Antioxidants in Tea: Whole-Food Antioxidants Are The Solution

Cardamon Cinnamon

Whats the importance of antioxidants in tea and their contribution to the best herbal teas around? Think of hibiscus, turmeric, rosemary, ginger, elderberry, red clover, and cocoa. They all contain some powerful antioxidants that are not just flavorful but full of health benefits.

"Plants produce antioxidant carotenoids and polyphenols to protect themselves from reactive free radicals and damaging oxygen species generated when sunlight strikes leaf tissue." Captain Randall, Forbidden Healing

Really theres a three part story to antioxidants in herbal teas starting with the complexity of whole food nutrients. Now the media gives a negative view to antioxidant supplements. But in this article I'll focus on the following...

  • Natural antioxidants in whole foods
  • Variety of herbal tea antioxidants
  • Antioxidant contribution to herbal tea flavor and appearance

Certain herbs don't just contain isolated resveratrol or gingerol. You' ll see they contain many helpful antioxidants on top of gingerol that make them great for everyday wellness and drinking.

The antioxidants in tea is what makes a beverage sweet or bitter, smooth and minty, anti-inflammatory or anti-septic, and carminative or anti-cancer. Bitter is always an indicator of high flavonoid content and the same is true for many brightly-color and bitter flavor herbs and fruit.

Whats a good antioxidant for vision? The lutein found in the turmeric spice and simple oatstraw. It's actually a member of the vitamin A family. Have you ever tried a tea of pumpkin, paprika, or cayenne? They also make the perfect holiday relish.

Antioxidants in tea: whole foods, whole antioxidants are the solution

"Un-scrubbed free radicals circulating within our cells damage fat and protein macromolecules that form our cell structures." -Captain Randall, Forbidden Healing

Antioxidants are, scientifically, molecules that oppose oxygen. They take electrons from other molecules. It's all part of a redox process in the body that goes through oxidation and reducing oxygen. Why would you want to consume oxygen-opposing molecules? Because at times the oxidation part of the process can produce harmful by-products called free radicals.

Sure, you've heard about the carcinogenic and neurotoxic affects of bisphenol A and glyphosate in the news. Those are only two chemicals out of several thousand polluting the environment today. Highly questionable chemicals like those found in plastic and pesticides can become dangerous when oxidation takes place and free radicals are created.

The antioxidants in tea are herbs grown by photosynthesis: a direct process only made possible by the redox process. The oxygen-taking and oxidation ability of molecules produces the needed glucose fuel for growing plants. Theres a process similar for humans. We're fueled by a respiration process that relies on the redox mechanism and produce free radicals also. So how do the herbs preserved for steeping in hot water manage to keep their oxidation levels in healthy balance?

No, rosemary doesn't take antioxidant supplements.

No, turmeric doesn't take an aspirin for it's headache.

Plants contain natural antioxidants in the form of flavonoids, carotenoids, lycopene, sulforaphane, and zeaxanthin. Not to mention the numerous vitamins, minerals, and organic acids. The antioxidants present in these plants help the plant defend itself from disease and infection. And they have a very similar affect in humans.

Spices cinnamon stick rosemary vanilla

Gingerol what? Where health and flavor come from

The very word herb has the meaning of "a plant valued for its medicinal properties".

Indeed, herbs are some of the most medicinally valuable plants known to humans. And their antioxidant content is not limited to a few isolated chemicals either. Think of all the antioxidants in tea that exist in the herbal tea world: Dandelion contains the known phytonutrients: sesquiterpene lactones (anti-inflammatory) and taraxacin. Ginger contains the known 6-gingerol and 6-shogaol (both beneficial to the cardiovascular system). Turmeric produces 1,8-cineole, alpha-pinene, (both anti-inflammatory) and ascorbic acid.

And these same phytonutrients lending their health benefits to the herbs also lend their natural flavor and color to the same herbs. The bright orange of turmeric is no accident of nature. It indicates high antioxidant content. And the same is true for ginger, cloves, cinnamon, hibiscus, and cocoa.

None of these herbs are able to take supplements, but they can produce their own phytonutrient compounds that protect them against too much oxidation. And thats how you get antioxidants in tea. One of the healthiest beverages in the world.

When theres too much electron-stealing going on the plants could develop disease and wilt away (perhaps thats what killed my rosemary shrub two years ago, after a fruitful year it ended up dying in late August when I brought it under the small porch roof). Same for humans. We can find our systems overwhelmed and prone to disease due to toxins, stress, and aging. Free radicals from excessive oxidation only escalates the problem.

Have you ever wondered where the deep red color of a hibiscus steeped after five minutes comes from? The flowers contain anthocyanins, a relative of the flavonoids, and give a lovely red color to hibiscus herbal tea.

Herbal tea antioxidants are far more diverse than simple green tea (camellia sinensis). The herbal teas contain not only different main antioxidants, but groups of flavonoids and anthocyanins. And these all lend the benefit of healthier and brighter herbal teas.

What herbal teas are highest in antioxidants? If your only going to drink a few herbal teas everyday then I would choose the ones highest in natural antioxidants.

  • Dandelion
  • Hibiscus
  • Turmeric
  • Cloves
  • Ginger
  • Peppermint
  • Cinnamon
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary

I find the theory of phytochemistry quite fascinating as plants seem to live and reproduce in the wild without human help. And theres such a difference (yet similarity) between wild flowers and domesticated flowers. And this difference can be fun to compare when understanding antioxidants in tea whether herbal or blended with green tea.

In the garden and pot, it's wonderful to pick off a few leaves and flower that you've watched sprouting for the last two weeks. The evergreen-like scent of rosemary as it gathers sweet oils in the leaves come late Summer. The sharp, sweet flavor of lemon balm in late Spring while the ground stays wet underneath.

Why does it keep this scent in waterlogged clay soil? Melissa officinalis has come a long way from it's old world origins and dealing with the stress of poor soils it produces more flavonoids to protect itself. Sometimes they fail though as I find a few dozen yellow, scabbed leaves near healthier parts of the shrub. All in all, it's still a pretty lightly-green shrub that makes a fantastic tea when blended with the nearby Queen Anne's Lace and some frozen raspberries I keep in the freezer.

Toxins NRDC

Antioxidants ACHS

The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines for Life on Earth by Stephen Harrod Buhner

Paur I, Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, et al. Antioxidants in Herbs and Spices: Roles in Oxidative Stress and Redox Signaling. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 2. Available from:

Konczak, Izabela, and Wei Zhang. “Anthocyanins—More Than Nature’s Colours.” Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology 2004.5 (2004): 239–240. PMC. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

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