Tea has an important role to play in Asian cultures, from the formalism and ritual of Japanese Tea Ceremonies to the healing uses of Teas of China.
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Most of us are familiar with 'Tea', made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant; and more people in the West are turning to the less processed forms of the herb, known as 'Green' tea, and now the fresh young tips of the plant known as 'White' Tea.
In TCM Dietary Therapy, Tea is categorised as being sweet, bitter, and cool. It is said to promote body fluids, quench the thirst, clear Heat and Phlegm, and promote digestion and urination. It can be used to treat certain patterns manifesting with headaches, dizziness, heat stroke and sleepiness.
There are numerous variants of Tea, such as Oolong, Puerh, Jasmine, Kudin, and Lotus — all of which differ according to their processing, location grown, or if they are infused with other ingredients.
In the West, we are familiar with using other herbs to make 'herbal teas' or infusions, such as chamomile, rooibos, rosehip, and peppermint to name just a few.
Using Chinese medicinal herbs, teas can also take on a gentle healing role, as they do not have as potent a pharmacological effect when prepared in decoction, powdered, or made into a pill. When used as an infusion, they are steeped in near-boiling water (around 90-95°C) instead of being boiled in a soup for 45 minutes, or ground and powdered.
This allows the gentle healing nature of the herbs to have a subtle effect, and usually relies more on the volatile oils in the plant, which will disappear in other more intense preparation methods. Volatile oils stimulate the olfactory senses, which begin certain physiological process; thus it is no problem to consume tea numerous times a day as an adjunct to herbal medicine prescriptions and diet.
Here are a couple of examples of 'medicinal teas' I used to make up and give to my patients:
Shēng Jiāng Chá (fresh ginger tea)
This is simply fresh ginger in a cup of boiling water. It is surprisingly simple, and surprisingly effective. It aids and strengthens the digestive system as well as bringing some warmth to the middle. The juicier and fresher the ginger the better!
Cōng Bái Jiāng Chá (scallion & ginger tea)
This was one of the first things we were ever taught as TCM students. You take the white part of a scallion (spring onion) and some fresh ginger and drink whilst still very hot at the very initial phase of a cold. There is a very specific presentation that you must have in order for this to be effective:
- more chills than fever
- aching back/body
- no sweating
Drink this tea (maybe even two cups of it) and immediately get under as many layers as possible (blankets, doona, jumpers, etc) and wait to begin sweating. The whole thing is to induce the sweat. This is to get rid of the cold as soon as it hits you, so it doesn't go any deeper.
Hé Yè Chá (lotus leaf tea)
This also aids digestion, and is particularly good for preventing high cholesterol levels due to elevated LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins). It's said to "transform dampness".
Jú Huā Chá (chrysanthemum flower tea)
Chrysanthemum flowers are amazing. They are said to cool the body, and benefit the eyes. I've used them before as an eye-wash for conjunctivitis. Drink when you have redness in the eyes and feeling hot.
Gǒu Qǐ Jú Chá (chrysanthemum & Goji berry tea)
Similar uses to straight chrysanthemum, this will cool the body while the addition of Goji berries protects and replenishes fluids. This is a drink for hot, dry days.
Bǎo Jiàn Měi Chá
This is a proprietary blend of different herbs designed to promote health & wellbeing. It's often promoted and found as "slimming tea" because many of the ingredients are particularly useful as digestives, helping to increase metabolism and prevent weight gain. If you do ever try it, drink it with your meals (or straight afterwards) for the best results.
Dì Huáng Gān Xià Chá (Rehmannia, Prunella & Licorice root tea)
This is a combination of three important herbs:
- Rehmannia root, which cools the blood and nurtures the Yiīn
- Prunella spica, aka Self-heal, which also cools the blood and nourishes the Heart
- Licorice root, which clears heat from toxicity and harmonises the body
The purpose of the tea is to clear the Heat which is harassing the Heart. This manifests as irritability and stress leading to tongue ulcers.
Hé Huān Huā Chá (Persian Silk-tree flower tea)
This is the flower from the Albizia julibrissin tree. It is used to calm the mind and settle the spirit. This is the most amazing herb to help you get to sleep. But there is a very specific part of the flower you have to get for this to work, and ironically its the part that mostly is sold as 'B-grade' herb. It is very light and fluffy, has a pleasantly sweet-woody taste, as best with a spoonful of honey.
The art of medicinal teas/infusions is considered to be part of TCM Dietary Therapy. Most of these herbs/teas I can find fairly readily available in Asian Grocery stores.
Aside from all of these, good old 'green Tea' is still the easiest (and the most inexpensive) tea to buy. Drinking tea after our meals is one of the best habits to form, as we know that Camellia sinensis helps improve digestion of food, which has obvious health benefits.
And besides: it tastes good, and can be a thoroughly enjoyable way to finish off a lovely meal with friends and loved ones!
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