There’s a great deal of talk these days about plant-based diets, most notably, the recommendation by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that Americans should consume a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods. This is welcome news in the beverage category, which uses juices from fruits and vegetables as base ingredients.

There are a number of approaches to formulating plant-based beverages. One is the inclusion of botanicals, which are ingredients derived directly from a plant, usually in the form of a liquid extract or dried leaf or other part of the plant. Most are characterized as possessing a floral aroma, such as chamomile, ginseng, jasmine and lavender.

Botanicals exert varied benefits. Almost all function as an antioxidant, helping the body fight damage from free radicals, which may cause cells in the human body to grow and reproduce abnormally. Free radicals result from oxidation, a natural process that occurs when we digest food, exercise or simply breathe.

Once formed, the highly reactive radicals may start a chain reaction and damage healthy cells. Antioxidants terminate the chain reactions by being oxidized themselves, thus preventing free radical damage.

There are also some botanicals, which when consumed, serve as a stimulant, while others provide a calming effect. Some are associated with improving digestion, building immunity and even reducing stress.

Many botanical food ingredients are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) but none are associated with an approved health claim. Though some structure-function claims are permissible, most marketers avoid claims and will only use suggestive graphics or product descriptions.

New on the market

For example, Lotus Elixirs North America, Indian Wells, Calif., has introduced a namesake line of beverages featuring lotus flowers, inside the can and on the package label. Lotus flowers have been known to vitalize the body while promoting balance of mind, body and spirit.

“Stress creates imbalance in the body, resulting in a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms, including low energy, anxiety, irritability, lack of sleep, focus and performance,” said Scott Strader, founder and chief executive officer of Lotus Elixirs. “Other functional beverages only offer a quick-fix to symptoms of imbalance. These elixirs address the underlying cause of the problem by helping the body restore balance.”

Lotus Elixirs are infused with lotus flowers, the herb Rhodiola rosea and berries from the Schizandra chinensis plant. The botanicals long have been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for their rejuvenating effects. Modern science has classified the group of botanicals as adaptogens, suggesting they function like a thermostat in the body to normalize imbalance caused by stress.

Combined with juice from superfruits, the Lotus Elixirs come in three varieties: cranberry, raspberry and wild berry. The beverages are lightly carbonated and sweetened with organic cane sugar. They provide a kick of energy from the inclusion of organic green coffee beans, a natural source of caffeine.

Allendale, N.J.-based Kristian Regale Inc. has launched FRISA, a sparkling European-inspired botanical beverage. Made with spring water sourced from the Pyrenees, the caffeine-free beverages are lightly sweetened with natural cane sugar, delivering less than 100 calories per serving. Botanicals provide characterizing flavors, of which there are three: black currant rosehip, elderflower and ginger hibiscus.

All five of the botanicals function as antioxidants as well as exert additional benefits. For example, elderflower and black currant are anti-inflammatories.

“We have gone to great lengths to create a better-for-you, unique and natural sparkling botanical beverage that will appeal to the sophisticated tastes and aspirational demands of today’s consumer,” said Casey Beard, general manager and chief operating officer.

In the United Kingdom, Fentimans has added Wild English Elderflower to its line of botanical beverages, which includes Dandelion & Burdock, a dark and slightly spicy fizz, and Rose Lemonade made with lemon juice and Rose Otto oil from the Rose Valley in Kazanlak, Bulgaria.

The new Wild English Elderflower is a pale, verdant liquid that requires upending before pouring. It has a light, sweet profile with floral notes. A three dimensional texture is achieved through the infusion of pear juice during the botanical brewing process, according to the company.

Mudra Mushroom, from the same-named Ramsey, N.J.-based company offers a bottled mushroom green tea. Each bottle contains 1.325 grams of Reishi mushroom and Chaga mushroom extract.

Like the lotus flower, chaga is an adaptogen long consumed in Russia as a brewed beverage instead of black tea or coffee. Chaga mushrooms contain phytonutrients, minerals and other functional nutrients. Reishi mushrooms are said to help build immunity and provide balance to the body.