Despite the fact that summer stretches a full three weeks into the month, September has long signified the start of autumn, the school year, harvest time, warmer clothing. It’s the end of vacations and the beginning of study.
It’s also the perfect time to think about bolstering our health, what with both coronavirus and this year’s flu staring us down.
The benefits of eating well can’t be overstated, and we know that tea also helps both mind and body. Herbal tisanes (teas) and spices offer up their own complement of benefits, as borne out by ancient practices as well as modern science.
Included would be ayurvedic herbal teas, with ayurveda simply meaning the science or knowledge of life.
Emerging from India’s ancient Vedic period, this 5000-year-old system of medicine focuses on balancing our body’s systems through diet, herbs, breathing exercises, and lifestyle. Long recognized in India as a formal system of medicine, research continues within this rich tradition and the western world has begun to take note.
Ayurveda, which encompasses body, mind, and spirit, describes three energy types that operate in our bodies. These body systems or doshas (from Sanskrit “fault, disease”) are still known by their Sanskrit names: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
When they are out of balance with each other, there can be psychophysiological and pathological manifestations (Garodia et al. 2007); treatment, then, involves using opposite factors.
- the energy of movement
- ether (space) + air
- regulates pitta and kapha
- creative, dynamic, flexible
- the downside may be anxiety or overstimulation
- our metabolic system
- fire + water
- achievement oriented, takes action, passionate
- the flip side can be anger
- the energy that forms our body’s structure
- earth + water
- calm, grounded, nurturing
- the weak spot can be stagnation
As scientists try to determine how ayurvedic medicine works, there’ve been speculations that the herbs and spices used in antiquity targeted the same molecular components that today’s drugs target. Ancient practitioners may have not known exactly what was taking place physiologically, but they certainly would’ve seen results that told them that using x treatment yielded y effects.
Further, they understood that restoring a person to wellness involves their mental, emotional, and spiritual state in addition to their physical state. When pharmaceuticals ushered in modern medicine to the western world, many of these concepts were quite neglected, and we’re only now realizing the importance of treating the entire person. Using the model of doshas, predictions might be possible, including how people might react to drugs, medical treatment, and changes in lifestyle, allowing “target[ed] health promotion at all levels of life” (Travis and Wallace 2015).
With this focus on balancing bodily systems, ayurvedic is all about health and living well, so, as you’d expect, there are many suggested teas. Some target specific health ailments whereas others, like the three carried by TeaHaus in Ann Arbor, might balance specific doshas.
So if you’re vata (and there are plenty of online tests to help you determine this), you might be prone to anxiety or becoming overly excited. Vata tea, then, is a sweet mix of licorice, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, anise, and mallow blossoms.
This thick, creamy tea coats your throat (great for sore throats); there’s no caffeine to stimulate; and its coriander traditionally is used to counter anxiety while the licorice and anise are smooth and soothing.
Additionally, this blend is full of spices—and we know that spices such as cinnamon and ginger boost the immune system, are antioxidants, and are antibacterials. In fact, when heated, the antibacterial benefit of cinnamon increases.
So for all you pitta types, perhaps a bit heated, what better counterbalance than a cooling tisane?
Pitta tea is a pretty mixture of green mint and raspberry leaves and pale yellow-green lemon grass, sprinkled with the pink and purple petals of mallow and rose petals, and rounded out with cardamom and licorice.
Its cooling and bright peppermint flavor is just right—light body, with a slight lemony undertone. Iced, it’s especially refreshing.
Mint’s cooling effect is due to menthol, an essential oil. When menthol binds to receptors on sensory neurons, calcium ions move into the cells, sending a “cool” message to the brain.
Powerful and peppery, Kapha tea packs a punch! The weak spot of this dosha is too much calmness . . . leading to stagnation. Hence this tea’s fiery kick!
The blend of ginger, blackberry leaves, lemon balm leaves, parsley, fennel, coriander, chili, and cardamom means all the antioxidants that plants provide—plus the extra health benefits of spices. Cardamom, for example, has been shown to have both antioxidant and antibacterial benefits, particularly when heated. (Many people like this tea’s hot spiciness when they are congested.)
In the ayurvedic tradition, it’s all about balance. As the dictionary defines it, balance means all elements are in equal or correct proportions.
Today, we find it more vital than ever to keep our lives in as much balance as we can so that we’re able to face whatever’s thrown at us. And in an ongoing pandemic, that can be a lot.
So meditate, exercise, eat a healthy diet, maintain social connections, and do anything else that helps you keep your life in balance—including having tea!
–Garodia, P., et al., “From ancient medicine to modern medicine: ayurvedic concepts of health and their role in inflammation and cancer,” Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology 5(1), 2007.
–Travis, F. T., and R. K. Wallace, “Dosha brain-types: a neural model of individual differences,” Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine 6(4):280–85, 2015.