Herbal Teas, Delicious or Deadly?

Are herbal teas deadly? While many people love the delicious herbal flavors, some tea may contain a deadly mix!

What are herbal teas?

Herbal teas are pleasurable beverages consumed for well-being. Technically, herbal teas are not actually teas because they are not made from the Camellia sinensis plant, whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce tea. Instead, herbal teas are infusions of other plants in boiling water. The hot water gains flavor from a combination of herbs, spices, botanicals, and natural flavors.

Are herbal teas good for you?

Herbal teas are naturally caffeine free as they contain no real tea leaves. Many herbal teas provide sources of nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. Drinking herbal teas may help to relieve a variety of ailments. Peppermint herbal teas work to calm upset tummies and reduce abdominal gas and bloating. Red raspberry teas act as powerful phytonutrients and antioxidants to protect against health conditions and diseases. Chamomile teas help with insomnia. Many herbal teas are considered safe to ingest, but there is no guarantee.

Can you die from drinking herbal tea?

Though rare, it can happen. In March of 2017, a woman died after drinking a deadly herbal tea. A man was also hospitalized and recovered. Both became ill within hours of consuming different loose tea blends from the same shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

What went wrong?

Early tests confirm that the herbal tea supplements contained Aconitum, a plant based toxin commonly known as Aconite. Aconitum goes by other names, including monkshood, leopard’s bane, wolf’s bane, and more. The extracts have been used homeopathically in Europe and Asia. The processed roots are used for medicinal purposes in China as treatment for pain and bruising. Fresh aconite is extremely toxic, and “safe dosage” depends on adequate processing. It appears that the herb was improperly processed.

Are herbal teas safe?

Most people assume that since herbal teas are natural, and are generally sold and purchased legally, they are completely harmless. However, one should never assume that all herbal supplements, even those found in tea, are safe. There is a lack of guarantee regarding strength, purity, and safety in most herbal supplements. Get educated on what you’re buying.

Are supplements regulated by the FDA?

Unlike food and drugs, dietary supplement manufacturers don’t need U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval to put supplements on the market.

Any tips for herbal tea drinkers?

Look for well-sourced products made of high-quality ingredients. Avoid buying unregulated products from foreign countries, as some may contain carcinogens, mutagens, toxins, and pesticides. To minimize risks, stick with commercial brands produced in the USA that comply with guidelines published by the FDA. Buy from reputable businesses that follow stringent testing protocols for raw ingredients and from those who place customer health and safety first. Look for membership in organizations such as GFSI, Global Food Safety Initiative, providing leadership and guidance for safety along the food supply chain.

Are herbalists licensed professionals?

Herbalists, or dealers in medicinal herbs, are currently not required to be licensed. State licensing requirements for practitioners of naturopathy and traditional Chinese medicine can vary, and may include a passing score on a national or state exam. The field of herbalism is not officially regulated by a specific set of standards. This is among the many reasons why the FDA suggests that consumers check with medical doctors before ingesting herbal teas and supplements.

Can herbal tea supplements have side effects?

Herbal tea consumption has risen in popularity, due to health benefits. However, there may be risks. For example, most research shows that various forms of St. John’s Wort may be used safely in short durations in healthy individuals. St. John’s Wort helps to treat mild cases of depression. There are three main concerns with taking the supplement. First, anyone with depression, even mild cases, should not self-medicate. Depression is a serious condition which must be managed by a healthcare professional. Second, there are major drug interactions associated with St. John’s Wort. It may increase sedation when taken in conjunction with some other drugs, interfere with lifesaving meds to suppress the immune system, have dangerous consequences for people on blood thinners, and reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills. Third, St. John’s Wort may cause symptoms such as dizziness, increased sensitivity to the sun, constipation, dry mouth, stomach upset, tiredness, weight gain, and so forth.

How can we increase personal safety?

Talk to your doctor before consuming herbal teas to learn which ones are safe for you. To avoid overexposure, consume safe amounts and monitor consumption over time. Beware of allergic reactions. Frequently check the FDA’s poisonous plant database and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) list of supplements reported to cause adverse effects. Pregnant women, and those breastfeeding, and people with illness or compromised immunity should be especially cautious.


FDA Poisonous Plant Database

NCCIH  Herbal Tea Information from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

GFSI  Global Food Safety

Disclosure: This article is intended for educational purposes only and is not construed as medical or legal advice.

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