Health Benefits of Traditional and Herbal Teas

The benefits of tea are wide-ranging. Generations of people in cultures around the drink tea in social settings and to boost wellness. Different types of tea—from burdock root to rooibos—boast different health benefits.

So if you're looking for a specific advantage, it's important to know the difference between herbal tea, green tea, black tea, and other types of flavored teas. There is scientific evidence to support some of the claims of the health benefits of various teas.

Traditional Tea Benefits

All traditional tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. There are only four categories of traditional tea: Green, black, oolong, and white.

The difference between each tea is the degree to which the leaves are oxidized or fermented. Usually, tea leaves that are heavily oxidized are darker or redder and teas that are less fermented are lighter or greener. Traditional tea usually contains caffeine.

Green Tea and Matcha

Matcha Tea
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Green tea is one of the most popular types of tea on the market, due in part to its reputation for providing antioxidants and boosting wellness. Matcha, or powdered green tea, is also very popular in health food stores and in wellness communities. Gunpowder tea is a loose leaf tea that is also formed from green tea leaves.

Green tea and green tea extracts have been widely studied for their potential health benefits. But only some of those benefits are supported by scientific evidence.

There is limited evidence that tea has anti-cancer properties. Some studies have shown mixed results. The same holds true for green tea's possible effect on cholesterol and heart disease. Some studies have also shown that drinking green tea may help you reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure.

Green tea may have a limited ability to prevent tooth decay, although the theory has not been tested in clinical trials. The caffeine in green tea may stimulate the nervous system to boost mental awareness and may have some (limited) effect on metabolism.

The Bottom Line

Fans of green tea believe that it can be used to prevent and/or treat cancer, lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease, improve mental functioning, lower blood pressure, prevent tooth decay, and boost weight loss, though scientific research has shown limited support for these benefits.

Black Tea

Black Tea
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Traditional black tea is the most popular kind of tea worldwide. Types of black tea include Earl Grey, Darjeeling, masala chai (when it is blended with other spices), English breakfast tea, and scented black teas like rose black tea and lychee black tea.

There are also popular black tea blends such as Lapsang Souchong (a smoky blend), Keemun black tea, and Yunnan black tea. Traditional black tea contains approximately 50 to 90 milligrams of caffeine per cup.

Like green tea, black tea contains polyphenols including catechins, flavonoids, and tannins. Polyphenols are plant-based compounds that may provide health benefits.

Researchers have linked the consumption of flavonoids to important health outcomes, but more research is needed to say for certain if black tea can significantly boost health.

The Bottom Line

Black tea is rich in plant compounds that act as antioxidants. To take full advantage of ​black tea's health benefits, use loose leaves (rather than a tea bag) and don't add milk or sugar.

Oolong Tea

Oolong Tea
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If you prefer a tea that is slightly richer than black tea, try oolong tea. You'll get about 30 milligrams of caffeine per cup (less than coffee), although the caffeine in your teacup will vary based on a number of factors, including brew time.

Oolong tea, like green tea, has a reputation as being helpful for weight loss. Some scientific evidence has shown that consuming oolong may help reduce body fat in people who are already overweight or obese. The tea is also believed to have cholesterol-lowering properties; animal studies have shown it can reduce triglyceride levels.

The Bottom Line

Oolong tea is often touted for beneficial fat-burning effects. Keep in mind, however, that simply drinking oolong tea—without changing other lifestyle factors—is not likely to have a dramatic or noticeable impact on your overall health profile.

Pu-erh Tea

Pu-erh Tea
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Pu-erh tea has been popular in China for thousands of years and has recently become more popular in other regions of the world. Unlike other varieties of tea, Pu-erh is ​fermented, pressed into shapes, and then aged under high humidity before it is ready to be consumed. Most Pu-erh tea has a distinct pungent or musty smell.

Fans of this tea claim that it has both natural weight loss and detoxifying properties. Some people also believe that it can boost mental clarity and lower cholesterol.

The caffeine in Pu-erh tea may provide the weight loss benefits and mental clarity that some drinkers experience, though Pu-erh has less caffeine than other traditional teas. Some studies have shown a link between Pu-erh consumption and reduced body fat and lower cholesterol levels, but more research is needed.

The Bottom Line

Some research shows that Pu-erh tea can be helpful for weight loss and lowering cholesterol.

White Tea

White Tea
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White tea is a traditional tea that dates back to the 10th century in China. Unlike other tea varieties, white tea is not heated or oxidized, so it remains largely unprocessed.

While green tea and black teas have been the subjects of many health studies, white tea has not been studied as much. However, research has found that white tea extract has fat-fighting properties and may help in breaking down fat cells.

The Bottom Line

Older studies show that properties in white tea can be helpful in controlling obesity.

Herbal Tea Benefits

Herbal teas and fruit teas are different than traditional teas. These varieties are less likely to contain caffeine. As you might imagine from their name, they are produced from dried herbs or fruit. Different herbs may provide a variety of health benefits, but the jury is out on which benefits you are likely to gain when you drink herbal tea.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea

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Chamomile (or manzanilla) is an herbal tea. It does not contain caffeine like black tea or green tea, so it does not provide stimulation in the same manner as those traditional teas. Instead, chamomile is widely recognized as a calming tea.

There is some scientific evidence to support the use of chamomile tea for anxiety and insomnia. There is also some limited clinical evidence that it can help to reduce muscle spasms, although more research is needed to confirm this benefit.​

Chamomile tea historically has been used topically as an antiseptic to treat skin ulcers or even to treat hemorrhoids. But no clinical trials have been conducted on humans to prove that it will work.

The Bottom Line

Chamomile is a calming, soothing herbal tea that can be helpful for sleep and reducing anxiety.

Rooibos and Honeybush Tea

Honeybush Tea

 Photo: Alexandra Shytsman

Rooibos (also known as red bush tea) and honeybush are tea "cousins" because they originate from a similar area in South Africa. Both are herbal teas that contain no caffeine.

Rooibos has a nutty flavor. Honeybush has a slightly sweeter taste that is often compared to honey.

Both of these herbal teas have been reported to have health benefits. Some believe that teas can protect against cancer, provide anti-aging properties (including treatment of wrinkles), improve bone health, boost your immune system, relieve stomach cramps, and inhibit cravings for sweets.

There has been some very limited research that shows a link between honeybush consumption and improved bone health. But the studies are preliminary.

Since honeybush has a sweet taste, it is reasonable that if you drink it instead of eating dessert (or drinking tea with added sweeteners), you will consume fewer calories.

The Bottom Line

Animal studies have shown that rooibos tea may provide some health benefits including anti-inflammatory benefits, relief of type 2 diabetes symptoms, improved immune function, and prevention of damage caused by radiation. But human studies are lacking, so it is as yet unclear whether you will gain these benefits if you drink the tea.

Turmeric Tea

Turmeric Tea
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Turmeric tea is gaining popularity in food and nutrition circles, but it is not really tea in a traditional sense. It isn't brewed with tea leaves or from herbs. Instead, it is a blend of spices combined to provide flavor and health benefits.

Turmeric tea recipes usually include ground turmeric, honey, and lemon. Recipes may also include other spices like ginger, black pepper (for absorption), cinnamon, and nutmeg. Black tea may also be added to turmeric tea.

Some recipes also include some variety of milk. When milk is included the drink is often called "golden milk" or "​turmeric milk."

Many who drink turmeric tea believe that it provides numerous health benefits, including anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Some consume turmeric to try to treat acne, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, lose weight, and manage pain and symptoms of depression.

There is scientific evidence to support some of these benefits. Turmeric contains curcumin, an active ingredient that has been well studied in both animals and humans. Research has provided some evidence that curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties. But whether or not turmeric can prevent disease is another issue.

Animal studies and limited human research have demonstrated that curcumin provides possible benefits in the treatment and prevention of certain cancers. However, some research has shown that turmeric may interfere with some chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer.

There have also been animal studies that suggest a link between the consumption of turmeric extract and the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. Researchers have also noticed that rates of the disease are lower in areas (like India and Asia) where people consume more turmeric.

The Bottom Line

Turmeric has high promise for decreasing inflammation and joint pain, as well as in the treatment of certain cancers, but it is not a replacement for standard medical care. If you are undergoing treatment for cancer or disease, talk to your doctor before adding in turmeric tea.

​​Hibiscus Tea

Hibiscus tea brewing with flowers all around

Yuliya Gontar / 500px / Getty Images

Hibiscus tea has been used in both ancient Egyptian and Chinese traditions, and was often used for its potential medicinal effects. Made by steeping the buds of a hibiscus flower, the aromatic tea has a slightly tart or sour flavor.

Studies have examined the potential health benefits of hibiscus tea, and a 2020 scientific review found that sour teas, including hibiscus, have a significant effect on lowering both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

The Bottom Line

Hibiscus tea has been shown to have cardiovascular health benefits, and may reduce high blood pressure.

Peppermint Tea

A glass mug of peppermint tea sits above a table, with fresh peppermint leaves around it.

Maya23K / GettyImages

Peppermint tea was a medicinal tool in ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Roman diets. The fragrant tea is made by steeping peppermint leaves in hot water, and it has often been used for relieving colds, flus, and stomach discomfort.

Peppermint oil, in particular, has been shown to be a potentially powerful aid for treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A 2019 meta-analysis concluded that peppermint oil may be a herbal therapeutic alternative to treating the pain and other symptoms of IBS.

The Bottom Line

Peppermint has been found to help ease stomach discomfort and the symptoms brought on by IBS.

Flavored Teas

Many companies blend traditional tea or herbal tea with fruit flavors or spices to create flavored teas. If you don't like the taste of plain black tea or green tea, you might prefer one of these infused teas instead.

In most cases, the flavor infusions won't change the health benefits of the tea. And in most instances, choosing a plain fruit-flavored tea (such as soursop tea) is going to be better for your health than drinking tea with sugar or cream that you add on your own.

Be aware, however, that commercially sweetened teas, like flavored iced teas or sweetened tea drinks, are often a source of empty calories and may provide more sugar than you need.

Tea Safety and Potential Side Effects

Like any other food, herb, or supplement, tea can have side effects and risks, especially in people with some health conditions or who take certain medications. Be aware of the safety concerns associated with tea.

  • Anxiety: Depending on the caffeine content in your cup of tea, consuming large amounts of tea may have the same side effects of coffee, namely feelings of anxiety and nervousness.
  • Nausea: Side effects of drinking green tea, in particular, may include nausea and stomach upset in some people. The caffeine in green tea may also cause nervousness and problems sleeping.
  • Redness and swelling: Chamomile tea may cause redness or swelling in people who are hypersensitive or allergic to the plant (especially those who are allergic to ragweed or chrysanthemums).
  • Gastrointestinal issues: While it seems like turmeric is a wonder spice, there are drawbacks to it as well. High doses or long-term use of turmeric may cause gastrointestinal problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to drink tea every day? 

Tea has been a popular drink for centuries, and boasts many potential health benefits when consumed in moderation. For many people, a few cups of tea a day is a wellness ritual. However, the caffeine content of tea can lead to potential side effects, so be aware of the potential negative impacts of consuming too much caffeinated tea.

Which type of tea is the healthiest? 

While the healthiest tea for you will depend on your own health needs, green tea has often been touted as one of the healthiest teas. Research on green tea remains limited, but it potentially aids in lowering cholesterol, weight loss, and cognitive function.

Which is the best time to drink tea? 

If you're consuming caffeinated tea, the best time to drink it would be in the morning or after meals in order to take advantage of the health effects.

A Word From Verywell

For many people, drinking tea is a calming, peaceful routine. Even if the tea itself doesn't provide any health benefits, simply taking the time to brew a cup and enjoy each sip provides a sense of peace and wellness.

It is very possible that your warm cup also provides medicinal benefits, as many types of tea have a long history of use for health. But because there is little hard evidence to support many of the claims, it's not safe to rely on tea alone to treat, prevent, or manage illness.

If you are managing a medical condition, work with your healthcare provider to come up with a plan that includes both traditional and holistic options for improvement. Tea can be a part of a healthy eating pattern, especially if you limit added sugars.

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