Sipping Health: A look at the benefits of tea

Published on Saturday, 28 September 2013 19:13 - Written by By Coshandra Dillard cdillard@tylerpaper.com

Commercial tea bags aren’t the only way to enjoy a hot cup of tea. More varieties of loose-leaves available in stores and specialty teashops are giving hot tea a boost in popularity.

For example, black, green, white, floral-infused, oolong and blooming teas line a wall at FRESH by Brookshire’s. The store offers 42 varieties of bulk tea. Their most popular is Earl Gray, a type of black tea.

“Most customers like the citrus-like taste as well as the added benefit that black tea is a very strong antioxidant that can help fight off free radicals in your body,” said Andrew Dosser,” the health and wellness manager at FRESH.

Danielle Townsend, registered dietitian/nutrition at Mother Frances Hospital, said people always have been drawn to hot tea because of its health benefits.

“Green tea is one of the most popular ones,” she said. “The antioxidants are the biggest components. “

Tea also provides less caffeine than coffee. But any healthy beverage can become unhealthy when adding a lot of sugar — real or artificial.

“Use fruit juice from fruits, not a bottle, like lemon or orange,” Ms. Townsend said. “Get creative. When I do have hot tea, I like to use agave nectar, which is lower on the glycemic index. It’s a slightly healthier alternative to table sugar.”

 

WHAT’S THE DIFFERNCE?

Black, white, green, and oolong teas all come from the Camellia sinesis plant. White tea is the more rare and most expensive of the teas. White tea has the strongest antioxidant properties and has been touted for its antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. Silver needle white tea is one of the most popular Chinese teas, with its subtle melon taste. It is generally a very low caffeinated tea.

Green tea is the most widely available tea and has a high concentration of polyphenols — a type of antioxidant. Fans of green tea use it as part of a weight loss regimen. Researchers found that catechins, components in green tea extract, could have an effect on weight loss, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Black teas are usually the sweetest of the teas, making it a favorite for taste. Oolong tea is similar to green and black tea and but is partially processed after harvesting.

 

HERBAL TEAS

While commercially grown teas come from the woody plant Camellia sinesis, herbal “teas” can be made from a plethora of herbs.

Mary Wilhite, co-owner of Blue Moon Gardens in Edom, sells hundreds of varieties of herbs that customers use for tea.

Among her favorites: Mexican mint marigold, lemongrass, lemon verbena, scented geraniums and mint teas. She said other plants that make a good tea include sage, hyssop blue flowers and the relaxing chamomile.

“Herbs are our specialty,” Ms. Wilhite said. “They do have a lot of nutritional and medicinal properties. All the synthetic drugs around the market were from herbs and plants. For thousands of years, that’s all they used.”

Keith Hansen, a horticulturalist with Texas Agrilife Extension Service in Smith County, said herbs are very easy to grow in a backyard or container.

“There are a few that are perennial, meaning, they live and survive multiple years, and some are annuals, which means they germinate from seed, grow one season and then they die,” he said. “Most of the herbal teas are a perennial of some sort.”

Echinacea, a popular option that people use during cold and flu season, is usually grown for its attractive blooms.

“People actually grow it more for an actual flower. It’s a pretty perennial herb,” Hansen said.

Ms. Wilhite said herbs could be clipped and used right away for tea.

“Most do really well fresh, but you can also dry them for some of the things that die down in the winter,” she said. “Now would be the good time to start drying.”

Ms. Townsend said when trying a new herbal tea, particularly Echinacea, to conduct your own research or consult with an expert at a reputable health food store.