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Can Herbal Teas Help You Relax...Safely?

Did you know that the herb hops, a preservative found in beer, helps create a tranquilizing tea (that's not intoxicating)? And did you know that valerian, another herb, has been helping people get to sleep for over 1,000 years? While herbal supplements have been available at health food stores for quite some time, recently they have gained a new popularity on supermarket shelves in the form of tea. Before you reach for that cup of valerian, however, take a moment. While you may think the valerian drink is harmless (it's just tea, right?), this particular herb is easily addictive, especially if used on a daily basis. Other herbs should not be used with specific medications, and some should never be ingested.

Because of potentially harmful side effects, controversy surrounds herbal therapy in many countries. The U.S. government passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994 to help clarify some of the confusion regarding herbal supplements. This act classified herbs as "dietary supplements" and not drugs. While this means that manufacturers of herbs cannot claim their product will cure or treat diseases, it also means that herbs put on the market, even in teas, are not subject to the same amount of scrutiny as prescription or over the counter drugs.

Does this mean that contemplating a cup of herbal tea should conjure up more tension than it helps dissipate? Not necessarily. The FDA says that most major manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are responsible and safe. However, regardless of how reputable any company is, all consumers should educate themselves about dietary supplements such as herbal drinks. Before you go to your local supermarket and pick up a box of chamomile, kava kava, or valerian tea (herbal teas known for their relaxing qualities) consider the following guidelines:

Remember, most herbal teas are naturally decaffeinated and sugar free. If you're a newcomer to the herbal tea scene, simply fix yourself an ice-cold cup of mint tea (made from some fresh peppermint) instead of a soda. Herbal teas can be safe and delicious -- just make sure to be smart, so you don't have to stress out about de-stressing!