As the cold of autumn approaches, many people reach for a piping hot and spicy chai to warm the heart. Since we recently stocked our seasonal Sleepy Hollow Pumpkin Chai, we decided to visit the health benefits and origins of Chai
While the delicious flavors of chai have made it a popular everyday beverage, it was originally designed as a medicinal concoction. Tea plants have grown wild in the Assam region since antiquity, but historically South Asians viewed tea as an herbal medicine rather than as a recreational beverage. Black tea and green tea contain many beneficial antioxidants, including high levels of flavonoids, polyphenols and catechins. They work by binding harmful oxygen-containing molecules called free radicals and peroxides, which damage DNA, cell membranes, and other cell components. Numerous scientific studies have shown that antioxidants in tea help control inflammation, improve immune function and prevent cancer.
Chai spices were originally incorporated in tea for medicinal purposes. According to Ayurvedic (Ancient Indian) philosophy and medicine, these spices are considered to be "sattvic," or calming, vitalizing and mentally clarifying.
Cinnamon has been found to lower LDL cholesterol, and have a regulatory effect on blood sugar. In a US Department of Agriculture study, cinnamon was found to reduce the proliferation of leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells.
Cinnamon also has antiviral and antibacterial properties, in addition to improving cognitive function and memory.
A popular spice in both the Indian and Chinese preparations, cardamom helps stomach cramps, and improves circulation.
Clove contains significant amounts of an active component called eugenol, which has made it the subject of numerous health studies, including studies on the prevention of toxicity from environmental pollutants like carbon tetrachloride, digestive tract cancers, and joint inflammation. In the United States, eugenol extracts from clove have often been used in dentistry in conjunction with root canal therapy, temporary fillings, and general gum pain, since eugenol and other components of clove (including beta-caryophyllene) combine to make clove a mild anaesthetic as well as an anti-bacterial agent. For these beneficial effects, you'll also find clove oil in some over-the-counter sore throat sprays and mouth washes.
Eugenol functions as an anti-inflammatory substance. In animal studies, the addition of clove extract to diets already high in anti-inflammatory components (like cod liver oil, with its high omega-3 fatty acid content) brings significant added benefits, and in some studies, further reduces inflammatory symptoms by another 15-30%. Clove also contains a variety of flavonoids, including kaempferol and rhamnetin, which also contribute to clove's anti-inflammatory (and antioxidant) properties.
Peppercorns contain impressive list of plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties. Peppers have been in use since ancient times for its anti-inflammatory, carminative, anti-flatulent properties.
Medically, nutmeg has strong antibacterial properties. It is effective in killing a number of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. Like cloves, nutmeg contains eugenol, a compound that may benefit the heart. Myristicin found in nutmeg has been shown to inhibit an enzyme in the brain that contributes to Alzheimer’s disease and is used to improve memory. It is used in small dosages to reduce flatulence [excessive stomach or intestinal gas], aid digestion and improve appetite.
Chinese Star Anise
star anise is most widely used for treating digestive ailments such as abdominal cramps, bloating, belching, constipation, gas, indigestion and stomach aches. In China, the herb is often consumed after meals to help dispel gas and bloating caused by food. It is believed that star anise activates the body’s digestive enzymes, which helps assimilate heavy foods such as meats and fats.
Star anise contains a substance known as Shikimic acid, which is extracted and used to make the antiviral drug Tamiflu. Not only does star anise hinder the flu, it also helps keep the lungs clear of mucus. Because of its expectorant properties, the herb promotes the liquefaction of thick mucus, which makes it easier to expel.
Historically, ginger has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. In herbal medicine, ginger is regarded as an excellent carminative (a substance which promotes the elimination of intestinal gas) and intestinal spasmolytic (a substance which relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract). Modern scientific research has revealed that ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties including antioxidant effects, an ability to inhibit the formation of inflammatory compounds, and direct anti-inflammatory effects.
The health benefits of fennel include relief from anemia, indigestion, flatulence, constipation, colic, diarrhea, respiratory disorders, menstrual disorders, eye care, etc. Fennel, bearing the scientific name Foeniculum Vulgare Miller, or its essence, is widely used around the world in mouth fresheners, toothpastes, desserts, antacids and in culinary.
As you sit back and watch the leaves fall sipping your spicy chai, remember that you're also taking a good dose of ancient medicine.