Remedy in a teacup

March 15, 1999

Herbal remediesBy KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

People are getting back to their roots - and leaves and flowers and berries - to help relieve common ailments and try to prevent others.

The United States retail market for botanical medicines is booming, according to information in the fall 1998 edition of HerbalGram, the journal of American Botanical Council and the Herb Research Fund.

[cont. from lifestyle]

One form of herbal product on the market is a wide variety of teas. They are available on grocery and drug store shelves as well as in health food stores. There are teas with ginger or mint to aid digestion, with ginkgo or ginseng for energy, with senna for its laxative properties - a veritable garden of remedies in a teacup.


"Original medicinal herbs were taken as teas," says Mindy Green, director of education for Herb Research Fund, a Boulder, Colo.-based nonprofit research and educational organization focusing on herbs and medicinal plants.

Celestial Seasonings Inc., also in Boulder, has been selling herbal teas since 1970. The company began a line of teas devoted to special health conditions about four years ago, according to information provided by Lisa Earl Berryment, assistant marketing manager. Teas in Celestial Seasonings' wellness line include Detox a.m. containing milk thistle with dandelion, echinacea and red clover which purports to "help cleanse your body of daily toxins," according to Celestial Seasonings' Web site. The company's echinacea-based products - Echinacea Herbal tea and Echinacea Cold Season with added vitamin C and zinc - head its sales ranking list, according to Berryment.

Are these herbal teas effective?

Chamomile is known to have sedative properties, says Steve Sinclair of Green Valley Health in Hagerstown. Sinclair is an acupuncturist and a naturopathic physician, a designation that requires postgraduate training in natural therapies. If you drink a cup of chamomile tea, you probably are getting enough of the active ingredient, he says. But teas are not standardized, so it's hard to know.

Ginger and peppermint work very well in tea forms, according to Green. St. John's Wort, an herbal remedy used for depression, is probably not as effective as a tea, Green says. For therapeutic uses, Sinclair would prescribe herbs in a different form - St. John's Wort comes as capsules in standardized doses.

Celestial Seasonings' wellness teas are formulated to contain a certain amount of herbal extracts to ensure a consistent dosage, according to Berryment.

"I think they're great," says Dawn Markus of herbal teas. Markus and her husband Kalman Markus operate The Herb Corner in Quincy, Pa. A cup of chamomile tea has relaxing benefits, she says.

Mary Troskoski, who owns All Ways Natural Holistic Health Care in Greencastle, Pa., says herb teas are effective for a lot of people. She sells Traditional Medicinals teas and says that company's Classic Chamomile is relaxing. It can have a calming effect even on children without making them zombies.

Green believes that there may be some benefit in just getting someone to sit down and relax long enough to drink a cup of tea.

Are they safe?

Jeannine Prego, public information officer with the Baltimore district of Food and Drug Administration isn't aware of any complaints about herbal tea products. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, products cannot claim to help diagnose, treat, cure or prevent a disease. Under this law, the requirement for premarket review of dietary supplements is less than for other products it regulates, including drugs and food additives, according to information on the FDA's Web site.

Interactions of herbs with drugs could be a problem, Prego says. For example, certain herbs could be harmful if the person using them already is taking a blood-thinning medication.

Beverage herbs tend to be safer than tablets or tinctures - herbs in an alcohol solution - Green says. But you can overdo anything, she says. And it's always a good thing for you and your doctor to know about the herbal supplements.

"Herbs are really powerful," says Susan West, an acupuncturist and herbalist at The Center for Traditional Oriental Medicine on Dual Highway in Hagerstown. She customizes blends of Chinese herbs for teas for her patients after an in-depth diagnosis and doesn't think it's a good idea to drink just any herbal tea.

On Celestial Seasonings' wellness teas, package labels include ingredients and cautions about how much to drink, how long to drink it and they recommend consulting a health professional before using them in some cases.

"The only recourse we have is to be an educated consumer," Prego says. "The bottom line is know what you're taking."


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