Tea: An Ancient Tradition Thriving in the Modern World
By Velina Velikova
Tea is a commodity of great historical and cultural value. With centuries old origins from all over the globe, tea is now occupying a more dominant space in the Western World. It is as varied as the people who drink it. But, there is one thing tea lovers everywhere can agree on when it comes to their favorite cup; tea has the ability heal both the body and the mind.
A Brief History of Tea
According to one legend, tea was accidentally discovered thousands of years before the Common Era by the Chinese Emperor, Shen Nung. In the story, tea leaves fell into a container of hot water by chance. Shen Nung not only decided to sample this mystery beverage, but ended up enjoying it so much he continued to drink it throughout his life. Thus, kick starting tea’s journey throughout the world.
As tea originated in China, it is easy to understand why the Chinese culture has many traditions highlighting the love and respect they hold for this special drink. For example, a tea ceremony is held during weddings, in which the bride and groom serve tea to their families. This act represents a gathering of peace and tranquility between them. Ideas which correspond directly to the tea itself.
For many, tea is more than just a drink. It represents history, peace and respect. In the Buddhist tradition, tea has special significance. It is believed that drinking tea awakens all of the senses of the body and has the ability to bring peace within.
It is safe to say, since its discovery, tea culture was strong in Asia and was commonly used in trade between countries therein. When trade routes opened across the globe, tea became a natural and valuable commodity. With the influence of new, divergent cultures and palates, unique blends and recipes were exchanged between peoples. Numerous variations of tea were born.
As with many things, tea followed a long and circuitous path to reach the Western World. It originated in China; then traveled across Asia; then to India, the Middle East, Europe and the United Kingdom. It eventually made its way to the United States; where now both true and herbal teas are easily found.
True Tea vs. Herbal Tea
What is true tea?
Camellia sinensis is the botanical source for all true teas. Familiar varieties include black tea, white tea, oolong tea and green tea. The differences in taste, color and nutritional value between these teas all comes down to the way this marvelous plant is grown and harvested. As a tea lover myself, I was unaware of the universal power this plant holds in the tea industry.
You may enjoy a steaming cup of ginger or chamomile tea, but neither is considered a true tea as they are not made using Camellia sinensis. Any teas made from plants and herbs which do not stem from this mother plant are considered herbal teas - or tisanes.
All teas, both true and herbal, are recognized around the world as healthy alternatives to coffee and as complementary remedies for some health concerns.
Tea is Not Just Delicious, it’s Healthy
Our digestion, mood and brain are directly affected by our nervous system. When we are relaxed we reap positive benefits. When stressed? The opposite. In the modern world, our day to day tends to be a constant checking off of a to-do list. One thing after another. Check this, check that. It’s draining. Stress causes our body to tense up, forcing it into fight or flight mode. It slows our digestion and nutrient absorption, creating a foggy state of mind and an overall sense of fatigue. Calming our nervous system is critical to creating a healthy mental and physical existence. That calm is a little gift a cup of tea can offer.
As well as being delicious and calming, tea has many heath benefits. In traditional true tea, those benefits are primarily attributed to the presence of bioactive chemical compounds known as polyphenols. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants able to combat both environmental and self induced stress. While not possessing the same compounds as true tea, most herbal teas contain powerful botanicals with anti-inflammatory properties.
The benefits and types of herbal tea varies wildly, but their power is well to be noted. As someone who has an auto-immune disorder, I have taken various medications in my life. In the last few years, however, things have been very different. I have made a practice of drinking at least one cup of organic, loose leaf ginger and turmeric tea daily. *This, combined with other lifestyle changes, has completely eliminated my need for my anti-inflammation medication. Physiological effects, similar to what I have experienced, have been recorded worldwide with natural remedies containing potent antioxidants, like tea.
Over the centuries, in Eastern countries, this type of functional medicine has attained considerable influence. In the United States, such practices are still considered “niche”. However, people are increasingly embracing the concept that natural sources, like plants, can be used to heal the body. Once again, tea can be a popular commodity in the healing world.
Milk? Sugar? Polypropylene?
Unfortunately, some brands use plastics in the construction of their tea bags. Plastic isn’t good for the environment or the body. When possible, seek out tea brands that have a safe alternative to plastic tea bags, like unbleached paper. Or choose loose leaf tea. As it’s not prepackaged in individual servings, you can create your own combinations and steep to your tastes. Which is way more fun!
If you are an avid coffee drinker, give a cup of tea a try. You may find the taste surprising and the benefits profound. Tea is an ancient and revered drink, which continues to replenish the modern day body, mind and soul!
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*If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website or in any linked materials.