Tea has long been used for medicinal purposes. What is the origin and history of medicinal tea? What are the three varieties of tea? What are the primary benefits of medicinal tea? Are there certain types of tea that can be dangerous for particular ailments or conditions? Learn the answers to these questions and much more.
History of Medicinal Tea
Eastern medicine has long used tea as a cure for almost any ailment. Plant derivatives are found in most holistic medicines, ranging from essential oils to food based cures. The earliest evidence was actually discovered this year in the mausoleum of Emperor Jing of Han in Xi’an, which leads us back to the second century B.C. as the possible origin of tea. There are many interesting theories as to how tea was discovered, but regardless of how, we should be grateful for the many wonderful things that have resulted in its discovery! Tea (Camellia sinensis L.) is easily one of the most popular beverages in the world with water as the only beverage more widely consumed. Over two-thirds of the world’s population has experienced its refreshing taste, comforting aroma, medicinal properties, and mildly stimulating qualities. Countless people drink tea, and studies suggest that green tea (Camellia sinesis) in particular has many health benefits.
Three Main Varieties of Tea
There are three main varieties of tea: green, oolong, and black. The difference is in how the teas are processed. Green tea is made from unfermented leaves and reportedly contains the highest concentration of powerful antioxidants called polyphenols. Antioxidants are substances that fight free radicals, damaging compounds in the body that change cells, damage DNA, and even cause cell death. Many scientists believe that free radicals contribute to the aging process, as well as the development of a number of health problems, including cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants, such as polyphenols in green tea, can neutralize free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause.
Green tea comes from China and is made exclusively through the leaves of the plant called ‘camellia sinensis’ that have gone through a slight oxidation during the tea processing. In recent years, green tea has enjoyed a degree of popularity in the West, which is interesting because black tea is the most common type of tea consumed in Western countries. Green tea has been subjected to a number of tests over the years to determine if rumors of its reported health benefits are dependable.
Research has confirmed that there is evidence to indicate that green tea helps in lowering the chances of developing heart disease as well as specific kinds of cancer. According to a recent study from Hong Kong, green tea may also aid in staving off eye diseases like glaucoma.
In traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, practitioners used green tea as a stimulant, a diuretic (to rid the body of excess fluid), an astringent (to help control bleeding and heal wounds faster), and to improve the health of the heart. Other traditional uses of green tea include treating gas, regulating body temperature and blood sugar, promoting digestive health, and improving mental effectiveness.
Green tea has been widely studied in people, animals, and various laboratory experiments. Results from these studies suggest that green tea can help treat the following health conditions:
- High cholesterol
- Cancer (Bladder, Breast, Ovarian, Colorectal, Esophageal, Lung, Pancreatic, Prostate, Skin, and Stomach)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Liver disease
- Oral Health Issues
What’s It Made Of?
Ever wonder why tea tastes slightly bitter? Researchers think the health properties of green tea are mostly due to polyphenols, chemicals with potent antioxidant potential, which give the tea a bitter, earthy taste. Test results have shown that the antioxidant effects of polyphenols seem to be greater than vitamin C. Green tea’s stimulating constituents are alkaloids including: theobromine, caffeine, and theophylline. Another compound is L-theanine, an amino acid which has been studied for its calming effects on the nervous system.
Most green tea dietary supplements are sold as dried leaf tea in capsule form. Look for standardized extracts of green tea. There are also liquid extracts made from the leaves and leaf buds. The average cup of green tea contains 50 to 150 mg polyphenols (antioxidants). Decaffeinated green tea products contain concentrated polyphenols, so know that caffeine-free supplements are available if necessary.
Oolong is known for its properties that help fight cancer and infections. Oolong supports a healthy immune system by preventing damage to cells and promoting the body’s production of anti-bacterial proteins. Oolong tea burns fat faster by heightening the metabolism for up to two hours after drinking it. Oolong also contains polyphenols that are able to prevent the enzymes that build fat from being effective. If you choose to sweeten your tea, choose one with a low glycemic index such as raw honey, maple syrup, Stevia or agave syrup. You may notice mental alertness and performance improvements, as these are a result of the caffeine contained in Oolong tea. A rinse can be made by soaking the tea leaves. Due to its high level of antioxidants, this oolong tea rinse can prevent hair loss and add shine, softness, and thickness to existing hair.
Oolong tea is shown to reduce cholesterol levels and support a healthy heart. Because oolong tea is semi-oxidized, it produces a perfectly sized polyphenol molecule that is able to activate the enzyme lipase, which is shown to dissolve body fat. Oolong aids digestion for those not sensitive to caffeine. It can soothe the stomach when consumed warm. Oolong has an alkalizing effect on the digestive tract and reduces inflammation as well as removes bad bacteria with its mildly antiseptic qualities. Part of the antiseptic benefits affect the skin as well, and have been shown to slow the aging process. Skin conditions such as eczema, as a result of allergies or sensitivities, can be suppressed with the healing aspects of the antioxidants battling free radicals. But that’s not all! The antioxidants also work hard to metabolize sugar, which can benefit people who need blood glucose brought down to a healthy level (such as those with Type 2 Diabetes).
Teeth also benefit from drinking tea! Both oolong and green tea protect teeth from acid produced by certain bacteria which can lead to less plaque build-up. Those who consistently drink oolong tea are less likely to lose their bone mineral density, which helps the body retain minerals from healthy foods consumed. It has been discovered that oolong contains magnesium and calcium in its leaves and can even prevent osteoporosis.
Black, green, and oolong teas have very similar benefits to the body as they come from the same plant. Black tea however has a stronger flavor due to the higher level of oxidation. After being removed from the plant, the tea leaves are dried and withered to release the moisture from them. When they lose the maximum amount of moisture, the leaves are rolled, either manually or with the help of machines, and exposed to high temperatures. Once this oxidation is complete, they get sorted from smallest to largest. The name ‘black tea’ is a result of the darkness of the tea’s liquid which is technically dark amber or orange in color. Hence, the Chinese referred to it as red tea.Black tea contains lower levels of caffeine than coffee (about half the amount). The lower amounts of caffeine promote the blood flow in the brain, without stimulating the heart, and improve mental alertness and concentration. The amino acid L-theanine, found in black tea promotes relaxation and helps you to concentrate more effectively. The caffeine in black tea boosts memory and studies have suggested that the consumption of black tea on a regular basis protects against Parkinson’s disease and can reduce the amounts of cortisol, the stress hormone.
How to Take It
Pediatric: Tea has not been studied in children, so it is not recommended for pediatric use.
Adult: Depending on the brand, 2 to 3 cups of tea daily (for a total of 240 to 320 mg polyphenols) or 100 to 750 mg of standardized tea extract is suggested. Caffeine-free products are available and recommended for best effectiveness.
The following information is related to the three afore-mentioned teas: green, oolong, and black. The medical application of herbs is a time-honored method to improving the body and treating disease. However, they contain active substances that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. You should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a healthcare provider well-informed in the field of botanic medicine.
Those with anemia, diabetes, glaucoma, or osteoporosis should ask their health care provider before drinking tea or taking an extract. Those with heart problems or high blood pressure, kidney problems, liver problems, stomach ulcers, and psychological disorders (particularly anxiety) shouldn’t take tea. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid tea.
People who drink large amounts of caffeine, including caffeine from green tea, for long periods of time may experience irritability, insomnia, heart palpitations, and dizziness. Caffeine overdose can cause headaches, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. If you are drinking a lot of tea and start to vomit or have abdominal pains, you may be experiencing caffeine poisoning. If the symptoms are severe enough, lower the caffeine intake and see a health care provider.
There are few things as comforting as a warm cup of tea, so sit back and relax. Cheers to your improved health!
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Naaz, Saba. “14 Amazing Benefits and Uses Of Black Tea For Skin, Hair And Health.” STYLECRAZE. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
Shapiro, Jeffery. 5 Amazing Health Benefits of Oolong Tea for skin, energy and many others…. 22, Dec. 2015
This article was written by Jessica Johnson. Jessica is a Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance Health and Wellness Educator. Jessica has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Management with an Economics and International Studies Minor from the University of Central Misouri (UCM). She is currently working as Assistant Manager and Sales Representative in Pacific Grove, California. She was Vice President of Delta Epsilon Iota Honor Society from 2011-2012 and is a sales representative for Young Living Essential Oils Company.
Jessica is passionate about holistic health and healing. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at http://www.montereybayholistic.com. Photos images:http://www.Pixabay.com
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