When it comes to cognitive longevity, drinking a daily cup of tea is one of the tastiest, cheapest, and healthiest habits. Whichever type of tea you prefer, whether hot or iced, each sip is doing your body a favor.
Different herbal teas offer different health benefits. Chamomile, for example, is linked to helping keep blood sugar levels steady and alleviating the symptoms of PMS. Yerba mate tea offers a natural energy boost. And on the beautiful Greek island of Ikaria, locals sip on savory teas steeped with herbs often overlooked in other parts of the world.
Ikaria is a so-called Blue Zone, a longevity hotspot known for its extraordinary number of centenarians living with little cognitive decline or impairment. Elena Paravantes-Hargitt, RD, a registered dietitian living in Greece and the author of The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Beginners ($17), says that the most popular teas in Ikaria are directly linked to improving brain and heart health as well as reducing inflammation. "Herbal teas are consumed two to three times a day, not just when someone has a sore throat or stomach ache," she says. Chances are that you already have the herbs used to make these teas in your own pantry.
The best herbal Greek teas for brain health
1. Mountain tea
According to Paravantes-Hargitt, mountain Greek tea is one of the most common types of teas consumed not only in Ikaria but throughout Greece. It's the only one on this list that may require a little effort finding, but the taste and health benefits are well worth it. "Mountain tea is an herbal tea with several varieties growing mainly in the Mediterranean," says Paravantes-Hargitt, specifically naming the dried leaves and flowers of Sideritis plants (also known as ironwort).
"[Mountain tea] has been studied extensively and is found to positively affect cognitive ability and mood," she says, adding that it contains phytochemicals with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Since it's brewed with flowers and leaves, mountain Greek tea has a floral and earthy taste, that's mild and slightly sweet. Look for mountain tea at specialty Mediterranean or Greek grocers. You can also buy it on Amazon from Kopeli ($24), Optima ($8), and Health Embassy ($20).
2. Sage tea
"Sage is a very common herbal beverage not only in Ikaria but all over Greece," says Paravantes-Hargitt. Sage tea is used to help with congestion or a sore throat, but that's not all. "Research has shown that it contains many bioactive ingredients such as camphor, alpha and beta caryophyllene, rosmarinic acid, chlorogenic acid, diterpenes, and flavonoids, all of which have antioxidant activity," she says. These active ingredients have been linked to protection against neurological diseases, including dementia.
3. Oregano tea
Oregano is commonly used in Ikarian cooking, but it's also enjoyed as a savory tea, says Paravantes-Hargitt. In the short term, oregano tea can help calm an upset stomach. Long term, it's another great choice for brain health. "Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture compared the antioxidant activity of 39 commonly used herbs and observed that oregano had three to 20 times higher antioxidant activity than the other herbs studied," says Paravantes-Hargitt.
4. Rosemary tea
Another herbal tea commonly consumed in Ikaria is steeped with rosemary, says Paravantes-Hargitt. One study found that consuming rosemary regularly can help protect against dementia because of its high amounts of antioxidants and flavonoids.
5. Fennel tea
Similar to oregano tea, fennel tea can help with an upset stomach. (It's especially helpful with gas.) "Fennel leaves are used in Greek cooking too, in fritters, salads, bean stews, and seafood," Paravantes-Hargitt says. Like the other Greek teas highlighted here, fennel tea has been scientifically linked to protecting against dementia when consumed on a regular basis. This is because it has antioxidants as well as fatty acids, which help protect the brain.
Of course, food and lifestyle habits also play important roles when it comes to brain health, but integrating one of these teas into your wellness routine will have long-term benefits in protecting against dementia. It certainly makes you think about using herbs you likely already cook with in a whole new way!
Greek tea is just a tiny part of the ever-popular Mediterranean diet:
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