"I'm looking for a tea that will cure my condition. What do you recommend?" This is a fairly common inquiry that we receive, and I'd like to address it because it requires a bit of explanation instead of the short answer hoped for. Usually people who ask us this question are brand new to tea. So let's start by looking at the word, "tea," which gets used in a wide variety of ways. The dictionary I have at hand mentions 8 different uses of the term: 1) a hot drink made by infusing the leaves of the tea plant in boiling water; 2) the dried leaves used to make such a drink; 3) served cold, such a drink served with ice cubes; 4) a hot drink made from the infused flowers, leaves, or fruits of other plants (herbal teas); 5) also "tea plant," the evergreen tree or bush that produces these leaves native to South and Eastern Asia; 6) chiefly British, a light afternoon meal consisting of tea to drink, light sandwiches, and cakes; 7) British, a cooked evening meal, see "High Tea:" 8) an informal term for marijuana. In the context of the question above, the people asking usually do not discriminate between "tea" meaning the drink made from the tea plant, and "herbal tea" made from various other plants. Combine this with massive news coverage that "tea is good for you," and you have a potentially confused populace.
So if these folks have some kind of ailment, it stands to reason they may think surely there is a "tea" out there that can cure or prevent it, and they start making phone calls. What happens after that depends on whom they call and how much integrity and knowledge that establishment has. If they call a certified herbalist or doctor that specializes in herbal medicine, they may find what they are looking for. But if they call a tea company that sells teas like Earl Grey, English Breakfast, and other various incarnations of Camellia sinensis, the tea plant, they will either get a confused customer service representative, or if they are lucky, they will get someone like me who is willing to explain why we can't quite answer their question. In the worst case, they may get a hold of an unscrupulous salesperson who will tell them exactly what they want to hear in order to sell their product.
When you hear about the health benefits of tea on the news, they are almost always referring to the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. This is the plant that black, green, oolong, and white teas are made from, and when you call a tea company, usually they use the word, "tea" to refer to these items. Herbal teas, sometimes referred to as "tisanes," are made from other plants, so the health benefits of tea do not apply to them. They may very well have their own health benefits, and indeed, herbal medicine is based on this. But remember that these two uses of the word, "tea," refer to very different entities. Another thing to keep in mind is that tea has not been approved by the FDA for any authorized health claims. Despite the large numbers of studies suggesting a wide variety of health benefits, the official jury is still out. Part of the reason is that studies don't always show the same findings, and tea research is still very young. (For more information on the state of tea research today, see my previous blog entry: Which tea is healthiest? No perfect answer.) That means that tea companies cannot specifically say that such-and-such a tea can improve or prevent any medical condition.
So if you find a tea company that is telling you, verbally or in their advertising or labeling, that they have this particular green tea (or whatever kind of tea) that cures gout, or will make you lose weight, or prevents cancer, or anything specific like that, they are not following FDA rules and regulations and could really get into a lot of trouble. They could be doing it to make the sale, or they could genuinely believe what they are telling you. Either way, it is currently against the rules to make those kinds of statements. The FDA regulations applicable to what you can say regarding the health benefits of tisanes vary with the plant, and the rules are very complicated, so it is really risky to make claims for these items. For the record, I am not an herbalist; I am a registered dietitian. As the president of a tea company, I am not allowed to make health claims regarding the tisanes (or any other products) that we sell at The Tea Table, LLC. We carry a variety of herbal teas, but purely for drinking pleasure, not as treatments for any ailments whatsoever. If you happen to find an herbal at our store that you think helps you in some way, that's great, but we can't market it that way.
So after explaining all this to the poor soul on the phone looking for some kind of herbal remedy for their ailment, we can say that in general, drinking reasonable amounts of any kind of real tea may be good for you in many ways. We can help them determine what teas might taste best to them and give some suggestions about what to try first. We can suggest that they talk to their doctor for answers to medical questions or to a certified herbalist for herbal remedies. That's about it. I'm sure as tea research progresses, we will be allowed to make more bold statements, but good scientific research take a very long time, so please be patient.