Savvy Sipping

How not to drink herbal teas

Tea

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A year ago, Utne Reader reported on tea’s trajectory from a largely unknown drink to the ultimate trendy beverage (“Steeped in Tea,” Jan.-Feb. 2007). Nowadays herbal teas, available in an almost endless list of flavors, purport to fortify the imbiber by calming, detoxifying, even sharpening the senses. There is, it seems, a tea for everyone (including coffee lovers) and for everything from digestion to respiratory health.

Health benefits and delicious varieties notwithstanding, tea drinkers still need to drink responsibly. Writing in Utne Reader’s sister publication Herbs for Health (Dec. 2007), plant physiologist Gina Mohammed outlines two simple precautions to take while you enjoy every cup.

First off, remember that many teas are high in tannins, those organic plant compounds commonly associated with red wine. Tannins cause a tart flavor (and sometimes a fuzzy mouth feel) and can bond to minerals, inhibiting absorption during digestion. Mohammed recommends avoiding high-tannin teas during the two hours before you eat. Likely suspects include blends with raspberry leaf, oregano, and bark or root ingredients.

Citrus and berries are the other teatime culprits. They impart tangy, fresh flavor but contribute to high acidity levels that can erode tooth enamel if you drink them frequently. A cup or two won’t do you harm (since saliva neutralizes acids), but Mohammed recommends that “if you drink several cups a day, it might be a good idea to rinse your mouth with water after each cup.”

These tea-drinking tips serve as timely reminders to ignore the health hype of the day and approach what we put into our bodies with caution and care—especially when it comes to potions that purport to heal all of our physical, mental, and spiritual woes.