Tea - The Divine Cha

Tea . . . The Divine Cha

The Myths - The Magic - The Facts

By Ariana Estelle-Symons, Ph.D., Copyright 1996
From the
Kombucha Konnection Newsletter December 1996


The Myths, The Magic, The Facts

Myth #1.   Legend has it that in the year 2737 B.C., the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was boiling a pot of water to purify it for drinking and some leaves drifted from the sky into the water, producing a wondrous aroma. Shen Nung was known by the title "Divine Healer"; a piously spiritual philosopher and teacher. Upon sipping the brew that resulted from the falling leaves, the divine fragrance and taste prompted him to proclaim it 'heaven sent'. As fate would have it, the leaves had drifted down from an overgrown wild tea bush, and thus, tea was discovered.

Myth #2.   In Japan and India, there is an equally strong reverence for tea as indicated by their legends concerning the origins of tea. One in particular tells of a Buddhist priest named Darma, struggling to stay awake in meditation for seven years. In desperation he cut off his eyelids and flung them to the ground - where, of course they took root and a tea bush grew in that spot. After this physical modification , and by chewing tea leaves, Darma managed to stay awake and on meditation of Buddha (uninterrupted by sleep) for seven years, thereby becoming quite holy.

Myth #3.   Once upon a time, King Shen Nong, known as the father of agriculture and medicine, decreed that for health reasons, his subjects must boil water before drinking it. One day as Shen Nong sat in the shade of a tea tree, boiling water, a light breeze blew some of the tea leaves into the kettle of boiling water. When he drank the infusion he marveled at its delicious taste, and at once felt invigorated. Tea had been invented. King Shen Nong is purported to have recommended it to his subjects, saying 'Tea gives vigor to the body, contentment to the mind, and determination of purpose'.

Is this the same Shen Nung that appears in Myth #1? Probably. Although the famous ninth century Tea Master Lu Yu affirms that tea was discovered by Shen Nong, a king or emperor named Shen Nong probably never lived. In China's remote past, Shennong was the name of a primitive farming tribe. One clever unnamed Shennong chieftain is said to have invented plowing tools and discovered medicinal herbs, including tea. These achievements accorded him the status of a divinity, the name 'king or emperor' Shen Nong, and the title, 'Father of Tea'.

Based on the medical book 'Pen Tsao', attributed to Shen Nung, there are references which credit tea with being 'good for tumors or abscesses that come about the head, or for ailments of the bladder. It dissipates heat caused by the phlegm, or inflammation of the chest. It quenches thirst. It lessens the desire for sleep. It gladdens and cheers the heart'.

In A.D. 1191, Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan by the priest, Yeisai upon his return from a visit to China. He planted tea seeds, making medicinal claims that were published in the first Japanese book on tea called Kitcha-Yojoke, (The Book of Tea Sanitation). In this work, Yeisai acclaimed tea a 'divine remedy and a supreme gift of heaven' for preserving human life.

The earliest mention of tea in the literature of Europe was in 1559. It appears as "Chai Catai'(Tea of China) in the book 'Navigatione et Viaggi (Voyages and Travels by Giambattista Ramusio(1485-1557). His book was a collection of narratives of voyages and discoveries in ancient and modern times, including those of the Persian merchant Hajji Mahommed, who is credited with first bringing tea to Europe. The reference describing tea says, 'One or two cups of this decoction taken on an empty stomach removes fever, headache, stomach ache, pain in the side or in the joints . . . besides that, it is good for no end of other ailments, which he could not remember, but gout was one of them. He said 'it is so highly valued and esteemed that everyone going on a journey takes it with him, and those people would gladly give a sack of rhubarb for one ounce of Chai Catai'. Can you imagine giving up your sack of rhubarb for an ounce of tea leaves? That's true devotion!

Throughout history tea has been a major player in the economy of nations. The Boston Tea Party, in protest of the high taxes on tea probably contributed to the Revolutionary War. In the 1800's, the international love of tea spawned a new industry, the construction of Clipper Ships, elegant sailing vessels designed to hasten the transport of tea from China to London or New York. As a result, tea became less expensive and more plentiful.

During the last century in the United States and some other countries, the popularity of tea faded in comparison to the American love affair with coffee. However, during the last decade, many millions of coffee drinkers are switching to tea, possibly due to the increasing interest in, and pursuit of a healthy life-style.

Science is catching up with the ancient legends of the medicinal attributes of tea. Controlled studies prove that tea is a health tonic - a medicine - in and of itself. This elixir of the ancients, with it's delectable aroma and marvelous varied flavors is not only uplifting, energizing, soothing to the spirit, and delightful to the palate . . it's also good for you.

Green Tea Suppresses Aging

Oxygen is necessary for human life, but oxygen has two aspects, one beneficial - and one malign. The oxygen we breathe is conveyed to every part of the body where it plays a key role in metabolism. But it can also be a very harmful agent in the form of active or free radical oxygen. Active oxygen is a problem because it can combine with anything in the body and oxidize it with consequent destruction of cell membranes, damage to DNA and oxidation of lipids (fats). All of these can lead to diseases like cancer. Active oxygen combines with lipids (fats) in the body to create lipid peroxide, that is, lipid with an excessive amount of oxygen. Lipid peroxide is thought to be a harmful substance which can trigger diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Since lipid peroxide is more easily generated and less easily purged as age advances, it tends to accumulate in the body. Lipofuscin, called the 'aging pigment' also accumulates in the body in proportion to age, and is considered to be an index of aging. But lipofuscin is itself created by lipid peroxide, which suggests a connection between aging and lipid peroxide. One way to slow aging may be to prevent the production and accumulation of active oxygen and lipid peroxide in the body. It has been shown , for example, that the higher the concentration of the powerful antioxidants vitamins E and C in the bodies of animals, the longer they live. This suggests that active consumption of agents that are effective antioxidants will restrain the aging process.

We already know that green tea is rich in those vitamins that possess this anti oxidizing capability. In addition , a Professor Okuda has recently demonstrated that catechin in green tea is a far stronger antioxidant than vitamin E... about 20 times stronger in fact. These results come from laboratory tests only, and we must wait for further research to confirm a direct cause and effect relationship between the anti oxidizing function of green tea and the retardation of aging. But the very fact that green tea contains a powerful antioxidant is a strong foundation for believing that it can help control the aging process.

Green Tea Lowers Blood Sugar Level

About 60 years ago, Dr. Minowado of Kyoto University noticed that sugar in the urine of patients hospitalized for diabetes fell markedly during periods when they participated in 'chanoyu' (Tea Ceremony). Diabetes is a disease characterized by insufficient secretion or improper functioning of insulin, which hinders the proper absorption of glucose into the tissues and leads to a high concentration of blood sugar that must eventually be excreted into the urine. If this high concentration of blood sugar should continue for a long period, it will affect the vascular system and cause a number of quite serious diseases including artherosclerosis and retinal hemorrhages.

Japanese researchers gave dried green tea catechin in edible form to mice that were subject to hereditary diabetes and verified a lowering of their blood sugar. Although these results come from animal tests, the evidence that green tea catechin and polysaccharides can lower blood sugar in mice, researchers feel that in light of these studies, that the benefits of green tea can apply to humans.

IMO (In My Opinion)

Having been a Kombucha grower/drinker for nearly six years, I've marveled at the curative powers of Kombucha Tea. I've pondered the reasons for its ability to give people more energy, diminish the symptoms of chronic disease, and in general - make people feel better. I've read the scientific reports, talked to researchers and healing practitioners and studied every piece of Kombucha literature that I could lay my hands on.

After all of this, I believe that one of the primary reasons for the improved sense of health experienced by the Kombucha drinker is the fact that they are drinking tea. Now, by 'tea' I mean, the leaves from the plant, Camellia sinensis, NOT herbal teas. For more information on herbal teas, see the article "Infusion of boiled medicinal weeds - or - Therapeutic infusion of Medicinal Herbs" on page 5.

Tea , especially green tea has a very high content of vitamins and minerals. It contains ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in amounts comparable to a lemon. Green tea also contains several B vitamins which are water soluble and quickly released into a cup of tea. Five cups of green tea a day will provide 5-10% of the daily requirement of riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and pantothenic acid. The same five cups of green tea also provide approximately 5% of the daily requirement of magnesium, 25% of potassium, and 45% of the requirement for manganese. Green tea is also high in fluoride. A cup of green tea provides approximately 0.1 mg of fluoride, which is higher than in fluorinated water. At the University of California, Berkeley, a research team found another substance in green tea - hexanes, which help prevent cavities. Scientific studies have shown strong evidence that green tea may help reduce the risk of strokes and heart disease, and may also prevent some cancers.

Green and black tea both contain polyphenols (which, by the way give tea its tart flavor). Some of the polyphenols found in tea are:

Green Tea polyphenols*

*From page 40, "The Green Tea Book"

Scientists are especially excited about the phenols cancer fighting properties. They potentially defeat cancer by at least three mechanisms. First, they can shut off the formation of carcinogens, secondly, they turn up the body's natural detoxification defenses, and finally, they suppress cancer promotion. Green tea polyphenols seem to increase the actions of a number of our detoxification enzymes, including catalase and Glutathione per oxide.

Polyphenols are most abundant in green tea, but are also present in black tea. Both teas are made from the leaves of the same plant, camellia sinensis, but each is processed differently, giving different poly phenol contents.

The total poly phenol content in dried green leaves is around 8 to 12%. The catechin content of black tea is between 3-10%, while green tea is 30-40%.

Is Tea considered a laxative?

When speaking of a tea's energetic effects, we are referring to how it affects chi. Tea stimulates "digestive chi" or metabolism.  Chinese teas are slightly laxative, or help clear phlegm without irritating the nervous system.  Coffee can make you nervous but tea clears your head while it stimulates digestion. Which teas are best for you depends on your needs. Tea has two main features: taste and medicinal effect.

Oolong is a gem of teas that is actually semi fermented and lies somewhere between green and black tea. It has less caffeine than either black tea or coffee. It also has been touted in China as a cancer preventative because of its acids and flavinoids. Oolong, like many other green teas, hails from Fujian, the part of mainland China closest to Taiwan. Fujian shares Taiwan's humid climate, but that's where the comparison stops. Taiwan is one of the richest countries in the world, with more gold bouillon and foreign exchange saved than any other. It is modern, powerful, and traditionally Buddhist. Fujian, one of China's poorest provinces, is often closed to tourists.

Oolong is digestive, stimulant, and delicious. It lifts the spirits. With green or oolong tea, we are satisfied by the flavor without suffering any draining effects. Coffee may be a stimulant and laxative, but long term use weakens both digestion and the heart by over stimulation.

Teas that increase digestion are called carminative.  For persons troubled by slow, painful digestion, a digestive tea can actually be a stimulant because it increases digestive chi. The body has better vital energy and circulation because it is not struggling to digest.

Pu Erh is a well known carminative tea, grown at Nam Nor mountain in Yunnan province of China. The red color of the tea matches the red soil of the region. Pu Erh is mildly sweet, with a flavor reminiscent of autumn leaves.

Pu Erh is a good tea for those who eat unwisely. It reduces digestive phlegm so that it cures indigestion from an overly rich diet of meat or creamy or fried food. In China it has other uses. The diet in South China's rice fields is meager and not always clean. Human fertilizer is used to raise crops, and this makes it necessary to cook everything thoroughly. Also, oily and sweet foods can lead to excess phlegm. The result is often parasites. Pu Erh tea is a folk remedy for dysentery because it reduces digestive phlegm, the playground for parasites.

Pu Erh is also popular for hangovers. The Chinese seem to have quite a few such household remedies. Pu Erh clears the head and palate at the same time. Fancy dim sum parlors have been known to serve this digestive red colored tea, but you'll have to ask for it. Restaurateurs most often serve jasmine tea because they think it's the only Chinese tea we (in the US) know of, while the staff is probably drinking a lesser known red tea in the back room. It'll likely be a digestive tea such as Pu Erh. When dining out at a Chinese Restaurant, ask for... "hong cha" which means "Red Tea". The long version is: "Ching Wen! Gay wah suma hong cha",  ("Please give me some red tea.")

Additions to Tea

For special benefits, try adding pungent cooking spices to teas. A pinch of turmeric powder increase cleansing. It's a natural antibiotic that improves intestinal flora, which helps absorption. Cardamom stimulates the heart and increases digestive chi. It lifts energy and mood. Fennel seeds provide digestive energy as well as a mild, sweet taste. Fennel settles the stomach. Anise is sweet and increases appetite. The addition of pungent ginger or turmeric to the more bitter green teas (such as Gunpowder) is especially good for digestion, cleansing and weight loss. A little nutmeg added to Pu Erh soothes after a hearty meal. The little pinch of nutmeg is a carminative that quiets the ever active cosmopolitan mind.

Many people regard honey as a healthy sweetener for tea, but it requires a warning: it must be used carefully, and never heated, which makes it hard to digest and destroys most of its value as a medicine. Even its energetic effects can be a problem. Honey is considered "scattering", according to Chinese doctors, which means it moves chi outward, causing perspiration. This might be beneficial, especially for chronic bronchitis, but honey's diaphoretic action also sends digestive acids to irritate joints. This means honey not only slows digestion, but can aggravate inflammatory arthritis for some people. If you must sweeten tea with honey, it is best to drink between meals.

A beneficial and curative herb you might want to add to your morning cup of green tea is crushed dried Gardenia pods (Gardenia jasminoidis fructus) the Latin name; in Chinese this is called "zhi zi".

The zhi zi is anti inflammatory for headaches, irritability and bloodshot eyes. Gardenia pods will also clear phlegm that's thick and yellowish.
 


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