoids, green tea helps decrease inflammation and swelling that causes your nasal passages to feel blocked and also offers a wide range of other health benefits.
Lavender tea: Used in soaps, oils, and balms, lavender in tea form can be just as effective in stabilizing mood and promoting relaxation. In a National Library of Medicine study from 2020, drinking lavender tea was shown to reduce anxiety and depression scores of 60 older adults when consumed in the morning and at night.
Dandelion root tea: Dried or fresh dandelion root herb tea can improve an upset stomach, as it acts as a mild laxative. Researchers suggest this tea can also help the performance of your liver and gallbladder.
Black tea: Like green tea, black tea can help you digest a heavy meal or mitigate indigestion. One study even proved black tea extract’s antidiarrheal effects. However, as it does contain caffeine, drinking it in moderation is ideal.
Ginger tea: With the medicinal properties of gingerol and shogaols, the ginger in this tea increases digestive responsiveness and speeds up stomach emptying, diminishing nausea.
Chamomile tea: Derived from the chamomile plant, chamomile tea is widely known to have sedative effects. It also includes apigenin, an antioxidant that can induce muscle relaxation and sleep.
Ease Your Symptoms with Tea
Tea can work its magic in just under an hour without the need for medications. You can find a remedy for everything from coughing to sleeplessness and more because herbal tea is nature’s medicine. And when you’re feeling even more under the weather with the wintertime woes, consider the ultimate cure-all—a warm and tasty meal from your slow cooker. Check out these effortless slow cooker recipes for comforting goodness.