You’ll find leaf teas in the beverage aisle, but tea may appear in the supplements section, too. What makes tea qualified to be in the supplement category? Here are the facts.

Just like fruits and vegetables, teas from the Camellia sinensis plant are loaded with micronutrients—so much so that some teas are sold in the supplements aisle as well as on the beverage shelf.

Tea is an optimal health drink, says Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, nutrition professor and senior scientist in Tufts University’s Antioxidants Research Laboratory, because it has no calories and offers abundant polyphenols, plant compounds such as catechins that offer protective or disease-preventing properties. And even at fairly high doses—six to seven cups daily—there’s no evidence of negative effects.

Herbal teas with ingredients such as slippery elm and ginger qualify as “an herb or other botanical” supplement, according to federal guidelines. Camellia sinensis teas may qualify as a dietary supplement when combined with herbal botanicals or when sold in extract form and labeled as such.

 “Supplements Facts panels [on tea] allow companies to get more specific; they can list the ingredient source here,” says Todd Runestad, Delicious Living’s supplements editor. “They [also] need to include the plant part from which an ingredient is derived. With Nutrition Facts panels, companies have to list the Daily Value for an ingredient, but not so for Supplements Facts panels.”  Without FDA approval, tea supplement labels can’t claim it affects any disease—but can make “structure/function” claims about how a nutrient may affect the body. 

Prefer a pill? Green tea extract (GTE) delivers up to 700 mg of catechins per pill, compared to 50–150 mg in the average cup. Too much GTE can potentially cause liver damage, so as usual, consult your doctor before starting any new supplement.