5 HERB TEAS FOR STRESS MANAGEMENT
By Claire MacKay
STRESSED OUT by daily life? Pressures at work or home? Tension? Insomnia? Anxiety?
The coffeehouse culture we live in makes it easy to reach towards a latte for consolation.
Well-documented links between caffeine drinks and anxiety however, make this an additional stress factor rather than solution.
Traditional herbal teas are a pleasant alternative to caffeine drinks and have medicinal properties that alleviate tension and anxiety and promote relaxation and Well Being.
How Herb Teas Promote Relaxation
• Caffeine Replacement
Simply by substituting some or all caffeinated drinks for herb teas on a daily basis, you will be reducing the physiological burden on your adrenal glands. The ongoing effects of sustained stress on the adrenal glands can lead to adrenal insufficiency, better known as 'Burnout'. This occurs when, in response to prolonged tension, the glands continuously secrete an excess of the energy-providing hormones such as Cortisol, Adrenalin and sex hormones to counterbalance stress factors in the body. After a sustained period of time the adrenal glands are unable to produce the hormones required by the body- this is the onset of clinical fatigue.
Caffeine (and also sugar!) depletes the adrenal glands by over-stimulation and is known to be a contributing and exacerbating influence on Burnout symptoms.
• Medicinal Properties
Herbal Teas are more than pleasant tasting beverages. The chemicals found in plants have been used for over 3000 years as a source of medicine, in fact, two thirds of today's Global Population rely on Herbal Medicine as their primary source of healthcare. Many orthodox medicines originated from plant chemicals, such as Aspirin. Bet you didn't know Aspirin was named after the Latin name for Meadowsweet (Spirea), a plant containing the precursor chemical to Aspirin (Methyl salicylate).
Each plant contains hundreds of chemicals which work together causing biological reactions in the body. Specifically, herbs used in treating stress or anxiety work by lowering blood pressure; relaxing muscle tone; creating metabolic changes and changes to brain chemistry. Some herbs, known as adaptogens will restore balance to bodily systems and can have an harmonising effect on the hormones.
• Way of Tea
In Japanese culture the Tea ceremony, also called the 'Way of tea,' is inspired by zen buddhism. The entire process of partaking in tea is supposed to be a tranquil one. Okay! we may not be able to perform a full ceremonial ritual each time we have an office tea-break, however, it is well within the scope of city-limits to take five minutes reflection time, finding a point of focus, taking a deep breath and clearing the mind while patiently awaiting a cup of infused goodness.
Which Herb Tea?
A matriarchal herb of relaxation, its Latin name reflects this: Matricaria recutita - the Mother herb is gentle enough to use with children.
Use Chamomile for a comforting, calming effect without drowsiness. Anxiety, nervousness and also stress-related bowel or stomach upsets can benefit from its medicinal properties. Chamomile has a warming taste with a slightly sweet apple undertone. Too strong and it can become a little bitter, although pleasant to most.
Sedating and heavily relaxing, Valerian stinks (but doesn't taste!) like old socks. It is the herb to take for insomnia as well as restlessness. Its sedating effects are also useful for temporary relief of pain, and so it can be used in treatment of tension headaches and menstrual cramp. You may want to monitor how much you drink at work though, as Valerian- (Valerian officinalis) can cause slight drowsiness in some. Valerian is a root and has a pleasant, mild and earthy flavour.
This is a psychoactive member of the Mint family. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) has a calming effect on the central nervous system and is paradoxically stimulating to circulation. Thus, making it a useful, calming herb to take without drowsiness. It is especially beneficial in periods of stress or emotional crisis to help clear the mind and relax. Lemon Balm has a pleasing lemon taste and has an astringent action in the mouth, like tea.
Known as the 'Dancing Tree' in Germany because it was used in folklore and medieval celebrations to dance beneath. It bestows its uplifting characteristics into its medicine. Lime Blossom- Tilia europea or Tilia cordata, is used therapeutically to reduce blood pressure and as a muscle relaxant. Specifically used by herbalists in head and neck tension, a perfect tea to help unwind. Its light and refreshing flavour was appreciated as a substitute for tea by Brits in the second World War due to rationing.
The Romans called it 'the sacred herb' and their soldiers carried it to battle. The word Vervain is the Roman word for altar. A herb also revered by Druids and Christians alike. A legend names it as the herb used to stop the bleeding wounds of Christ, while Druids claimed the word to be of Celtic origin : ferfaen - meaning 'to move stone'. It certainly is used in modern times to treat kidney and gallstones, however, this blessed herb is perhaps best exalted for its strengthening effects on the nervous system. Used to relax tension and stress, it also provides immune support to restore the effects of chronic stress. Also effectively used to treat depression and sleeping disorders - the Druids believed the plant could cause lucid dreams! Vervain has a bitter and cool taste on it's own, though combines nicely with Chamomile, Lime Blossom or Lemon Balm.
How to Use
The best way to get the most out of herbal teas is to properly infuse them. Allow 5-8 minutes and cover the cup of herbs as they steep. Use a tea strainer when using loose herbs. The dosage is usually 1-2 teaspoon of herb per cup of boiling water- Although always check first as some herbs have specific doses! Organic herbs are best as they are free from pesticides and tend to be more potent.
No Time? - If time is of the essence in your working day, why not make a batch in the morning and take it to work in a thermos?
Roots and some berries are tougher due to there woody nature and it is best to decoct these remedies. To make a decoction, cover the herbs with water and allow to simmer for 10-15 mins. Strain and drink.
Of course, there are a plethora of organic herbal tea bags available from any reputable health store or even some quality supermarkets and these are acceptable, though it is best to keep in mind that the more processed a dried herb is the less efficacy it is likely to have. If using tea bags, allow to steep for 5-10 mins while covered to assure the full potency of the tea.