Fall is here and winter is just around the corner, bringing with it darker days and frosty nights. Whether being lured to the slopes and rinks or just bunkering down and tolerating the cold, one of the best ways to embrace the upcoming season and to warm up after a long day of winter is with a hot cup of tea.
Since the Hudson Bay Company’s first shipment in 1716, Canadians have appreciated the enjoyment a steaming cup of tea provides. Over the years this beverage has become increasingly popular. In fact, recent figures show that the average Canadian drinks about 264 cups a year, with an overall yearly consumption of over 9 billion cups – second only to coffee.
The camellia sinensis evergreen shrub is native to India and China and provides over 1,000 different varieties of teas.
Each type is a unique product dependent on where it is grown and the processing and harvesting techniques used to bring it to your cup.
The degree and method of oxidation or fermentation used to dry and process the leaves is the main difference between many different varieties of tea. Black, oolong and white tea are the most oxidized, while green tea is processed with minimal oxidation, retaining more beneficial polyphenols.
While a cup of tea can be relaxing and soothing, it also provides many different types of plant compounds that can assist with overall health and wellbeing. A single cup of tea contains numerous varieties of plant polyphenols, flavonoids and catechins that support our immune system and lower inflammation by scavenging and detoxifying free radicals in the body.
Tea does contain the alkaloid caffeine which is a known stimulant. Generally, an average cup has about 30 to 50 mg of caffeine (depending on brewing method), which can cause irritability and anxiety for those who are sensitive to this compound.
However, when consumed in moderation – up to three cups daily – tea is a lower-caffeine alternative to coffee. Not only can tea be enjoyable and relaxing for most, but due to the many beneficial plant compounds it contains, it can be considered a healthy beverage choice as well.
There are also herbal ‘teas’ available that are made from the fruit, stems, flowers, seeds or root of a plant. Most are caffeine-free and can be used to help remedy various minor health conditions. Some popular varieties are ginger, mint, licorice, rooibos (red tea), chamomile and echinacea.
Caffeine-free or not, no matter what type of tea you enjoy, they all supply a powerhouse of different phytochemicals. In effect, each type of tea offers its own unique set of medicinal qualities that can be used to help with various health concerns such as:
Heart Health: Black, oolong and green tea when consumed regularly have been shown to reduce both cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Herbal hawthorn tea has the ability to relax the vascular system for increased heart-related benefits.
Cancer Prevention: The flavonoid epigallocatechin-3 (ECGC) is found in high quantities in green tea and is a suspected cancer fighter. The many different antioxidants in green tea have been shown in some studies to inhibit damage to DNA, and are believed to interfere with the growth of cancerous tumors including breast, colon and stomach.
Stress Reducers: Herbal teas such as chamomile and holy basil have adaptogenic compounds and help the body to manage and balance undue stress. Other great options include Siberian Ginseng and ashwagandha.
Stomach calming: Peppermint leaf tea has been shown to help alleviate indigestion. Ginger root tea can be used to help lessen nausea or inflammation from an injury.