My late mother-in-law chided me for being skeptical, a trait I attributed to:
–my science background (must be data-driven and reproducible!)
–the fact that my mother was an auditor (look for misrepresentations or falsified info!)
–my years as an editor (identify all errors and weak arguments!)
but my MIL was correct: I tend to start from a point of disbelief. If a product or person makes too many claims, I immediately look for foundational facts and confirming research.
Recently, Marlyse from The Wellness Tea reached out and kindly offered to send me a sample of their tea, which recently launched in the U.S. and Canada. Their herbal blend, available only in (pyramidal) teabags, is certified organic and contains no caffeine, artificial colors, or additives.
It’s well established that drinking both actual tea (C. sinensis) and certain herbal teas or tisanes can be healthy for us. Beyond simple hydration, plants offer myriad benefits—better demonstrated in some plants over others. Whenever I’ve delved into herbals, I’ve found that research on many of them is often inconclusive on specifics, although anecdotally a particular herb may seem to do what it’s claimed to do.
But sometimes an herb or a spice has been scientifically shown to offer specific, measurable, benefits to us, and this is exciting. Herbs have been used throughout human existence as food and beverage, enjoyment (caffeine, for one, has a long history of use), and of course medicine, especially when few other options were available.
So let’s take a look at The Wellness Tea, whose packaging claims many things:
- A blend of health benefits
- 100% organic herbal blend to naturally boost your daily balance
- Multi-benefits: immune system, anti-inflammatory, ease digestion, control blood sugar level, calming, cleanse, heart health, energy boost, improve skin health
This is a pretty comprehensive and impressive list—which demands the question:
Are any of the claims true?
Oh, and how does the tea taste? Although, in looking at the packaging, there are no claims that this tea will taste good. Which implies that this tea is targeting those who drink tea primarily for perceived health benefits vs those who drink mostly for pleasure. Which means that these claims should be based on well-designed scientific research.
Ingredients range from the familiar to those I haven’t had before: ashwagandha root, astragalus, chamomile, cinnamon, dandelion root, elderberries, ginger, lemon balm, milk thistle seeds, and turmeric.
The tisane yielded a dark brown-green cup with a strong aroma, both sweet and earthy, and with a hint of mint, although I don’t know what would contribute that.
Flavor matches aroma, with sweet earthiness. My first reaction was that the tisane was neither fully pleasant nor unpleasant. I wasn’t sure I would drink this on a daily basis, but it wasn’t not good. I did use two teabags because I had a large cup and I prefer strong brews, but the flavor was robust enough that I may have been able to get away with one teabag, so I think that is a plus.
After getting involved in looking up the ingredients and forgetting about drinking it for a bit, I discovered that I prefer this tisane cool rather than hot, and I think I would enjoy it even better iced. Cold, the flavors seem cleaner, and I like how you can pick them up individually. It definitely runs to the sweet side though.
I personally think a short taste description on the packaging would be a good thing, especially for the consumer who enjoys herbal teas but is less interested in purported health claims. (And I do like the crisp, clean design of the package.)
The Ingredients, and the Science Behind Them
So with the The Wellness Tea pleasant to drink, will consuming it will bring you any of the health benefits claimed on the packaging?
I do realize that aside from The Wellness Tea, many other companies also tout teas and tisanes that promise to boost health. Some of these companies are careful to not overstate benefits, although if you don’t read carefully, you can easily assume that the health benefits are more substantive than what the advertising text actually says. And of course that’s what the seller wants the potential customer to do.
At TeaHaus, we too agree that drinking tea can be part of a healthy lifestyle—there are many scientific studies indicating that actual tea (Camellia sinensis), consumed as tea, offers myriad health benefits. And this includes black, green, white, oolong, yellow, and fermented tea. With so many well-documented benefits, research continues to tease apart the components in C. sinensis for use in supplements and in an array of applications, from improving contrast in MRIs to fighting viruses.
And of course fruit and herbals are good simply because they are plants. It can even be argued that drinking tea and tisanes are better than drinking plain water because you’re getting more polyphenols, vitamins, and so on into your diet.
But research on many herbals has lagged behind that on C. sinensis, possibly because results have often been inconclusive. With little solid data, muddied by years of anecdotal accounts, it’s pretty much a gray area.
Therefore, efforts to revisit and test ingredients used by traditional medicine are valid and needed—especially given their deep history of documented use.
Unfortunately, we’re still in the beginning stages of such research, and for many herbals, we await further analysis—which means we must be careful what we claim. Yes, most plants are good, but we can’t necessarily claim that “x” will do “y.”
So back to The Wellness Tea specifically. Their website lists many benefits that these ingredients supposedly provide, but their claims are unfortunately not substantiated with specific data. There’s a link to only one study, and that link goes merely to the American Heart Association home page. And lines like “the anti-inflammatory powers found in The Wellness Tea are all thanks to a magical ingredient called turmeric” are less than scientific.
From a little cursory research that I independently did, there isn’t a preponderance of well-designed scientific experiments for some of The Wellness Tea’s claims. Many studies are preliminary, meaning the data are scant. On the other hand, some health claims do have validity. However, because sources aren’t provided, it’s impossible to know which are which.
So here’s what I found in my own search:
The first listed ingredient is ashwagandha root, a plant used for centuries in India’s ayurvedic system of medicine. While it’s also called Indian winter cherry or Indian ginseng,
the root smells like horse (“ashwa”), that is why it is called Ashwagandha (on consuming it gives the power of a horse). (Singh et al. 2011)
And science does seem to bear out the “power of a horse” idea, indicating that the plant enhances stamina and energy; it also seems to alleviate stress, which potentially helps protect against diseases in which stress plays a role (Singh et al. 2011). Study continues on its role in many areas, including cognition, cancer, and inflammation.
Next is astragalus, long used in traditional Chinese medicine but, according to the NIH (2020), little-studied in the western world:
There are no high-quality studies in people of astragalus for any health condition.
Although Mt. Sinai (2021) in New York, at first glance, has a more encouraging view of astragalus, calling it “an adaptogen, meaning it helps protect the body against various stresses, including physical, mental, or emotional stress,” they also refer to the research that’s been done—with disclaimers that the studies were poorly designed, had mixed results, and were only preliminary. I’d say that translates into “we don’t really know yet.”
The next ingredient is chamomile, which I’ve previously addressed (Chamomile Tea: A Help for Sleep and Stress?), finding little conclusive evidence that consuming the herb as tea did anything.
*An important note here: many studies are carried out using concentrated supplements, which contain far more of the ingredient under study than would ever be ingested in a cup of tea.
Cinnamon, conversely, has been shown in the lab to help with insulin function and protects against cognitive issues (see my post The Cinnamon of Autumn Teas). Like many other spices, cinnamon has measurable antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.
Moving on to dandelion root, the NIH (2020) says that although the plant was used medicinally in North America and Mexico,
there’s no compelling scientific evidence supporting the use of dandelion for any health condition.
Elderberries fare better, with the NIH (2020) acknowledging that their use in folk medicine may be warranted, with some scientific evidence that they do relieve flu and upper respiratory infections, although not COVID-19.
I’ve previously looked at ginger (see Can Tea Relieve Migraine?), which, like cinnamon, has several scientifically demonstrated benefits, so next is lemon balm. Medical News Today (2020) says this about the herb:
Unfortunately, limited research exists that proves the effectiveness of lemon balm across larger populations
although preliminary studies indicate it may have multiple benefits.
Benefits of milk thistle, or silymarin, seeds are another toss-up, according to the NIH (2020):
We know little about whether milk thistle is effective in people, as only a few well-designed clinical studies have been conducted.
So finally, turmeric, the spice that’s all the rage these days.
Used in Chinese traditional medicine and India’s ayurvedic medicine, turmeric’s main component is the polyphenol curcumin. Although, as the NIH (2020) notes, the “health effects remain uncertain,” many studies are taking place, with a huge list of potential positive effects on our health.
One sticking point of curcumin is that the human body doesn’t absorb it well and quickly metabolizes and eliminates it. Currently, researchers are trying to combine it with other components, such as piperine (found in black pepper), to increase curcumin’s bioavailability (Hewlings and Kalman 2017).
Some validity: ashwagandha root, cinnamon, elderberries, ginger
Some validity, but probably not in practice (yet): turmeric
Unconvincing: astragalus, chamomile, dandelion root, lemon balm, milk thistle seeds
So, Can The Wellness Tea Live Up to Its Claims?
Will this tea improve your health? Or “boost your daily balance”?
There’s no way to say conclusively, especially given the mostly vague results of research on many of the tea’s ingredients, and the fact that many studies evaluate concentrated supplements, not tea.
The Wellness Tea website says:
The Wellness Tea offers a single solution by providing all of those previously listed health benefits in just one cup.
But where’s the research that indicates whether these ingredients work synergistically? Might they work against each other? Are the concentrations in this tea high enough? Have any studies been done on this specific tea, this specific combination of ingredients? Who has evaluated its efficacy in improving heart health or controlling blood sugar levels?
Still, ashwagandha root, ginger, and cinnamon seem to offer some health benefits. The other ingredients—being plants—contain polyphenols, which are antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, which of course offer many health benefits. But even here the science is not straightforward.
Calculating specific benefits is extremely complicated because you first have to figure out what amount of a given polyphenol, or micronutrient, is actually available in a useful form to your body after you’ve ingested it.
According to Pandey and Rizvi (2009):
- There is no correlation between how many polyphenols are in a given food and how many of them are biologically available in your body,
- Every polyphenol has a different bioavailability in your body,
- Most polyphenols can’t be absorbed by your body until they are broken down in a chemical reaction with water, and thus are changed in form,
- It’s “very difficult to identify all the metabolites and to evaluate their biological activity,” and
- “The most common polyphenols in our diet are not necessarily those showing highest concentration of active metabolites in target tissues; consequently the biological properties of polyphenols greatly differ from one polyphenol to another.”
Further, the concentration of polyphenols in a specific plant depends on what part of the plant is being used, how ripe the plant is, the plant’s specific environment, whether the plant was stressed, how the plant was processed, how the plant was stored (Pandey and Rizvi 2009).
What I didn’t like about The Wellness Tea: From a scientific standpoint, I’m extremely wary of health claims that are as specific as those listed for The Wellness Tea and I personally find them a very far stretch. And I mistrust health claims that don’t provide sources.
In the end, I suggest that if you have a health concern, see your doctor. But if herbal tisanes are your go-to beverage because you like them or you want to avoid caffeine or you incorporate them as part of a healthy lifestyle, then you certainly might enjoy The Wellness Tea.
So, what I liked about The Wellness Tea: Its flavor is pleasant, and I believe that this aspect should be part of its packaging (which I also like). Yes, I realize that the target consumers are mostly those who drink this tea primarily for health reasons. But how much better to drink a tea that tastes good!
Further, “wellness” does means many things—including having a peaceful moment with a cup of tea.
Sources: Hewlings, S. J. and D. S. Kalman, “Curcumin,” Foods 6(10). 2017; Medical News Today, “Lemon balm: uses and health benefits,” 3/3/2020; Mt. Sinai, “Astragalus,” Ichan School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, 2021; NIH, “Astragalus,” NCCIH, August 2020; NIH, “Dandelion,” NCCIH, May 2020; NIH, “Elderberry,” NCCIH, August 2020; NIH, “Milk thistle,” NCCIH, August 2020; NIH, “Turmeric,” NCCIH, May 2020; Pandey, K. B. and S. I. Rizvi, “Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in humans health and disease,” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 2(5):270–78. 2009; Singh, N., “An overview on Ashwagandha,” Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med 9(5 Suppl):208–213. 2011.