The Power of Tea
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different teas available on the market. Which is the best? It depends on how tea is being defined, and the purpose for choosing the drink. There are basically two categories of tea: true tea and herbal tea.
True tea consists of varieties made from leaves of the Camellia sinensis bush, commonly known as the tea tree, tea shrub or tea plant. Such teas include black tea, green tea, oolong tea and white tea, and may have other ingredients added for flavor. Herbal tea is not really tea at all because it doesn’t contain any tea leaves. Herbal tea is made up of ingredients such as spices and herbs, flowers, fruit, bark, roots and other organic vegetation.
True tea, one of the most popular drinks in the world, second only to water, has medicinal value and has been shown through research-based data to help the body ward off disease and illness because of the high levels of antioxidants in the leaves. According to BlackTeas.com, Chinese folklore says that tea was discovered almost 5,000 years ago by Shennong, a Chinese emperor, in the 2700s B.C. The story goes that a servant of Shennong was purifying water by boiling it for the emperor to drink. Leaves from a nearby tree, which may or may not have been the Camellia sinensis bush, blew into the pot of hot water. When Shennong tasted the drink, he found it to be enjoyable. Tea was discovered.
Herbal tea does not contain any part of the Camellia sinensis plant, which disqualifies the beverage from being a true tea. Instead, herbal tea is any drink in which water is infused with the essence of other organic matter, including flowers, herbs and spices. Herbal tea is also known as tisane, which is pronounced tee-zahn. There are two etymologies as to where the word tisane originated. In Greek, ptisanē is defined as a medicinal drink made from barley-soaked water. In French, the word tisane literally means “tea without tea.”
The practice of mixing water with spices and herbs dates back to prerecorded time, especially when preparing it specifically for medical treatment. One of the first recorded entries of the popularity of tea dates back to 1550 B.C. in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus. Egyptians used tea to pay tribute to the gods, prepare the dead for burial and cure the afflicted. Herbs like dill and basil were prepared into tisanes to help digestion and to aid with heart issues.
With countless plant material combinations, how is it that a comprehensive list of benefits from the many different types of blends came to be? It is believed that Shennong discovered that chewing the leaves and other parts of different plants produced beneficial outcomes for certain maladies. For years, Shennong experimented and made what scholars would today call numerous medical breakthroughs. Apparently, even after chewing on poisonous plants, a combination of certain herbs and spices in water acted as an antidote for the poison.
For the last 5,000 years, tea (whether true tea or herbal tea) has been traveling the world spreading its goodness and healing qualities. Through the years and with discovery after discovery, the list of medicinal benefits of tea has continued to grow. Tea was first brought to the early colonists in 1650 by Peter Stuyvesant. The early settlement of New Amsterdam, known today as New York City, consumed more tea in 1670 than all of Europe combined. So how did coffee become the drink of choice over tea in this country?
Before the U.S. became its own country, English rule made it difficult for the colonists by taxing products and services provided by the motherland. In 1763, England won the French and Indian War. It was costly. In 1767, England decided to recoup some of the cost from the war by increasing taxes on the colonists who were building this country under English control. The predominantly tea-drinking settlers were outraged by the high tax and revolted against the British. The Boston Tea Party was when tea, valued at almost 10,000 silver pieces, was thrown into the harbor in rebellion of the tax. This event was the catalyst for the American Revolution. Tea was at the center of, and indirectly responsible for, America winning its freedom from England.
With its long history and wide array of uses, tea has become a staple for many around the world. There are as many medicinal benefits of tea as there are different kinds of herbs and plants, flowers and stems, and roots and bark on the planet. It is an elixir that can aid in the treatment of, and even cure of, many ailments, conditions and diseases of the body, mind and spirit. Tea’s power is highly regarded in the medical community throughout Asia and Europe, and is becoming more popular in the U.S. as an alternative health device. Its presence in the world is strong enough to even help in the creation of a new country. Perhaps someday, tea will again be the drink of choice for most Americans, either for the great taste or for the medicinal value.
Jeffrey Green, M.A., is an educator and freelance writer. Green’s studies have led him to the world of plant medicine and its many benefits. His work is centered on educating the public on alternative medicine. Green can be reached at 520-437-8855 or JGreenphduoa@gmail.com.