Soothing Illness with Tea

As we head into flu and cold season, tea is always there to make you feel better!

To learn more, check out Prevention‘s article featuring Lisa McDonald, tea sommelier and owner of TeaHaus in Ann Arbor, Michigan:

The 6 Best Teas to Soothe Your Sore Throat


And for even more tea suggestions and info, see these previous posts:

What Tea Do I Drink for a Sore Throat?

What Tea Do I Drink for a Fever?

What Tea Do I Drink for a Cold and Congestion?

Can Drinking Tea Help Prevent the Flu?


The Tea We Call Chai

Pull out the spices! Apple pie, pumpkin pie, spiced cider—and chai—season has arrived!whole-spices-webSo let me ask you: seasonal junk food? Or health-boosting treats?

And why do we suddenly crave them when autumn rolls ’round?

honey-montage-webBefore the advent of refrigeration and the practice of shipping food all over the world, people generally ate food that was locally grown, and in the season that it was harvested.

Since apples and pumpkins, for example, arrive as the weather chills and sets the leaves ablaze, we Michiganders may be sort of programmed to indulge in these foods at this time of year, whether an evolutionary thing or from habit.

But of course they taste the best at harvest, and they provide plenty of health benefits. For example, pumpkins and winter squash don’t accumulate heavy metals (making them ideal for baby food), and like apples, are loaded with antioxidants; there is some indication that they help with depression.

And as to adding spices to apples and pumpkins—there may be good science in that too.

Spices boost the immune system; lower the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer; are antioxidants and antibacterials; and, in spice combinations, may improve bioactivities, which in turn are good for your nutritional health.

In a study of the health benefits of twelve spices, our favorite autumn spices—cloves and cinnamon—ranked on the top! Further, when spices were heated, antioxidant benefits increased for cardamom and cloves, as did the antibacterial benefits for cardamom and cinnamon.
cookies-with-chai-webIf you add honey, well, that also might have some benefits. Ongoing research suggests honey has antimicrobial, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Therefore, adding all these together:

spices + fruit + honey + heat + tea = CHAI, a drink perfectly suited to autumn

Chai can be many things: black or green tea based, or just a blend of spices. Recipes abound.

Unfortunately, like so much of tea’s history, chai’s origin was political and complex.

brewed-webThe 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago was pivotal to tea producers trying to gain a greater foothold in the U.S. market and convert them from green (i.e., Chinese and Japanese) to black (i.e., Ceylon or Indian) tea drinkers.

Ceylon realized that a duty on tea could fund their exhibition at the fair—along with a year’s worth of making connections and building relationships.

With India, then, at a distinct disadvantage in Chicago, British tea producers instituted their own duty before the 1903 fair, and beefed up advertising.

Including to India. And with not just a little condescension and arrogance. And with the thought that because India was still a colony, it “might be easier to control and certainly cheaper to develop than that of the United States” (Rappaport 2017:208). Plus it’d be a way to profitably get rid of extra tea.

Indians, of course, already knew about tea, and had a history of drinking tea from China.  So part of this new advertising was “teaching” Indians how to “properly” drink tea. Yeah.

And rather than see that when Indians made a sweetened spicy, milky tea—or masala (or spice blend) chai (or tea), which we now often call simply chai—it was perhaps

a creative way that Indians made [black] tea more familiar and affordable, [but tea] promoters worried that this “spiced tea” would not contain enough actual tea and thus lead to diminished demand for their product. They made efforts therefore to try to teach people how to brew, sell, and drink tea as the British drank it. . . . they advertised tea as Indian but wanted Indians to shop, sell, and drink tea like the British. (Rappaport 2017:261)

Not surprisingly, debate raged and Mahatma Gandhi called out advertisers for their propaganda. Yet, even with years of intense controversy, India didn’t end up outright spurning either the beverage or the crop.

Rather, as Rappaport (2017:262) says, “they made it their own.”

Today, India joins China as one of the world’s top producers of tea—from black tea that forms the base of chai and countless other blends to fine Assams and exquisite Darjeelings.

And there are as many types of chai as you can dream up, including these examples:

Kashmir Khali Kahwa, a green and black tea-based chai in which orange peel nestles alongside cinnamon pieces and whole cardamom and cloves;kashmiri-2-webEnlightenment, a naturally caffeine-free herbal tisane of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and pepper;enlightenment-webIndian Chai, a robust black tea-based chai that has cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and pepper;indian-chai-weband Pumpkin Chai, a pumpkin-informed black tea-based chai blend by TeaHaus.pumpkin-chai-webNo matter which blend you choose — and whether you sweeten it with a dollop of raw honey or something else or nothing at all — and whether you stir in a splash of over-the-top sweetened condensed milk or half-and-half or simply milk — crisp autumn days are the perfect time to indulge in a steaming cup of chai!brew-with-cookies-webAnd just maybe a cookie or two!

See related posts:
The Cinnamon of Autumn Teas
Pumpkin Chai Tea: Fall’s Favorite Flavors

Apple and beehive cookies by Eat More Tea; tea from TeaHaus; honeypot by Kristin Bartlett.

Sources: Advances in Environmental Biology (2012):2611ff.; Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture 27.8(2015):610ff.; Nutrition Journal 14(2015):48; Veterinarski Arhiv 88.1(2018):59ff.; A Thirst for Empire, by E. Rappaport, Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2017.

Purple Tea: A Healthier Tea?

Michigan maples are already flaunting their riotous oranges and reds!maple-1-webA fitting time to look at purple tea—tea leaves whose distinct purple hue is due to the same antioxidant that makes autumn foliage so breathtaking!leaves-in-cup-web

Sounding vaguely like a toxin rather than a health-boosting antioxidant, anthocyanin is technically the “blue, violet, or red flavonoid pigment found in plants.”

Purple tea leaves, then, are simply a genetic variant of Camellia sinensis, one with a higher anthocyanin level than what is usually found. The plants are propagated by cuttings to ensure they all produce the sought-after purple leaves.

Babu-Tea-packaging-webThe leaves in this sample of single origin Kenyan purple tea from Babu Organics are wonderfully long!leaves-in-spoon-web

I like my tea strong, so brewed it with boiling water for 5 minutes, although that was probably a tad too much. Still, the leaves even made a quite decent second brew.

As they steeped, the leaves beautifully opened and released what was, to me, a pleasant and somewhat toasty aroma, reminding me of grain or hay earthiness:




The brewed leaves have a purple hint,


and the cup is distinctively mauve in color.


The liquor is full bodied, woodsy, a bit earthy, and not bitter in the least. Very pleasant, a good match for brisk autumn mornings.

So since these leaves have more anthocyanin, more antioxidants, does that make them healthier?

The jury is definitely out on that one. One source claims purple tea has:

a host of medicinal properties, is rich in anthocyanins and contains lower catechins [whereas another source, Borowsky 2018, claims higher levels of catechins] . . . . low caffeine content and is high in antioxidants that provide anti-cancer benefits, improve vision, lowers cholesterol and blood sugar metabolism. . . . It has a unique thirst quenching quality and is known to reduce the risk of hypertension and cardiac arrests. (Press Trust of India 2014)

But all tea from C. sinensis is loaded with antioxidants and has demonstrated health benefits.

Does the extra anthocyanin make a difference? It’s not yet clear.

Scientists recently isolated the transcription factor CsAN1, allowing them to control for anthocyanin—and paving the way for additional anthocyanin-rich varieties (Science Letter 2016).

But even if the difference in health benefits is negligible, purple strains have other advantages:

  • Greater amounts of light in research studies resulted in more anthocyanin (Science Letter 2016), so this variety is a natural for growing at high altitudes near the equator, like in Kenya, which lies on the equator.
  • The plants seem to be drought and frost resistant (Martin 2015), a valuable asset as the climate continues to change.
  • The leaves can be made into various types of tea, giving flexibility.


Regardless, this tea can simply be enjoyed—while marveling how this one antioxidant results in purple tea and brilliant trees!

–”New Biological Pigments Study Findings Reported from College of Horticulture [Purple foliage coloration in tea (Camellia sinensis L.) arises from activation of the R2R3-MYB transcription factor CsAN1],” Science Letter 7:1383, Oct. 2016.
–”Purple tea: innovation or hype?” by N. Martin, The Daily Tea, Jan. 16, 2015.
–”Purple tea—is this the tea of the future?” Press Trust of India, NDTV Food, Dec. 29, 2014.
–”What is purple tea?” by K. Borowsky, The Whistling Kettle, March 19, 2018.

Tea: A Magic Elixir?

China Royal Jasmine Curls

Seemingly every month there is a newly discovered health benefit to drinking tea, often green tea. Shouted from headlines, people sometimes think that they should start drinking tea—specifically green tea—even if they dislike it!

So should they?

Researchers tackle this very question in various ways.

For example, they might first evaluate tea drinkers against a control group.

If those tea drinkers seem to benefit in some way (and plenty of studies indicate there are very real advantages to drinking tea!), the study might evolve into a more controlled experiment within a laboratory setting. After all, the researchers want to isolate what specifically causes the effect and be able to measure it precisely. Then, how might that effect be optimized and applied in a controlled and meaningful way?

534-brew-2_0053Green Tea’s Health Benefits—Physical, Social, Cognitive

Various studies have suggested that drinking green tea may:

  • lower the likelihood of dying by stroke, heart attack, or pneumonia
  • lower the risk of cognitive impairment (e.g., protect neurons from damage and maintain neuron viability)
  • lower risk of depression, psychological distress, osteoporosis, cardiovascular issues
  • lower the rate of diabetes, liver disease, body pain
  • increase social engagement, motor function, cognitive activity

So just what about tea has these effects? How exactly does this work? Can this factor be isolated, concentrated, and then used medicinally for specific purposes?

534-brew-6_0064The Magic of Polyphenols

A key seems to be polyphenols—antioxidants that are naturally found in plants. All tea—whether green, black, oolong, or white—is produced from Camellia sinensis, and they all have polyphenols. However, these polyphenols differ somewhat.

In Green Tea

When tea leaves are plucked, plant cells are damaged and the leaves immediately begin to oxidize. To stop this process and to produce green tea, the leaves are steamed or pan-fried. This keeps the polyphenols largely as flavanols or catechins. And it is these catechins that give green tea its color and vegetal flavor.

polyphenol chart-green tea2

In Black Tea

To produce black tea, the leaves are more fully oxidized, which converts the simple polyphenols into more complex forms: theaflavin and thearubigin. Controlling the oxidation controls the appearance and flavor of black tea, with theaflavin providing the tea’s yellow pigments and bright taste and thearubigin providing tea’s brown pigments and depth of flavor.

polyphenol chart-bl tea2

But the conversion of catechins into theaflavins does not reduce their antioxidant properties. In fact, one study has shown that green tea catechins and black tea theaflavins have the same antioxidant potency!

534_first-inf_0243And a Magic Ingredient?

In a recent study, one of the polyphenols in green tea, epigallocatechin-3-gallate or EGCG, has been shown to work with the anticoagulant heparin to protect blood vessels against plaque.

In fact, the authors of the study say this is a “surprising cooperative effect of heparin and the green tea polyphenol . . . EGCG” (Townsend et al. 2018).

The EGCG binds to a protein that forms amyloid deposits, and “convert[s] them to smaller soluble molecules that are less likely to be damaging to blood vessels” (GEN 2018).

Upshot? Protection against stroke and heart attack—but, unfortunately, you’re unlikely to get much of this benefit by simply drinking green tea. This is why laboratory experiments are so important, and are designed to potentially bring tea in some form or other into medical treatment options.

So should a person drink tea for its health benefits?

There seems to be few drawbacks to drinking tea (like anything, in moderation) and potentially a lot of benefits, not the least because—well, to many of us, it truly is that magic elixir!

China Royal Jasmine Curls available at

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN), “Green tea compound dissolves plaques in blood vessels, may boost heart health,” 2018; L. K. 
Leung et al., “Theaflavins in black tea and catechins in green tea are equally effective antioxidants,” Journal of Nutrition 131(9):2248–51, 2001; Massachusetts General Hospital, “Green tea may help conserve cognition, cup by cup,” Mind, Mood and Memory 8(6):4, 2012; H. Mukhtar and N. Ahmad, “Tea polyphenols,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71(6):1698s–702s, 2000; W. Shen et al., “Tea consumption and cognitive impairment,” PLoS ONE 10(9):e0137781, 2015; Y. Tomata et al., “Green tea consumption and the risk of incident functional disability in elderly Japanese,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 95:732–39, 2012; D. Townsend et al., “Epigallocatechin-3-gallate remodels apolipoprotein A-I amyloid fibrils into soluble oligomers in the presence of heparin,” Journal of Biological Chemistry, May 31, 2018; Y. Wang and C.-T. Ho, “Polyphenolic chemistry of tea and coffee,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 57:8109–14, 2009.

Make Your Own Sparkling Teas

ceylon_crop-webSparkling Teas . . .

are coming soon to your local grocery store, if they haven’t already shown up.

But you can make sparkling tea today—

  • by yourself,
  • with your favorite tea, and
  • with total control of just how much, if any, sugar they contain.

To compare, the new Sanpellegrino + Tea (by Nestlé Waters) contains organic tea extract, real fruit juice, and cane sugar; there are 50 calories per serving (Dobos 2018).

Another sparkling tea called SoMATCHAAH! by Matchaah is also pending. According to its website, the new beverage will contain matcha tea, carbonated water, cane sugar, citric acid, and natural flavors. Although it touts the antioxidant benefits of matcha, again, there’s the cane sugar.

While these teas are undeniably convenient, it’s too bad they contain sugar.

Back in 2015 a study found that:

Consumption of SSB [sugar-sweetened beverages] such as soft drinks . . . was associated with higher type 2 diabetes risk independently of socio-demographic, lifestyle and dietary factors. . . . Our findings suggest that reducing consumption of sweet beverages, in particular soft drinks and sweetened-milk beverages, and promoting drinking water and unsweetened tea or coffee as alternatives may help curb the escalating diabetes epidemic. (O’Connor et al. 2015) [emphasis added]

Further, the study suggests that if water or unsweetened tea or coffee is substituted for just one sugar-sweetened beverage on a daily basis, the diabetes risk evidently decreases by 14–25%, which seems decently significant!


So why not enjoy tea’s health benefits without the added sugar?

TeaHaus suggests a couple of ways to make amazingly refreshing sparkling tea. And depending on the tea used (fruit teas really shine here), you can come up with something similar to lightly flavored sparkling water or a concoction more like a soft drink.

Note: You can add carbonation to any tea. Simply start with concentrated tea and add carbonated water and ice, adjusting the ratios to your personal preference.

Method One

Measure out three times the amount of tea you would normally use. For example, if you are making a 20-ounce glass of iced carbonated tea, use triple the amount of tea and add 6 oz of hot water (use temperature and brew time specified for that particular tea).

Fill a 20-ounce glass about half full with ice.

Pour in the brewed tea and add carbonated water to fill the glass (you can either make your own carbonated water with a carbonation machine or use bottled sparkling water).

Top off with ice.

Note:  If you prefer, add agave or honey while the tea is brewing.

lade_final-webMethod Two

Make a tea-infused syrup and add to any sparkling water (or sparkling wine!—though I suppose that may negate some of the health benefits you are going for, depending on which side of the “wine is good/bad for you” debate you support).

Syrup:  Add 12 grams (about ½ ounce) of tea to 16 ounces of boiling water; allow to infuse for 15 minutes to overnight. Strain and cool completely.

And Enjoy . . .

–Dobos, E. “Budding products: new carbonated teas,” World Tea News, April 9, 2018.
–O’Connor, L. et al. “Prospective associations and population impact of sweet beverage intake and type 2 diabetes, and effects of substitutions,” Diabetologia, March 6, 2015.

Herbal Japanese Mulberry Leaves Tea, an Antidote to a Lousy Morning

The weather sucks with the lousy rain turning into heavy wet snow and I have a migraine and my car is making a loud scraping sound whenever I turn left.


I totally get that these are very minor complaints in light of, well, pretty much everything else that’s happening pretty much all around us pretty much every day these days.

Still. Sometimes you just need small pleasures to mitigate the irritations.


Therefore, I pull out my Japanese Mulberry Leaves.

This herbal tea consists of small pieces of very dark green flat leaves that have lime-colored veins.


The tisane’s aroma is slightly sweet, subtly grassy, and the infusion is a clear bright lemon color that has a touch of lime.


The flavor matches the aroma, with unique earthy/grassy and herbal notes. It’s soft and smooth, reminding me of all that’s right with the world.

The Japanese Mulberry and Silk

Growing as a small tree or shrub, the Japanese Mulberry (Moraceae family) is native to Japan’s mountainous areas. For centuries it has been cultivated for its leaves, which are fed to silk worms.

Silk production originated in China, coming to Japan around BC 28. By the Heian period (794–1185 AD), the upper classes wore silk while the rest of the population was relegated to hemp and ramie (JRB Silk Fabrics).

The kimono was the most important Japanese garment. It was worn by fashionable ladies, sometimes as many as twenty kimonos at a time, all made of the thinnest, finest, most transparent silk, giving a rainbow appearance as the coloring of each layer melted into those above and below. (JRB Silk Fabrics)

The hardy mulberry tree handily supported the silk industry, even with repeated harvesting of its leaves.

The Japanese Mulberry and Possible Health Benefits

Further, the mulberry tree’s bark, fruit, leaves, and roots proved useful for more than silk worm food—so much so that “ancient Japanese society held the tree sacred” (Dr. Schar). Its medicinal applications included drinking the tisane made from the leaves.

A famous Japanese medical text oddly entitled, “How to take care of yourself by drinking tea” written by the Japanese Buddist monk Eisai, in 1211 AD, . . . states that mulberry is excellent for the people suffering from thirst. In the contemporary world we know he was referring to the thirst associated with diabetes. (Dr. Schar)

A lot of research on diabetes is currently being conducted with mulberry leaves. For example, one recent study  indicated that 1-Deoxynojirimycin from mulberry leaves lowered blood glucose, triglyceride, and total cholesterol levels of diabetic mice (Diabetes Week 2017).

My Cup of Japanese Mulberry Tea

Regardless whether this tisane has an effect on diabetes, it does have an effect on my mood.

Yes, the weather still is dreary and my car still makes that disconcerting noise, but my migraine is clearing and the tea is delicious.

–”The history of silk,” JRB Silk Fabrics, accessed March 1, 2018.
–”Japanese mulberry,” Dr. Schar, accessed March 1, 2018.
–”Researchers from Hefei University of Technology report new studies and findings in the area of type 2 diabetes (metabolic effect of 1-deoxynojirimycin from mulberry leaves on db/db diabetic mice using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry . . . ),” Diabetes Week, July 17, 2017, p. 84.

Japanese Mulberry Leaves available at

The Cinnamon of Autumn Teas

Cinnamon may well be autumn’s quintessential spice. Where would pumpkin and apple pie be without it?! Or your favorite chai on these chilly evenings?cinnamon-3-web

Culinary Spice Extraordinaire

Although the Western world tends to reach for cinnamon as part of dessert, this versatile spice is capable of so much more.

Native to Asia, the bark of the Cinnamomum evergreen tree has been used for centuries in Asian and African cuisines.

Cinnamon is harvested during the rainy season when the bark is more pliable; the bark is then rolled into the familiar sticks. The word “cinnamon” derives from Greek kinnamōmon, which itself came from the Hebrew qinnāmōn.

From the Middle Bronze Age

Gløgg, glüwein, mulled wine anyone? Cinnamon is an essential ingredient, but these beverages are actually latecomers to the mulled wine world.


Much earlier, ancient Egyptians were imbibing spiced medicinal wine, and in 1700 BC, revelers in a Canaanite palace were quaffing red and white wine that contained honey, mint, juniper berries—and cinnamon.

To the Middle Ages

Cinnamon eventually reached Europe, signaling wealth and prestige during the Middle Ages. It was used in baked goods, beverages, and meat-based dishes—and the more extravagant the use, the higher your social status.

The 1475 wedding of George, Duke of Bavaria, and Jadwiga of Poland required a staggering

386 pounds of pepper, 286 pounds of ginger, 257 pounds of saffron, 205 pounds of cinnamon, pounds of cloves, and 85 pounds of nutmeg (Freedman 2003).

Incidentally, cinnamon may have masked the taste of meat spoiling, with meat being another of those upper-class perks.

To Today—A Spice for Health?

This aromatic spice has been used medicinally for millennia, and today we know that cinnamon indeed has many health benefits.

The caveat is that much more research needs to be done. Like tea, the properties of cinnamon depend upon many factors such as where and how it is grown, the concentration used in the study, and the cinnamon variety.

Cassia cinnamon is the variety most likely to be found in our kitchens because it is more flavorful and less expensive, but Ceylon cinnamon seems to offer more health benefits. In high doses, cassia cinnamon is actually toxic.

Even with all the ambiguity, research does suggest that cinnamon may improve the function of insulin.

Like tea, cinnamon has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. In fact, when heated, its antibacterial benefits evidently increase.

Recent studies suggest that cinnamon also helps protect against cognitive problems, including Alzheimer’s disease.


So what’s not to like about cinnamon? Especially when blended with tea! 

Flavours and Fragrances of Plant Origin, FAO–Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy. 1995.
–Freedman, P. “Spices: how the search for flavors influenced our world,” YaleGlobal Online. 2003.
–LaMotte, S. “Cinnamon: Pantry staple—and medical powerhouse?” CNN. August 29, 2017.
–Seema, J. et al. “Effect of Cinnamomum zeylanicum extract on scopolamine-induced cognitive impairment and oxidative stress in rats,” Nutritional Neuroscience 18(5). 2015.
–”Spice pages,” Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages.
–Wilford, J. N. “Wine cellar, well aged, is revealed in Israel,” The New York Times. November 23, 2013.