So, you’ve heard that tea can help the immune system and you’d like to know more. You’ve come to the right place! Tea is indeed excellent for immune function but at the risk of oversimplification, let us just say that the immune system is a complex bodily function. This means that there are a whole lot of things which go into keeping that defense system up and running optimally.
- How the Immune System Can be Supported
- More on Immune-Modulators: Adaptogens
- Best Teas to Support the Immune System: Immunity Tea Benefits
- Green Tea
- Black Tea
FYI You may have seen articles which explain how well their own teas in their own shop help, but we are not like that - we are a tea science and lifestyle blog and so we check out what the journals say, the published research, and then distill that sciencey stuff into a nice summary piece with a thorough foundation.
We are still a tea shop, a looseleaf ethically sourced carbon positive one at that, but we source our sources and reference our references.
We're all looking for that peaceful cup of tea to support us!
At First Glance, How the Immune System Can be Supported
Diet, lifestyle, and even mental health are the foundation of a healthy immune system and herbs such as teas and tisanes play a supportive role.
As the topic is broad, let’s assume your own base is good and you just need extra help in your exploration. Tea is a great choice! But it depends on what you are looking for. Herbs and tea support the immune system in different ways.
Let’s look at three classes of immune system supporting herbs:
These give the immune system a hearty boost when it is facing down a pathogen. Immune stimulants should be taken at the onset of a cold and usually no more than 7-14 days in therapeutic doses (doses higher than what might be found in a regular diet/food-consumption).
Those which regulate the immune system. These are excellent if you tend to have a lot of ups and downs- you get sick easily or your immune system is overactive. Immune modulators can be divided into subclasses, and are generally adaptogenic. Infact, adaptogens, defined by their normalizing effects in the body can bring balance to the immune function by helping it rise to the challenge of an ailment or lowering it when it is being over-active (such as with seasonal allergies) (Winston, n.d.)
They restore, gradually support natural function, and nourish the immune system by providing key nutrients and antioxidants. These are similar in action to modulators, and are great for recovery during and after long illnesses.You will notice that “stimulants” and “modulators” are more specific terms than tonic in describing what they do.. Nearly identical in action to immune modulators, herbs tonics is a phrase for the remainder which simply lack the research to support their classification as immune modulators, though are often used for that purpose by herbalists.
Most immune-modulators are native to Asia, which simply demonstrates the prioritization of scientific interest and the allocation of research funds for botanical medicine (Blankespoor, 2021).
Western immune tonics which readers may be more familiar with include plants like Calendula, Elder, Chaga, and Turkeytail, to name a few. Plants with high antioxidant counts can function as immune tonics, and are great for conjunctive therapies.
Tulsi Holy Basil is a famouse adaptogen
More on Immune-Modulators: Adaptogens
Immune-modulators are often adaptogenic plants, or at the very least exhibit some adaptogenic actions. This is because these herbs and teas have normalizing action, meaning if there is an instance where the immune system needs a boost the herb will upregulate the immune system to take action, and if the immune system is overstimulated such as in the case of allergies or autoimmune flare ups, these plants will help down-regulate the over-excited immune reaction (in rare cases they may cause a flare-up so it is necessary to note whether or not the adaptogen has secondary, stimulating properties or not).
This adaptogenic tea is loose leaf Tulsi - with a rich, warm, herbaceous flavor with a light spice and sweetness
Best Teas to Support the Immune System: Immunity Tea Benefits
Let’s see how tea can help…
This tea may fall under two categories: tonic and immunomodulator. It has antimicrobial action, and fights infection. It also has demonstrated some immune-modulating action in carcinogen treatment. Lastly, the antioxidant content in green tea fights oxidants and radicals thereby strengthening the immune system (Chacko, et al., 2010).
The antioxidant EGCG has demonstrated immune-modulating action in studies, and has a profound benefit on T-cell proliferation and action and on cytokines (put simply, T-cells attack foreign invaders, and cytokines alert the immune system to take action). In addition it may even have favorable action for those with autoimmune conditions; more research is needed (Pae & Wu, 2013).
Full of antioxidants, regular consumption can reduce cancer onset risk - a protective immune function. It’s also antimicrobial and fights harmful bacteria. Regularly drinking black tea improves the antioxidant status of the body which in turn prevents the development of chronic illness (Rasheed, 2021).
Rooibos is exciting because it appears to have both modulating and immune-stimulating properties, and it’s included here because it can be consumed regularly (in reasonable amounts) without toxicity (Red Bush Tea, 2022; Sheik & Marnewick, 2021; Ajuwon, et al., 2013).
Rooibos' immune support action is incredible! Through its powerful antioxidant activity, it is protective and anti-inflammatory (Sheik & Marnewick, 2021). One study demonstrated that it has immune-modulating action and another found that it stimulated antigen-specific antibody production. The authors also suggest that due to its effects on Th1-immune response (which activate cellular immunity and tumor-cell death) that it can prevent diseases which occur with Th1-immune response defects, such as cancer (Kunishiro, et al., 2001).
Lastly, one study suggests that its immune actions can quell comorbidities associated with the diseases which damage the lungs (comorbidity meaning when one has more than one disease at the same time) . Some respiratory viruses cause a cytokine storm (an inflammatory immune response) which leads to lung injury and acute respiratory syndrome. The authors state that using inhibitors to prevent viral attachment to cells has been considered as a therapeutic intervention, and that Rooibos acts in this same manner. The plant also inhibits enzyme activation of angiotensin, thereby preventing the inflammation and vasoconstriction involved in the development of the above conditions (Sheik & Marnewick, 2021). These are exciting findings, and so as usual the authors suggest that more research is needed. Go Rooibos!
Explore our Rooibos & Honeybush
Rooibos has a rich, distinctive taste, and is only grown in the Cedarburg Mountains near Cape Town, South Africa.
It isn’t an adaptogen, but it does have immune-modulation action! Although famous for its relaxing nature, when considering the immune system this herb leans towards the “stimulating” category, as it can provide an immune boost when fighting off colds, and it has antibacterial activity (Srivastava, et al., 2010).
Studies have found that it has action on macrophages - a type of immune system cell - by inhibiting nitric oxide (NO) production and iNOS expression. Very sciencey stuff, so let’s break this down: Nitric Oxide is involved in the development of inflammatory disease, including cancer, and so Chamomile benefits the body but attenuating the cause of inflammatory factors (Bhaskaran, et al., 2010).
Chamomile also has antihistamine action.One study looked at a methanol extract of chamomile and found it has powerful anti-allergic action, because it prevents the release of histamine from mast cells. Put simply, it modulates the overactive histamine reaction of the immune system*(Chandrashekhar, et al., 2011).
* I’ve personally included it in tea formulations for seasonal allergies! (Note, I am trained, so for the reader do not attempt to use chamomile as an intervention for allergic reactions as these can be life-threatening. All use of herbs and medicines for treatment should only be done with your health practitioner, this blog is only for information purposes.)
A Note From The Herbalist...
To talk about my own life, most edible plants will help the immune system in some way or other, so consuming a good combination of herbals and teas can be beneficial. I personally love immune modulators (particularly Boswellia and Ashwagandha for stubborn, overactive immune function), with an active infection and in need of a boost, immune stimulating herbs can be helpful.
Some of my favorites are Echinacea angustifolia ( E. purpurea is less effective unless prepared by juicing the above-ground parts, according to renowned herbalist S.H. Buhner), berberine-containing herbs such as Oregon Grape root, Elder, and garlic (in high doses). These stimulate my immune system by revving it up, but shouldn’t be consumed in therapeutic (high) doses for more than 14 days, otherwise immune-exhaustion may occur. For safe, longer term use, try oregano or ginger, reducing the potency as recovery sets back in. Reminder: this is just for me, and you should not take this article as recommending treatment of any specific disease. We hope this presentation of the research we found on how teas and tisanes can be immune supporting is useful - happy steeping!
Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments below or on our IG @MatchaAlternatives
About the Author
Stephany went on to earn her MSc in Complementary Alternative Medicine at the American College for Healthcare Sciences (ACHS), where she focused her studies on Herbal Medicine and Nutrition. Most recently, she completed her Graduate Certification in Nutrition from ACHS in 2020. She is currently a professor at White Earth Tribal and Community College (WETCC) in Minnesota as part of a pilot project with Lead for America.
Never tried rooibos or honeybush before? Start here!
3 Sleep Teas Bundle to relax you at the end of the day
All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. This information is for educational purposes only.
Tea & Migraines References & Further Reading
Blankespoor, J. (2021, December 6). Herbs for the immune system. Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. Retrieved April 3, 2022, from https://chestnutherbs.com/blog-herbs-for-the-immune-system/
Winston, D. (n.d.). An herbalist on the healing power of adaptogens. Goop. Retrieved April 3, 2022, from https://goop.com/wellness/health/an-herbalist-on-the-healing-power-of-adaptogens/
Chacko, S. M., Thambi, P. T., Kuttan, R., & Nishigaki, I. (2010). Beneficial effects of green tea: a literature review. Chinese medicine, 5, 13. https://doi.org/10.1186/1749-8546-5-13
Pae, M., & Wu, D. (2013). Immunomodulating effects of epigallocatechin-3-gallate from green tea: mechanisms and applications. Food & function, 4(9), 1287–1303. https://doi.org/10.1039/c3fo60076a
Rasheed Z. (2019). Molecular evidences of health benefits of drinking black tea. International journal of health sciences, 13(3), 1–3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6512146/
Bhaskaran, N., Shukla, S., Srivastava, J. K., & Gupta, S. (2010). Chamomile: an anti-inflammatory agent inhibits inducible nitric oxide synthase expression by blocking RelA/p65 activity. International journal of molecular medicine, 26(6), 935–940. https://doi.org/10.3892/ijmm_00000545
Chandrashekhar, V. M., Halagali, K. S., Nidavani, R. B., Shalavadi, M. H., Biradar, B. S., Biswas, D., & Muchchandi, I. S. (2011). Anti-allergic activity of German chamomile (Matricaria recutita L.) in mast cell mediated allergy model. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 137(1), 336–340. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2011.05.029
Srivastava, J. K., Shankar, E., & Gupta, S. (2010). Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with a bright future. Molecular medicine reports, 3(6), 895–901. https://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2010.377
Red Bush Tea uses, benefits & dosage . Drugs.com herbal database. (2021). Retrieved April 3, 2022, from https://www.drugs.com/npp/red-bush-tea.html
Ajuwon, O. R., Katengua-Thamahane, E., Van Rooyen, J., Oguntibeju, O. O., & Marnewick, J. L. (2013). Protective Effects of Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and/or Red Palm Oil (Elaeis guineensis) Supplementation on tert-Butyl Hydroperoxide-Induced Oxidative Hepatotoxicity in Wistar Rats. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2013, 984273. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/984273
Sheik Abdul, N., & Marnewick, J. L. (2021). Rooibos, a supportive role to play during the COVID-19 pandemic?. Journal of functional foods, 86, 104684. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2021.104684
Kunishiro, K., Tai, A., & Yamamoto, I. (2001). Effects of rooibos tea extract on antigen-specific antibody production and cytokine generation in vitro and in vivo. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry, 65(10), 2137–2145. https://doi.org/10.1271/bbb.65.2137