Herb Feature

Freedom from Dis-ease

When thinking about a herbal medicine that represents the quality of “freedom”, what do you think of? Is it Echinacea Root for your immune system, to give you freedom from infections? Or Passionflower, to give you freedom from worry? Perhaps Milk Thistle, to protect your liver from the damaging effects of toxins…

Surprisingly, if I was to select one herb that makes me think of freedom, it is that old favourite: Camellia Sinensis. Loved and revered throughout history, this plant has been one of the most consumed beverages in the history of humanity. Simply called “tea”, Camellia can be enjoyed in many different forms, and some are definitely healthier for you than others. I am now a huge fan of the green variety, and for some very good reasons!

Green tea is my favourite drink after water: I love its subtle aromas and slightly bitter taste. Green tea is made by steaming the freshly picked leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. Steeping the tea for too long or with water that is too hot results in a bitter, dark drink that can make some people feel a bit nauseous, so remember to use water that’s about 80 degrees Celsius for only a few minutes. Green tea contains a small amount of caffeine (about 10 to 20 mg per cup if properly prepared) so it’s better to drink it in the morning. The most interesting compounds from a Herbalists perspective may be the polyphenols: these compounds impart some of the exotic flavours of the tea and are highly medicinal.

Liver Protection- Green tea polyphenols (GTP) induce enzymes in the liver which help to detoxify a large array of chemicals, including benzene, damaged or rancid fats in food, and carcinogenic (cancer-inducing) chemicals in cigarette smoke. GTP destroy oxygen and nitrogen free radicals, which are implicated in the development of most diseases. Green tea also prevents the accumulation of fats in the liver, reducing your risk of hepatic steatosis or fatty liver disease. It also protects the liver from a variety of toxic compounds such as alcohol, carbon tetrachloride, lead, and many drugs including phenobarbitalmicrocystinazathioprine, and cypermethrin. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is one of the most inflammatory molecules the human body has to deal with: it is a fragment from the cell wall of bad bacteria in your gut, and GTP are potent inhibitors of this nasty substance.

Green tea consumption appears to prevent the development of tumours, potentially due to its anti-oxidant properties. There is a reduced incidence of cancers of the pancreas, lung, colon, mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine and breast in regular drinkers of green tea. Green tea polyphenols appear to promote apoptosis (or programmed cell death) in cancer cells whilst protecting healthy cells against mutations. Apoptosis is one of the many ways that the body protects itself against the development if tumours, and is essentially a rogue cell sacrificing itself in a neat, orderly fashion that doesn’t cause pain or tissue damage. Green tea may also reduce elevated blood pressure and help to prevent cardiovascular disease. GTP appear to act as an “ACE Inhibitor”, which is one of the mechanisms of actions of pharmaceutical drugs which lower blood pressure.

What about black tea? Many people love their black tea, either with milk/ sugar or by itself, but does it have any of the outstanding benefits of green tea? Well, yes and no…. unfortunately, the wonderful polyphenols from Camellia tea leaves are converted into condensed tannins when the leaves are fermented to make black tea. Although tea still contains some antioxidant properties, it is much less effective than its green cousin. Other types of tea include white tea, which is made from the small and tender leaves and unopened buds of the Camellia plant. It is the least processed and has a delicate aroma and subtle taste, and probably possesses many of the benefits of green tea. Oolong tea is a favourite in many Asian countries, and sits halfway between green and black tea for taste, aroma and therapeutic value. So, enjoy your tea (preferably green or white) today! ;)

David is a practicing Naturopath/ Herbalist.

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