Tea: Health Benefits and a Brief History
Please note: While herbal “teas” can be brewed from a variety of leaves, flowers, or roots, in this article we focus on tea leaves. Tea – Oolong, green, white, yellow, red and black – comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The difference in taste and health benefit comes from the way the tea leaves are processed: to make black tea, the leaves are fermented, which neutralizes many of the antioxidants present in the leaves, while oolong / white / yellow / green tea is produced by lightly steaming the fresh-cut leaf. At the end of this article we will be discussing several additional herbs that may be added for further health benefits.
A SHORT HISTORY…
There are many old sayings in Chinese on the value of tea. One however shows the immense value customarily placed on tea. It reads: “Better to be deprived of food for three days, than tea for one.” That is quite a strong statement, but it is also very telling of the new scientific research backing up this tradition.
The tea leaf has branches in many places, but its roots are in China. As legend has it, a man named Shen Nong, who is considered the father of farming and medicine in China, discovered tea in the process of developing a written account of the medicinal use of herbs. History says he was poisoned one day after eating more than 60 herbs. He then used tea to balance / detoxify the poisonous effect of the herbs, thus saving his life.
Before the people of ancient China consumed tea as a daily beverage, it was used as medicine. The use of tea leaves is categorized as “clearing heat and purging fire.” The traditional medical indications for drinking tea mainly consist of digestive conditions such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, the treatment of headaches and reducing excess fat in meat-heavy meals are also included in its use.
CALM YOUR SPIRIT …
Another interesting association with the tea leaf is its strong connection to the monastic traditions throughout Asia. Hermit monks living in the mountains of China grow tea near their huts. A lovely poem by an anonymous monk reads: “The singing kettle sounds like a cicada pouring forth his woes to the departing summer.” Tea is traditionally said to relax the mind and calm the spirit. But wait, what about its caffeine content?
Researchers have often wondered why tea, despite its stimulating caffeine content, tends to calm one’s spirits without making them drowsy. Furthermore, mountain monks who engage in meditation drink tea to dispel mental sluggishness, and yet do not become mentally agitated. The answer is a rare amino acid in tea called L-theanine. This amino acid is the component in oolong / green tea that is largely responsible for its relaxing benefits.
Many tests have demonstrated the anti-stress effects of L-theanine. One of the more revealing of these experiments examined brain wave patterns after the ingestion of L-theanine. In this study, fifty volunteers were divided into high-anxiety and low-anxiety groups. Each group was given either 50 or 200 mg of isolated L-theanine in water once a week. Their brain waves were measured during the hour after ingestion. The results showed marked increases in relaxed wakefulness roughly 40 minutes after ingestion.
OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS …
Animal studies have shown oolong / green tea, or its extracts, to be effective against chemically induced cancers. These cancers include: lung, breast, colon, liver, skin, and a variety of gastrointestinal cancers. Furthermore, oolong / green tea extracts have been found to protect animals from certain types of prostate cancer.
Human evidence for the health benefits of oolong / green tea consumption is also impressive. Extensive evidence shows that people who consume high amounts of oolong / green tea live longer, develop less cancer, have healthier cholesterol levels, and suffer less cardiovascular and liver disease.
How to Brew – Use one teaspoon of loose-leaf green or oolong tea per cup of water. Brew for 2 to 3 minutes using water that has just begun to steam – not yet boiling. Most high quality loose-leaf teas can be re-used several times.
BOOSTING YOUR BENEFITS …
Modifying your tea is a simple and delicious task that has many added health benefits. Below are three herbs, each with their own special effect on the body. In order to modify your tea, go to a Chinese herb shop and buy a bag of one of the following herbs, and add a handful of the chopped ingredient and let it steep with your regular tea leaves. You can just add one, all three, or combine them as you wish. Write down the Mandarin names and show it to the people at the shop, and they will direct you to the herbs in question.
Fructus Jujubae, Da Zao in Mandarin, or simply Chinese date in English, is a potent and tasty add to your regular tea. Make sure to add the kernel at the center, crack it open with scissors or pliers. This will unlock the most potent part of the herb. Chinese dates have a long list of traditional indications, including: boosting digestion, generating strong blood cells, calming the spirit, and reducing the toxicity of other herbs. Chinese dates also have a sweet taste, making them perfect after a hearty meal.
Fructus Lycii, Gou Qi Zi in Mandarin, or simply Goji Berries in English, are another strong and tasty way to modify your regular tea. Goji berries are an incredibly valuable daily tonic. They too have a long list of indications, including: brightening the eyes, moistening the lungs, generating fresh and strong blood, and boosting virility.
Arillus Longan, Long Yan Rou in Mandarin, or simply dried longan fruit in English, is a wonderful addition to your regular cup. Both sweet and warm in nature, this herb is used to boost heart and digestive function. It is also used to simultaneously bolster Qi, the body’s vital energy, and blood. This is a commonly used herb to strengthen the body after giving birth or a long illness.
As the ancient Chinese would have said, “A drop of water shall be returned with a burst of spring.” The meaning of this saying is that even if it was just a little help from others, you should return the favour with all you can when others are in need. This is a perfect saying when it comes to your tea, just a teaspoon can go a long way for your health. Bottoms Up!
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