/   Home   /   Newsroom   /   Research News

A Billion Cups' Consumption: The Diversity, Traditional Uses, Safety Issues and Potential of Chinese Herbal Teas

May 14, 2018     Email"> PrintText Size

Herbal teas, defined as water based infusions/decoctions prepared with herbal ingredients other than Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze (Theaceae), have long been consumed by Chinese people for preventive and/or therapeutic healthcare.  

Although herbal teas are widely consumed by many cultural groups in different regions of China, no thorough review has been undertaken to assess the diversity of the country's herbal tea usage. 

The study team from Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinses Academy of sciences (KIB/CAS), led By Dr. YANG Xuefei complemented by a quantitative survey in an important tea market in Kunming, summarized the current knowledge of plant species used as herbal teas by different cultural groups in different regions of China. 

The survey was focused on the teas' perceived traditional healthcare functions. It related phytochemical and pharmaceutical research, and safety issues.  

The study identified 759 plant species used as herbal tea in China and the market survey identified an additional 23 species. Most of the species used were from the Leguminosae, Compositae and Lamiaceae families. 

22 provinces and 14 ethnic minority groups have records on the consumption of herbal teas. Southern China uses up to 82% of the total species, and 211 out of 759 species are used by minority groups (Fig.1).  


Fig. 1. (a) Percentage of reported plant species in each growth form; (b) Percentage of plant parts used as herbal tea (total number of use reports = 1026); (c) Provincial category percentage of species used in each province (total number of use reports = 868); (d) Minority group category percentage of species used in each minority group (total number of use reports = 241). (Image by KIB) 

Thirty categories of traditional healthcare functions are linked with herbal teas, with clearing away heat, relieving toxicity and suppressing cough being the most important functions (Fig. 2).  


Fig. 2. Percentage of species per healthcare function based on traditional knowledge (total number of use reports = 1975). (Image by KIB) 

There is phytochemical and pharmaceutical evidence to support the claimed healthcare benefits of some Chinese herbal teas. Although Chinese herbal teas are generally safe to consume, overdoses of some herbal teas and some unapproved mixtures of species may cause health risks. 

Based on the market survey, the prices of most herbal teas range between 100–200 RMB (US$15–30) per kg. The selling forms are innovative (Fig. 3). 

The study pointed out that although a range of healthcare benefits of Chinese herbal teas have been proven by pharmaceutical and phytochemical studies, considering the large number of herbal tea species and the wide range of traditional healthcare functions reported, the current level of research remains insufficient.  

For many herbal teas, the claimed healthcare functions are still anecdotal.   

The study suggested there was a need to study herbal teas through an ethnopharmacological perspective and by employing a holistic approach, which required greater consideration of traditional knowledge in the pharmacological research design.  

Product safety and sustainability issues should also be considered, so the traditional applications of herbal teas can be transformed to efficient health boosting functional products. 

This study has been published in a paper in Journal of Ethnopharmacology entitled "A billion cups: The diversity, traditional uses, safety issues and potential of Chinese herbal teas".  

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Southeast Asia Biodiversity Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Western light Talent Cultural Project to Y.F.) and The Ministry of Science and Technology of China.




Fig. 3. Herbal tea sold in different forms at Tea Market, Kunming (Image by KIB)



(Editor: ZHANG Nannan)


Related Articles


How Nitrogen Deposition Affects Tropical Forest Plant Diversity

Jan 17, 2011

In 2010,Dr. ,Global Change Biology,2010,16:2688–2700).On the base of this finding,their further study in Dinghushan Biosphere Reserve for six years showed that responses of plant diversity in reforested forests varied with different land-use history. ...

seed plants;diversity;habitats

Scientists Unveil the Story of Trade-offs in Seed Plants

Jan 29, 2018

Research group lead by Prof. LI Dezhu from Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences (KIB/CAS) is focused on the taxonomy, systematics and seed ecology, and has recently conducted a study of the functional trade-offs of seeds.

Bacterial diversity;Functional bacterial species;PCR-DGGE;qPCR;Kinetics

Why Hindgut Exceeded Small Intestine in Fibre Digestion and Cellulose Easily Digested than Neutral Netergent Fibre?

Oct 27, 2014

Recently, a team of researchers, led by TAN Zhiliang, at the Institute of Subtropical Agriculture (ISA) hypothesized that this phenomenon is related to the microbes, as well as gut region (jejunum, ileum, cecum and colon) and fibre structure (NDF and C...

Contact Us

Copyright © 2002 - Chinese Academy of Sciences