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Does tea boost immunity?

Research is on and evidence of the immunity-enhancing benefits of tea and its constituents is growing

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy

If you are looking for a healthy beverage that can also aid immunity, it’s a great time to adopt tea as part of your lifestyle. But because there’s so much noise and anxiety about viruses and our defence mechanism to fight it, here’s a primer on the role of tea in building immunity.

I posed the question about the efficacy of tea and botanical blends or tisanes to Gurmeet Singh, who straddles the world of tea and Ayurveda biology. With nearly two decades as a tea researcher with Hindustan Unilever, he now heads the Centre for Ayurveda Biology and Holistic Nutrition at the University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences & Technology, Bengaluru.

In a nutshell, tea is known to have properties that can help fight diseases. Research is on and evidence of the immunity-enhancing benefits of tea and its constituents is growing. One study cited on this topic is a 2007 paper by Harvard Medical School professor and rheumatologist Jack F. Bukowski and team published in The Journal of the American College Of Nutrition. They researched a combination of L-theanine and catechins, two constituents of tea, for their immunity benefits and found that tea could reduce the incidence of colds and flu. Their recommendation from the study was to consume five cups of tea a day.

Traditional medicine has always made a case for botanicals in warding off infections and the efficacy of some of them, like ashwagandha, is supported by clinical studies. In 2009, research scientist Jyoti Bhat and her colleagues conducted a study for the Unilever Food and Health Research Institute to test the efficacy of botanicals and tea for their product Natural Care. This blend contains five botanicals—ashwagandha, licorice, basil, ginger and cardamom—chosen for their Ayurvedic properties, to fortify the black tea. The study showed that drinking tea fortified with botanicals for at least two months enhanced the body’s natural killer cell activity, and suggested that regular consumption of such a tea could potentially enhance immunity, especially in those who suffered recurring colds and flu. Tata’s TeaVeda is along similar lines, a blend of Assam black tea with cardamom, ginger, tulsi and brahmi.

Blending botanicals along with a tea base of your choice— think green tea with ginger or chai with cardamom and ginger —creates a palatable drink that induces a sense of well-being and holds the possibility of helping your body’s defence mechanism. In fact, your first cup of tea for the day can be a mouthwash! Recent studies indicate that gargling with green tea allows for the catechins to remain in the oral cavity for a longer time, which is a good thing.

The takeaway is that tea is a great fit in creating a healthy lifestyle which includes a wholesome diet and exercise. However, though tea’s phytochemicals may offer benefits in aiding immunity, they cannot replace medicine.


Red Label Natural Care and Tata Tea’s TeaVeda are available in most stores across the country. offers tea blends fortified with botanicals. For immunity blends, look for the inclusion of ginger, cardamom, ashwagandha, basil or licorice.

Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.

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