Tea has been enjoyed by mankind for thousands of years. It’s popularity has paralleled or even been an important part of Ayurveda medicine (in the form of Ayurvedic Teas). Sorting out the claims, which ones have validity and which do not, however, is a very tricky situation, and in many cases there is no hard evidence (clinical studies) that support many of those claims. This article will not go into the complexities of this system of medicine but will try to present the five things you need to know about these Ayurvedic Teas.
1 – Based on Ayurveda Medicine
Ayurveda medicine, the basis for these teas, is a system of Hindu traditional medicine of Vedic tradition; it’s an old system of beliefs about the human body that came about before much was really known (similar to a lot of ideas that had been prevalent in Europe as well). The emphasis is on various plants as the base for medicines and treatments. Roots, leaves, barks, seeds, and fruits are included. But animal parts and alcoholic beverages are also used. They are combined in certain ways to get desired benefits.
A study was done in the 1880s by William Dymock et al. that summarized the hundreds of plant-derived medicines, including these. (See the whole thing here.) There are also some ayurveda medicines that are based on milk, bones, gallstones, fats, and other animal parts. Several types of alcoholic beverages (Madya) are also used as medicines: sugar-based, fruit-based, cereal-based, cereal-based with herbs, fermentation of vinegar, and tonic wines.
2 – Central Ideas Behind These Teas
Balance is health. Imbalance is disease. You could say this is the very heart of the matter. This comes both from Hindu and Buddhist influences. (These days we hear cautions against excess. Same thing.) The key to this balance are the 3 elemental substances called “Doshas”: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. In fact you will see Ayurvedic Teas blended for each of these specific doshas (three bodily humors that make up your being – part of Tridosha theory).
3 – Ayurvedic Teas
Ayurvedic teas have a base of a basic green or black tea most of the time. They blend in various other plants, such as: Almond, Bay Leaves, Black Cardamom, Black Pepper, Cardamom Grains, Cinnamon, Cloves, Fennel, Ginger, Green Cardamom, Holy Basil (Tulsi), Lemon Grass, Lemon Peels, Licorice root, Mint, Nutmeg, Pepper, Peppermint, Roman Chamomile Flowers, Rose petals, Saffron, Small Leaf Lime Flowers. Each particular blend is said to have a specific purpose, such as liver cleansing.
4 – Formulas for Specific Needs
Most of these teas seem to be blended for the doshas, which have 5 types each:
- Vata (Wind) – mobilizes functions of the nervous system and the “windy humour,” flatulence, gout, rheumatism, etc. Types: prana (inhalation, senses, mind), udana (speech, self expression, effort, enthusiasm, strength, vitality), samana (digestive system), apana (stuff happening below the waist), and vyana (circulatory system). A good vata tea blend benefits are said to be: keeping you calm and balanced through the day, helping breathing, improving weight loss by stimulating the liver, easing headaches, and freshening your breath.
- Pitta – primarily heat, but described as a bilious humour secreted between the stomach and bowels and flowing through the liver and permeating spleen, heart, eyes, and skin. It directs digestion and metabolism. Types: pachaka (digestion in the intestines – overlap with samana in vata above), ranjaka (red blood cells, liver, gallbladder, spleen), alochaka (vision), sadhaka (good emotions), bharajaka (skin). A good pitta tea blend benefits are said to be: refreshing and cooling, helping you stay relaxed through the day, aidingdigestion, and helping women deal with their monthly issues.
- Kapha – a body fluid responsible for mucus, lubrication, and the carrier of nutrients. Types: kledaka (early digestive stages), avalambhaka (lubrication of heart and lungs, strength in back, chest, heart), tarpaka (senses, calm/happy/stable, motor organs), bodhaka (taste), and shleshaka (joint lubrication). A good kapha tea blend benefits are said to be: giving you a boost to stay bright and full of zest, remedying digestive disorders, relieving excess gas, soothing irritated throats and reducing coughing, and relieving gum inflammation.
Clearly some of the terms used, like “bilious humor,” date back to Medieval times and are reminiscent of the writings of European monks about various herbal remedies. Until medical science was able to study our actual insides (mostly on those who were dead), they could only guess at what was going on. Still, the ideas here aren’t too far off. We have things flowing and oozing and blowing through our bodies all the time.
5 – Efficacy Unproven
At this time none of the claims about these medicines and teas has been proven scientifically. Cancer and cardiovascular disease are especially not supported by any successful clinical studies.
A big caution: some of these medicines were shown in a study in late 2005/early 2006 to contain minerals, metals, and other elements that could possibly be toxic, including sulphur arsenic, lead, and copper sulfate (gold is often added but has been shown to be inert in the human body in small amounts). The important point is to purchase from a reputable source that avoids such ingredients.
The teas, however, are another matter and can be consumed safely, as long as you’re not allergic to any of the ingredients. Whether they will produce the various health improvements or not is another matter.
Do You or Don’t You Partake?
Standard disclaimer here: consult your doctor.
That being said, the most important thing is for you to know yourself and therefore do what’s right for you. The next most important thing is for you to take all those wild claims being made out there with a bit of a grain of salt, as the saying goes. The most egregious one is about wulong (oolong) tea and weight loss. Sometimes something like that will work for one person and not another. The person it works for will tell his/her story (it’s called anecdotal evidence) and the person it doesn’t work for will just move on to the next thing to try. So you, the public, only hears the good stuff.