Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Natural Coffee Alternatives

You! Put down that cup of coffee! Yes, YOU!

Artists, writers and, well, people everywhere often drink a lot more coffee than they really should. Why not, you ask? Well, you have a point. It increases energy, focus, metabolism, and just tastes darn delicious.

But how much is too much coffee? Health Canada published an excellent article in 2006 detailing just how much caffeine is recommended for different members of the population. I believe most people try to keep their coffee intake within reason, but time and time again I've also talked to people who say

they require upwards of eight or nine cups of coffee to get through their day.

And if you are going through a particularly difficult period of increased stress, looming deadlines and constant worrying, all that extra caffeine circulating around in your system maybe isn't the best thing for you. It increases blood pressure, anxiety, and taxes your adrenal gland function. When adrenal exhaustion begins, energy levels plummet, immune function falters, and emotions can go haywire -- which isn't going to help anyone get anything done in the long run.

You are absolutely allowed to enjoy your one or two cups of coffee a day -- but when you feel tempted to extend beyond that, here are some beverage ideas that may help anxiety, adrenal function, and energy levels

If you have any health problems, take prescription medications, experience allergies to herbs, or suffer from high blood pressure, it's probably better to check with your doctor before using any of the herbs listed here. 

Stress Reduction 

Chamomile - it's a classic, it really is. Good old fashioned chamomile tea. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is actually an amazing plant when you look at its medicinal properties. The flowers contain a dense range of phytochemicals which mildly sedate the nervous system, reduce stress, reduce allergies and histamine release, and improve digestion. If I need to wake up and perk up, I might not always reach for this little gem -- but if I am facing nervous exhaustion, insomnia, and restlessness, this is what I need.

Passionflower -- the passionflower is a wonderful herbal remedy, and has been a popular plant-of-choice by herbalists and naturopaths when treating anxiety and insomnia. Today I go to the supermarket, and I often find passionflower or passionflower-containing teas. But if you are seriously stressed, you want to make sure you are getting a good strength tea -- so look for 100% passionflower is my advice.

Ashwaganda -- depending on where you live, this can also be called Indian Ginseng or Withania. Unlike other ginseng plants, Ashwaganda root does not increase energy function, but supports energy by tonifying the nervous system and supporting sleep levels. When clients are exhausted, underfed and underslept, this is the tonic I go for. It is nurturing and nourishing, rather than pushy and stimulating. Studies have also shown it improves immune function, adrenal function, and is also antioxidant. It can be made into a tea, or taken as a liquid tincture.

Energy Release 

Ginseng -- there are many different species of ginseng, and some with very different properties. What makes a ginseng a ginseng is the presence of special plant chemicals called ginsengosides, which have a positive effect on physical and mental fatigue, immune function and adrenal function. Ginseng has become very popular in recent years for athletes, and for people with chronic fatigue. It might not provide the same immediate stimulation that coffee does, but it is an excellent general tonic for lasting and long-term energy production. Make ginseng root tea, or take it in the form of a tincture or supplement, to support, rather than tax, your energy and your body. Recognised ginseng species include Eleutherococcus senticosus, Panax ginseng,  and Panax quinquefolius.

Rhodiola -- well, what can I say? In my eyes Rhodiola is an amazing, amazing plant. Also known as Arctic root or Rose root, it provides chemicals called rosavins and rosins, which studies have shown supports energy levels, stimulates endorphins, and may alleviate mild depression. It's been used for supporting athletic function, stimulating libido, and reducing anxiety too. Many people report Rhodiola has a marked stimulant effect on their nervous system, though I have always felt it to be a relaxing, balancing plant. Rhodiola root is not always available for making into a tea, but the supplements and tinctures are becoming more and more popular.

Rooibos -- a delicious, colorful caffeine-free alternative to coffee. Rooibos is a South African plant which has become popular in Western countries, and rightly so. It's fantastic for digestion and has a rich, full taste that many herbal teas lack. Recently I also learned this exotic tea may help to relieve nervous tension.

Green/Black tea -- if you really, really have to have at least SOME caffeine, green or black tea contains significantly less caffeine than coffee does. In addition, the tea plant (Camelia sinensis) also contains decent levels of a rare amino acid called L-theanine, which works to counter many of the effects of caffeine. Where caffeine raises blood pressure, L-theanine lowers it. Where caffeine increases anxiety, L-theanine lowers it. This amino acid accounts for some of the health benefits of tea, and balances the caffeine wonderfully. In addition, green tea has a myriad of near-miraculous health benefits, too numerous to name here, and is good to drink often.


Dandelion -- shunned by gardeners around the world, the dandelion plant is considered an invasive weed and a pest. However, herbalists have long recognized the root of the dandelion plant to have medicinal properties for digestion, liver health and kidney health. When roasted, the root can be brewed into a dark beverage with a deliciously aromatic, slightly bitter taste. When you see Dandelion coffee in supermarkets and health food stores, this is what you are buying -- roasted dandelion root. It is free of caffeine, but can be used to substitute coffee when you are trying to cut back.

Chicory -- historically the chicory root has been used to replace coffee, in times when coffee beans were hard to come by. In fact, chicory root was used to make Mischkaffee in East Germany during the late 1970's during a crisis in coffee availability. Chicory coffee is aromatic, woody, delicate. Not quite coffee-tasting, but pleasant, and warming. And, of course, healthy. Several studies have shown the inulin carbohydrates in chicory root have benefits for digestion by getting rid of parasites, and improving gut microflora.

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