#HotTeaMonth

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DSCF0838 To celebrate Hot Tea Month this January I thought I would share an essay I wrote on tea for my Herbal Correspondence Course with the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine a couple of years ago. The title we were given was ‘The Water of Life’ and I chose to write about tea. It was really interesting researching for it and it made me realise how important tea is the world over – a true water of life. I hope you enjoy reading it. simonemelanie, 2016.

The Water of Life: The Way of Tea

‘The cup that cleans but doth not inebriate’ – Victoria Wood

From the first cup in the morning to the last cup at night, tea is what brings me the ‘spiritual refreshment of eternal life’ (www.merriantwebster.com, 2014) as the Water of Life is known. I’m not fussy, builders tea, earl grey, peppermint, or echinacea, I love a cup of tea. I also love making tea for other people, as I know how much other people value tea too. “Cup of tea?” “Oooh, yes please!”. Tea is a big part of many cultures the world over (80% of the world population drink tea, www.thefitindian.com, 2014), drunk not only for its health benefits in the use of herbal medicine but also for the social gathering aspect and meditative qualities such as in the tea ceremonies of chinese and japanese society.

The definition of tea according to Wikipedia, 2014, is “an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring boiling water over cured leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis. There are five types of tea produced from this one plant by different processing methods: green, white, oolong, red (black in the West) and pu-erh (Towler, 2010). Tea has been drunk for many thousands of years and its cultivation is first mentioned in a chinese dictionary called Erh Ya in the eighteenth century BCE (Towler, 2010).  It is believed to have first been drunk for its medicinal properties and was boiled in the water with other ingredients such as onions, ginger or orange (Towler, 2010).

In Ayuvedic medicine tea from C.sinensis is bitter, astringent, light and drying (bitter is connected to the heart and longevity in chinese medicine (Towler, 2010)). Black tea which has been fermented is more stimulating whereas green tea which has been steamed is more cleansing (Pole, 2011). Small amounts of black tea are also thought to be beneficial in Chinese medicine. Black tea is a digestive stimulant that breaks down phlegm and dampness, refreshes the spirit and moves stagnation. Energetically it is cooling and therefore not good for cool, Yin, body types. The cooling effects can be overcome by adding warming spices to the tea such as cardamon (Leggett, 1999) as is done in many Indian chai teas.  Too much tea however is weakening and over stimulates the nervous system (Leggett, 1999).

Black tea has other health benefits also. In a herbal manual written by Li Shih chen in 1578, he stated it ‘promoted digestion, dissolves fats, neutralises poisons in the digestive system, cures dysentery, fights lung disease, lowers fevers and treats epilepsy’ (Towler, 2010). It is a source of minerals such as manganese, potassium and fluoride, which are essential for growth and maintaining fluid levels, and vitamins such as vitamins C, B1, B2, and B6 (Towler, 2010). New research has suggested that five cups a day could prevent certain types of brain cancer (www.teaadvisorypanel.com/facts, 2014).  Other benefits include helping reduce obesity, conditioning the liver, clearing esophageal injuries and stopping allergies (www.thefitindian.com, 2014).

Many people do not like to drink too much caffeine, though tea is much lower in caffeine than coffee, and so herbal teas which are naturally decaffeinated are a popular alternative. They allow you to drink more water with the added benefits of the plants that are used  (Pole, 2011). Not only are they warm and comforting like the traditional teas, but they encourage circulation, help with digestion, and calm the nervous system depending on the herbs that are added (Pole, 2011). Herbal teas are a great way of extracting the phytochemicals from plants that we wish to benefit from as both our bodies and plants bodies are water based (Weed, 1989). Usually herbal teas are made by adding 1 teaspoon of dried herb, or 3 teaspoons of fresh herb, to boiling, or just boiled, water. They are left to steep for 5-10 minutes and then drunk. They contain so many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that Pole, 2011, suggests that one cup of herbal tea is the equivalent of half a portion of fruit and veg.

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Apart from the physical benefits of drinking tea I regard the spiritual aspect as equally important. For me taking the time to prepare a cup of tea mindfully and drink it while not rushing, but savouring it, is very important. As mentioned above this aspect of tea is very important in eastern cultures where it is known in Doaism as The Way of Tea. Daoism is a Chinese philosophy that focuses on the principles of wu-wei (non-striving). This means ‘being natural and non-hurried, of being in tune with [your] own energetic and emotional system, [one] who is humble and open to change in every moment, and one who is able to use every experience in life for their own self-cultivation’ (Towler, 2010). ‘Going slowly is the key to being a healthy person’ (Towler, 2010) so what better way to do this than by sitting down with a cup of tea.

Todays tea ceremonies have been heavily influenced by Zen buddhism with its practice of just sitting and it is said that ‘if you do not know the taste of Zen then you do not know the taste of tea!’ (Towler, 2010). You do not need anything fancy in order to have a tea ceremony. The main thing is to be fully present in the moment when you are making your tea. Focus completely on the task in hand whether it is boiling the water, adding the leaves, straining it or drinking it. Attend to it with all your mind, ‘performing in the continuity of spirit’ (Towler, 2010). By doing this we are practicing the meditation of mindfulness. Calming our minds and relaxing our bodies, whether to prepare for what is to come or to relax from what has happened. Through The Way of Tea as a meditation practice we are cultivating our chi, which when strong means that we are ‘working as we should be’ and ‘fully vibrant, expressive and engaged with life’ (Leggett, 1999).

In conclusion I hope that I have revealed some of the wonders of a simple cup of tea, that we so often take for granted. Next time you make a cup of tea, black, herbal or green, take your time, breathe in the smells, relax and enjoy.

 

Though many people drink tea

If you do not truly know

The Way of Tea

Tea will drink you up

Sen No Rikyu, 1522-1591. Japanese Tea Master.

 

Bibliography. 

www.merriantwebster.com, 2014

http://www.thefitindian.com/importance-of-tea-and-coffee-in-our-daily-life/, 2014

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea, 2014

Leggett, Daverick. Recipes for Self-Healing. 1999. Meridian Press.

Pole, Sebastian. Pukka Life. 2011. Quadrille Pub Ltd.

Towler, Solala. The Way of Tea. 2010. Singing Dragon Pub.

Weed, Susan. Healing Wise. 1989. Ash Tree Pub.

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