For centuries, people have found comfort, revitalization, and sustenance in the use of teas, herbs, and spices as both natural remedies and flavor enhancers. Their significance has been so profound, entire wars have been waged over coveted teas and exotic spices. Today, the business of bringing these treasured ingredients to our kitchens and dinner tables is a billion-dollar industry.
The allure and demand for herbs, teas and spices has never been stronger. From soothing herbal teas, exotic spice-infused dishes to organic medications, these botanical wonders have found their way into our diet and are an important part of our wellness lifestyle.
However, behind the many benefits of teas, herbs and spices lies a seldom discussed truth: they can be dangerous to your health. With few exceptions, these products are sold and consumed without health warnings. When in fact they may harbor hidden hazards that demand our immediate attention and caution.
One of the most common misconceptions about teas, herbs, and spices is that they are universally safe. While many are benign when consumed in moderation, some can have adverse effects on your health. For example, herbal teas. Their soothing properties and medicinal potential are the main selling points online or in health food magazine ads.
However, herbal teas are not all created equal. Some, like comfrey tea, is harvested from a raggedy shrub that can be dangerous for some to drink. Nicknamed “knit bone” because of its reputed power to heal breaks and soothe joint inflammation, comfrey tea contains compounds that can be toxic to the liver when consumed in excess.
Licorice root tea is considered one of the world’s oldest herbal remedies. Today It is used to treat heartburn, acid reflux, hot flashes and coughs. It reportedly works well when used with caution. Nevertheless, it can elevate blood pressure and lead to potassium imbalances if consumed excessively.
Herbs have also been used for centuries in traditional medicine for their therapeutic properties. The caution required for herbs is controlling their potency. The absence of regulation by government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) means the purity and safety of herbal supplement products is not guaranteed.
Kava, a popular herb used to reduce anxiety, can damage the liver and cause a range of health problems when consumed in excessive amounts. It is considered so toxic that in 2002 the FDA issued a warning about the potential liver risks associated with kava and advised consumers to exercise caution when using kava-containing products.
The overuse of St. John’s wort is another growing concern. It is frequently used to alleviate depression and manage attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). According to the National Institute of Health, St. John’s Wort can lead to dangerous interactions with prescription medications, including Warfarin, a blood thinner, birth control pills and some HIV drugs.
Spices, on the other hand, are valued for their ability to elevate the flavors of our favorite foods. While they can enhance the taste of our meals, they can also wreak havoc on our health when consumed in excess. For example, nutmeg is a common spice used in both sweet and savory dishes.
However, the Journal of Medical Toxicology reports consuming large quantities of nutmeg can lead to a condition known as “nutmeg poisoning,” an acute condition characterized by hallucinations, nausea, and heart palpitations.
Some spices, such as cayenne pepper and chili powder, can be incredibly spicy, causing digestive discomfort and even irritation to the gastrointestinal tract when consumed in excess. While these discomforts may not pose severe health risks but can certainly be unpleasant and contribute to digestive problems if overindulged.
Other popular herbs like ginkgo biloba and garlic have blood-thinning properties, which, when combined with anticoagulant medications prescribed to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, can increase the risk of bleeding. Such interactions highlight the importance of consulting with healthcare professionals before adding teas, herbs, or spices to one’s daily regimen, especially for individuals taking multiple medications.
The hidden dangers of teas, herbs, and spices extend beyond individual health concerns. The global spice trade is notorious for its lax regulation, leading to potential risks associated with contamination and adulteration. Spices can be contaminated with harmful substances like mold, pesticides, and heavy metals, which can pose severe health risks when ingested.
To mitigate the potential dangers of teas, herbs, and spices, it is essential for consumers to exercise caution and make informed choices.
Next week: Guidelines to help navigate the world of botanicals safely.