Iron supplements, while generally helpful and effective for iron deficiency anemia, can be harsh on your gut. Especially for those of us who are already prone to gut issues, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and constipation. This has led more holistic-minded folks to start exploring alternative options, such as herbal tea for iron deficiency anemia.
If you’re wondering what are the best and worst types of tea for anemia, look no further! We’ll cover all of that and more. I’ll also share a nutritive iron-rich tea infusion recipe for you to try at home, if you’re feeling extra crafty.
Disclaimer: This post was created for general educational purposes, not to be mistaken for medical/nutritional advice! Make sure you’re working with a doctor as well as a holistic dietitian and/or clinical herbalist to receive custom guidance on how to address your iron deficiency anemia.
Affiliate disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which I’ve marked with a * symbol. As a proud affiliate for Mountain Rose Herbs*, please note I will make a small commission on qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you!
Table of Contents
What is iron deficiency anemia? (Quick review)
Iron deficiency anemia is a state in which your red blood cell count and/or size is lower than optimal. This state impairs the ability of your cells to receive oxygen from red blood cells.
This type of anemia is caused by an iron deficiency which may result from not getting enough iron in your diet, not absorbing the iron from your diet, and/or by losing too much iron via blood loss.
Anemia of any kind is typically diagnosed by a doctor, when your hemoglobin and hematocrit levels are low on a complete blood count (CBC).
Symptoms of iron deficiency include, but aren’t limited to:
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Reduced exercise endurance
- Hair loss
- Breaking/brittle nails
- Sore tongue
- Pica: (cravings for ice, clay, or other inedible substances, like laundry detergent)
- Poor circulation / cold hands and feet
- Intolerance to cold temperatures
Best herbs for iron deficiency
The best herbs for iron deficiency are nutritive herbs high in iron and/or vitamin C, since they work hand-in-hand to help combat iron deficiency anemia. This is because the plant-based iron found in herbs is “non-heme”, which means it requires vitamin C in order to get properly absorbed and used by our bodies. (1)
Iron-rich and vitamin C-rich herbs make great nutritive tea infusions, since water does a great job at extracting vitamins and minerals from tea! (A nutritive tea is a type of infusion made with nutritive herbs, steeped for at least 15-20 minutes, to extract the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.)
It can also be beneficial to incorporate some supportive herbs in a tea infusion.
- For example, if your iron deficiency anemia is caused by blood loss from heavy periods, it makes sense to explore herbs to help reduce a too-heavy menstrual flow.
Anatomy of an herbal tea infusion for anemia
Herbal tea infusions 101
Making an herbal tea infusion means you’re passively steeping ~1 teaspoon of loose dried herbs in ~8 ounces hot water, per serving.
Infusions are best for herbs using leaves and flowers, since they’re more delicate than bark and roots (which are best extracted as herbal tea decoctions).
Nutritive teas (such as tea for iron deficiency) can also be made into a “super infusion”.
What’s a super infusion?
A super infusion means you’re steeping the herbs for a very, very long time (i.e. 4 hours, or even overnight) versus just the traditional recommended infusion time of ~15-20 minutes.
This has been said to help extract exponentially more vitamins and minerals from the herbal tea leaves/flowers.
The best types of iron-rich herbs for a tea infusion include:
Herbs high in vitamin C
Vitamin C-rich herbs make a nice complementary addition to an iron deficiency tea, since they help to enhance and optimize iron absorption from the iron-rich herbs.
Also, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it’s easy to extract this micronutrient in an herbal tea infusion (versus in a tincture, which is alcohol-based).
My favorite vitamin C-rich herbs specifically for an iron deficiency anemia tea blend include the following options:
(Grapefruit peel is technically also very high in vitamin C. However, I chose not to include it on this list because grapefruit interacts with lots of medications!)
Optional: herbs for menstrual flow
Did you know that supplementing with ginger was shown to help enhance iron absorption, according to a 2022 study? (2)
Same goes for chamomile. (3)
We need more research to better understand how and why this works, but in the meantime it certainly can’t hurt to add a little extra pizzaz into your anemia tea infusions, if it resonates. 😉
Iron deficiency anemia tea infusion recipe
- 2 tablespoons iron-rich herb(s) of choice
- 1 to 2 teaspoons vitamin C-rich herb(s) of choice
- Optional: 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, or ½ teaspoon dried ginger root
- 32 ounces filtered water
- Place the loose herbs in a French press or tea pot.
- Add ~24 to 32 ounces of hot filtered water.
- Steep for at least 15-20 minutes or longer.
- Drink 1 to 4 cups daily, as needed.
- Note: Do not add milk or calcium-fortified milk substitute, because calcium interferes with iron absorption!
- Let it cool and store for up to 3 days in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Frequently asked questions
Is green tea good for anemia?
Green tea is not considered good for anemia. In fact, green tea contains relatively high levels of tannins, which can inhibit iron absorption by competing with iron for the same absorption sites in your gut!
While you don’t necessarily need to completely avoid green tea in most cases, I generally suggest limiting green tea consumption to 1x per day or less, if you’re navigating iron deficiency anemia. (Consult with your doctor and dietitian if you’re unsure!)
I also suggest drinking green tea at least a few hours apart from iron deficiency anemia tea infusions, to maximize effectiveness.
What do I need to know about black tea and anemia?
Black tea comes from the same plant as green tea (Camelia sinensis), and it’s got fairly high levels of tannins.
Drinking black tea isn’t beneficial for anemia, and it can potentially reduce iron absorption if you’re sipping black tea in excessive amounts (especially if you add milk).
Much like green tea, consider limiting black tea to 1 cup per day or less, and keep it a few hours apart from your anemia tea infusions for optimal results.
Is ginger tea good for iron deficiency?
While we can’t yet say for sure, this is most likely true!
The natural polyphenols (antioxidants) in ginger supplementation was shown in a 2022 Molecules study to help enhance iron absorption. (2)
So while I don’t think ginger tea is enough on its own to counteract iron deficiency, it certainly can’t hurt and could potentially help to add some fresh or dried ginger root into your iron deficiency tea infusions. 😉
Is chamomile tea good for anemia?
There’s no research confirming or denying whether or not chamomile is directly beneficial for anemia.
However, if your anemia happens to have been caused or worsened by blood loss from heavy menstrual cycles (such as in cases of dysmenorrhea), chamomile tea might actually help reduce the bleeding, according to a systematic review published in 2021. (3)
- In those cases, chamomile tea could potentially make a nice anemia ally due to its indirect benefits! But either way, you’ll most likely need more targeted interventions (beyond just chamomile tea) to remedy your anemia.
Chamomile is also considered a bitter herb, so in theory it could help optimize iron absorption by enhancing digestive secretions before meals (if your anemia is related to digestive insufficiency).
- We don’t have any research to confirm or deny whether or not drinking chamomile tea as a stand-alone intervention actually enhances iron absorption, but it doesn’t hurt to give it a try!
Isn’t red raspberry leaf tea iron rich?
I’ve seen anecdotal claims on the internet about the iron in red raspberry leaves, specifically mentioning that ~28 grams of dried red raspberry leaves contain 3.3 milligrams of iron.
But none of the claims I found online pertaining to the iron content of the raspberry leaves were cited with any source, and I wasn’t able to verify it anywhere. So I can’t really tell you how much iron is in red raspberry leaves!
Either way, I believe the tannins in this tannin-rich herb may actually interfere with the iron absorption.
So from a clinical and holistic perspective, I don’t include red raspberry leaves in iron deficiency anemia tea infusion recipes! But you can still give it a try, if it resonates.
What about red raspberry leaf tea for heavy menstrual bleeding?
Red raspberry leaf is an astringent herb which has been said to help reduce a too-heavy menstrual flow by toning the uterus.
So, if your iron deficiency anemia was caused by a heavy menstrual flow (such as in dysmenorrhea), in theory it’s possible that you can benefit from adding some red raspberry leaves to your tea infusions!
But sadly, the research investigating the role of red raspberry leaf tea on menstrual bleeding is pretty sparse and contradictory at this time.
Also, I never actually experienced any benefit from trying it out first-hand (I used to battle hormonal imbalance with estrogen dominance and heavy menstrual flow back in the day). And I haven’t seen any benefit of this in my private practice (yet).
All of that said, I’m not saying the claims about red raspberry leaf tea for heavy menstrual bleeding aren’t true – I just have absolutely nothing to back it up at this time.
- If you’ve experienced a first-hand benefit, please feel free to share in the comments or let me know via my contact page!
Can I drink hibiscus tea for iron deficiency?
Yes! Hibiscus flowers are naturally high in vitamin C (4), and vitamin C is water-soluble. So we know that this tea is a good source of vitamin C, which helps optimize iron absorption.
However, keep in mind that drinking hibiscus tea will only help iron deficiency if you’re consuming high enough quantities of iron from food, herbs, and/or supplements.
Consider blending hibiscus tea with an iron-rich tea such as parsley, alfalfa, stinging nettle, dandelion leaf, and/or moringa leaf, for optimal results.
What tea is good for iron deficiency anemia?
The best tea for iron deficiency is a blend of nutritive herbs rich in iron (such as nettle leaf, moringa, parsley, alfalfa, and/or dandelion leaf, combined with herbs high in vitamin C (such as lemon peel, orange peel, hibiscus, and/or rosehips).
Adding ginger into your tea blend for iron deficiency anemia may also be helpful for enhancing absorption.
Does drinking tea cause anemia?
Tea isn’t inherently capable of causing anemia as an independent risk factor on its own – unless you’re consuming it in excess (more than ~3 cups per day) over long periods of time.
- For example, a 2016 case study report found that a man who drank ~1,500 milliliters of green tea (about 6 cups) per day, every weekday for ~20 years, ended up developing iron deficiency anemia. (5) (Even speaking as a green tea enthusiast & self-proclaimed tea connoisseur… That’s a lot of tea! Just sayin’.)
But if drinking tea is paired with a diet low in iron, an unhealthy gut that can’t properly absorb iron, significant blood loss, and/or an underlying disease (such as cancer), drinking certain types of tea (if high in tannins) certainly won’t help your situation either way.
For example, astringent teas (like black, green, white and oolong) are high in tannins – a bitter, drying, and astringent substance that will make your mouth pucker.
- Tannins are known to bind iron in the gut, ultimately limiting and reducing iron absorption. (6)
TLDR: Drinking large quantities of tannin-rich teas on-the-reg could potentially increase your likelihood of developing iron deficiency anemia, more so if paired with other risk factors.
More resources & related articles
Are you interested in learning more about natural remedies for iron deficiency anemia and optimal iron absorption? If so, you’re in the right place!
Make sure to check out the following articles and resources:
- 8 Things You Must Know About Iron Deficiency Anemia
- Iron Supplements and Probiotics: What You Need to Know
- Iron-Rich Blood-Building Herbs for Iron Deficiency Anemia (Round-Up)
- DIY Herbal Iron Syrup (Recipe)
- Uncovering the Links Between IBS and Iron Deficiency Anemia
- Iron-Rich Cherry Cacao Smoothie (Recipe)
- Leveraging the Powers of Nutritive Herbs
- Bitter Herbs for Digestion: What, Why, When & How to Get Started Working With Digestive Herbal Bitters
Making an iron deficiency anemia tea is relatively safe, easy and simple, as long as you have the right ingredients on-hand!
There are infinite combinations you can try. The key is to make sure you’re combining iron-rich herbs with a source of vitamin C, which enhances iron absorption from plants.
Also, keep in mind that in some cases, drinking iron-rich herbal tea (even in combination with vitamin C) may not be enough to kick your iron deficiency anemia to the curb. I’ve found personally and clinically that herbal iron syrup is more effective and efficient, and in some cases you may need additional support from iron supplements or even iron infusions.
But in most cases, nutritive iron-rich tea with vitamin C does help, and can make a huge difference,
Give it a try, let me know in the comments how it goes, and if you found this article helpful – please SHARE it!
XO – Jenna