THE Chinese have believed in the medicinal properties of herbal teas for centuries, regularly drinking everything from ginseng and garlic concoctions to ground extracts of exotic animals. And while naturopaths and herbalists continue to advocate drinking herbal teas instead of caffeine-rich coffee or black tea, they warn against certain herbs which may cause more harm than good. Australian medical herbalist and nutritionist Ms Penelope Sach is one of a growing number of people who believe in the health benefits of drinking high-quality herbal teas over a long period. While she dismisses claims by some manufacturers that certain ''natural'' potions can cure serious diseases, Ms Sach conceded that drinking certain teas regularly could dramatically reduce illness, fortify the body and help prevent health problems. ''Traditionally a lot of herbs have not tasted very nice, but people drink them because they feel they might be good for their health,'' Ms Sach said. But like many believers in natural health care, Ms Sach said instead of drinking glass after glass of water, or multiple cups of coffee, herbal teas were a healthy option, provided they were taken in moderation. Herbs such as comfrey and ephedra, for example, have been taken off the market in Australia because of high levels of toxicity, particularly of carcinogens. But comfrey is still widely used in certain teas and natural foods outside Australia, so Ms Sach advised consumers to check labels carefully. She said herbal teas served in tea bags almost defeated the purpose because the bags diluted the purity of the herbs. She said they should be served in a coffee plunger and prepared like a pot-pourri. Ms Sach is one of a number of herbal tea makers in Australia and markets her teas - sold in Hongkong through The Peninsula hotel and its outlets - by combining several herbs in one jar. The Petal tea, for example, contains red clover - which is effective in helping to lower the risk of cancer if it is taken over a long period, along with a number of other herbs. In the Berry tea, she has used hawthorne berries - supposedly able to improve the functioning of the heart - which have been used in conventional medicine to help treat high and low blood pressure. Summer Delight, made from marigolds, is used to purify the bloodstream and the skin, and is a refreshing pick-me-up. Triple E, because it contains liquorice, is a sweet-tasting tea that helps stop sugar cravings and can be taken by diabetics. Mints help the gall bladder to break down the fats in the body and also aid digestion. ''Herbal teas should be incorporated into the diet,'' she said. ''I remind people they are not a medicine and should never be substituted for proper medical care. ''If something is wrong, go and see a doctor. But as part of an everyday, nice-tasting and healthy thing to drink, herbal teas serve their purpose. ''It is like people who have to have their glass of orange juice in the morning because they know it gives them a good dose of vitamin C. ''Ideally, herbs in teas should be left in their raw state and if any chemicals or preservatives have been added, stay away from them.'' But everything must be done in moderation, she said. Overdoing it with herbal teas would be like drinking two litres of carrot juice a day - the effects could be harmful. ''Herbal teas should be made for the public,'' she said. ''While people in Asia are quite accustomed to them, Westerners would never think of ordering a pot of herbal tea in a restaurant. ''But we have found a cup a day at least helps them reduce their coffee intake and, if that is all it does, that is not a bad thing.''