5 Best Teas to Support Your Immune System
There is something relaxing about a hot cup of tea. Drinking tea calms my nerves and provides comfort, so I always start my morning with a cup of hot jasmine tea. Beyond its flavor, tea hosts many health benefits, including supporting the immune system.
Pictured recipe: Matcha Green Tea Latte
Your body is constantly battling free radicals, which are by-products of metabolism and exercise. Under normal circumstances, your body can handle these free radicals, but aging, eating habits, smoking and certain environmental factors may take a toll on your immune system. Over time, these free radicals can cause oxidative stress that damages your cells, making them less efficient, thereby increasing your risk for chronic diseases, illness and premature aging.
Fortunately, antioxidants in tea, specifically polyphenols, are potent plant compounds that can help prevent or delay the oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Getting plenty of antioxidants can help support a healthy immune system, too. However, the types and concentrations of antioxidants present in tea vary depending on the tea variety and how the tea is cultivated and processed.
5 Best Teas to Support Your Immune System
Are you a tea lover and curious about which teas may help keep your immune system at its best? You are in luck; brew a pot of tea and read on to find out about my top five choices.
1. Matcha tea
Traditional teas do not involve ingesting tea leaves, except matcha tea. Matcha is a type of green tea that is part of Japanese culture but has gained popularity worldwide. The difference between green tea and matcha green tea lies within cultivation and processing, where the green tea plant for the latter is grown away from sunlight for several weeks before harvest. Then, the veins of the leaves and the stems are removed, and the tea leaves are ground into a powder.
Matcha is known for being rich in antioxidants, specifically catechins, a type of polyphenols. Certain types of catechins present in matcha could be 137 times greater in concentration than in some other green teas. Catechins are a substance found in tea that may help reduce inflammation by fighting against free radicals. And keeping this cell damage to a minimum can help reduce your risk for developing chronic diseases.
Because matcha is a powdered tea, you will consume all the nutrients from the entire tea leaf. Hence, the amount of caffeine present will also be significantly higher than in a cup of regular steeped green tea. That said, you will only need a small amount of matcha powder to reap its health benefits.
Out of all teas, matcha tea is my favorite for its versatility. You can easily prepare a cup of matcha tea by adding a teaspoon or two of the matcha powder with hot water or enjoy it as a chilled beverage with ice added. For a different twist, you can add it to milk to make matcha lattes and smoothies, puddings, muffins and cakes.
2. White tea
If you want to keep your caffeine consumption on the lower end, then white tea, such as silver needle and white peony, are some alternatives.
Originating from China and India, white tea is green tea but is harvested as young leaves and buds covered with fine white hairs. White tea is the least processed among true tea varieties; it's sun-dried for a short period after harvest to minimize oxidation, as oxidation can darken the color and flavor of the tea leaves. Compared to green tea and matcha tea, white tea generally has 15% less caffeine and, depending on the variety, it offers a delicate and mild flavor, as if it is fresh from the garden.
Since it is minimally processed, its antioxidant compounds, such as catechins, are highly retained. Research has found that the high antioxidant concentration present in white tea may play a role in cancer prevention by protecting against cell damage from free radicals.
3. Goji berry tea
If you are looking for caffeine-free teas, one of my top picks would be goji berry tea. Goji berry tea is not a true tea, but it is called tea as its color resembles the color of tea.
Growing up, my mom always put dried goji berries into traditional Chinese soups. She told me these berries, also known as wolfberries, are good for the eyes. It wasn't until I became a registered dietitian that I discovered its health benefits are beyond what my mom shared with me. These tiny red berries have medicinal and antioxidant properties that may improve immunity and protect against chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
What makes goji berries one of my go-to teas stems from its abundance of vitamin A. Every 5 tablespoons (28 grams) of dried goji berries contains three times the amount of vitamin A that you need in a day. Vitamin A plays an important role in regulating the immune system and protecting the body against infections by keeping the skin and the tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and lungs healthy.
Realistically, though, it is unlikely that you will exceed the daily recommended intake of vitamin A from goji berry tea unless you also eat the entire 5 tablespoons used to steep your pot of tea. To make a flavorful cup, adding 1 to 2 non-heaping teaspoons of dried goji berries with hot water and letting it steep for 10 to 15 minutes is sufficient. Drink it as is or sweeten it according to your taste preference. To bring out the aroma of the berries, you can also add a slice of ginger.
4. Hibiscus tea
Looking for a tart-tasting tea that also potentially provides immune-supporting properties? You may want to give hibiscus tea a try.
Hibiscus tea is a blend of dried hibiscus flower petals, sepals and leaves. The flowers come in different colors, but the red variety is commonly used in herbal supplements. Its rich content of antioxidants, specifically anthocyanins, gives the plant red, blue and purple colors. Anthocyanins may protect cells, tissues and organs by strengthening the cell membranes, making them less porous and vulnerable to free radicals.
Hibiscus tea is sold as loose tea, in tea bags or as part of a tea blend with other ingredients. To enjoy a cup, steep it for five minutes, strain and adjust its sweetness according to your palate. If you like cranberries, though, then unsweetened hibiscus tea will remind you of that.
5. Turmeric tea
Turmeric is used as a spice in cooking, but the powder, which is grated from the turmeric root, can also be consumed as tea when added to water.
Turmeric is best known for curcumin, an active ingredient that gives it its signature orange-yellow color. Curcumin is believed to support the immune system by regulating the growth of immune-system cells and cancer-causing cells and reducing inflammation in the body, which may be beneficial to people who have arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. It is also noted to have antiviral and antimicrobial properties, and it's traditionally used in some cultures for relieving cold and flu symptoms.
This South Asian native rhizome gives a pungent, earthy and bitter flavor, so you do not need a whole lot to make a tea. Add ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder to 2 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Then, turn the heat down and let it simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. You can also spice up your tea by adding ground cinnamon or a slice or two of lemon to give your drink a more acidic flavor.
Drinking tea may provide health benefits, and certain types of teas may help improve immunity. These five teas are particularly packed with antioxidants that help protect your cells, support a healthy immune system and much more. Since some herbal teas, such as goji berry, hibiscus and turmeric, contain medicinal properties, speak with your health care provider first before consumption if you are on medications, pregnant or breastfeeding.