tea spirit medicine

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Plants have been known to heal people of various maladies for millenia, and in fact, form the basis for almost all medicines on earth. For example, aspirin is a synthetic form of willow bark, and digitalis, taken for heart imbalances, comes from foxglove.  The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, has a history of being considered a medicine, and has reached many continents with this reputation. But does tea heal people? And if so, how and of what?

First, I do not make any claims about the tea plant being a medicine capable of healing any ailment, and those who do are not necessarily to be trusted. While tea is loaded with polyphenols, antioxidants, and other agents that suggest excellent health benefits, one would not want to say that tea cures any particular ailment or disease without documented clinical substantiation of such claims, which you will not find offered here.

But I digress. Many herbalists believe that using real plant-based medicine can be more effective than using synthetic pharmaceuticals for a number of reasons, including the avoidance of grave and sometimes even fatal side effects caused by manufactured medicines. But a lesser-known, perhaps even more compelling, reason that traditional herbalists use plants for healing is how the “spirit” of certain plants can assist in healing the patient. This concept is referred to as “plant energetics” or “plant spirit medicine”, and has been practiced by traditional healers around the world for thousands of years.

In this philosophy, plants are considered to have spirit, intention, and the capacity for relating to others with consciousness. And while certain herbs physically treat certain maladies, the spirit of the plant medicine can also assist the patient in healing the emotional constructs that are a part of the imbalance. Several compelling books have been written on the subject, including The Secret Life of Plants , The Lost Language of Plants, and Plant Spirit Medicine.

Does Tea have spirit? Can that spirit heal people? Tea’s reputation both as a medicine and as an aid to spiritual practice is what gave it such cache as it traveled from continent to continent, many times in the hands of Buddhist or Christian monks, as it was introduced to new lands like Japan and Portugal. When not spoken of with reverence by priests and monks, it was prized by herbalists and scholars. Some believed it cured plague and other serious maladies.  Of course, it does not, at least not scientifically, but what could tea possibly do as an agent of healing?

What I have learned in my own personal study of Tea (and by Tea, I mean only Camellia sinensis) is that some teas can be transformational and healing in terms of one’s understanding of himself and of life. Tea has taught me kindness, deeper compassion, and a peace of mind that I had not experienced before despite years of meditation, yoga, and other relaxation practices.  Tea also brings community and sanctuary, often simultaneously, which in itself is rather a miracle in this age of virtual antipathy for congregation.

I have seen and so believe that people who drink tea are changed by it, in the moment, and if one drinks it regularly, in a very deep and lasting way. I have read numerous accounts of people expressing how their lives have been changed by tea–sometimes emotionally, sometimes spiritually, and sometimes physically.

Tea helped me personally to develop a greater capacity for kindness and compassion, both for myself and for others, and also to enjoy each moment, sometimes profoundly. It has also given me a greater appreciation of nature and of my immediate surroundings, and enhanced my sense of community and interrelatedness with the world. Are these qualities “healing”? For me, they have been, and I am grateful to this plant–just as I would be to a priest or a doctor who bestowed so many blessings on me.

tuo cha

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Tuo cha are small pressed, nuggets of puerh tea, which are grown, harvested, and processed in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan. “Tuo cha” translates as “bowl-shaped tea”, and these little bowls are the size of bon bons. They often come individually wrapped in white or decorative paper, making them fun gifts or stocking stuffers for the holidays.

What’s great about these little tea nuggets?  First, they are naturally single-serving and easy to take with you on the go, whether to work for the day or on a long trip.  In fact, they are made for travel.

Chinese tea producers first began pressing teas into cakes, bricks and tiny bowls with the specific goal of making them easier to transport long distances and through difficult mountain terrain.  It has worked for them for hundreds of years, and if tuo cha could make it into the mountains of Nepal and Tibet by horse and yak from southern China, they are sure to make it from your house to work by bicycle or, better yet, on a fun road trip to, say, The Grand Canyon, including a mule trip to bottom of the Canyon and camping by the Colorado River.  They are that sturdy!

Second, you will get at least half a dozen, if not a dozen, steepings from one good tuo cha button. This means you will be able to enjoy tea all day long from something the size of a small chestnut. Just put one in a teapot with very hot water, steep after a minute (less after the first steeping), and sip. And there is no tea bag to discard–tuo cha are self-contained and naturally biodegradable. Just put the leaves in the compost when you are finished with them.

Third, these little puerh tea buttons have the same health benefits as other puerh teas, including my favorite–the mitigation of fat and cholesterol in the diet. During this holiday season, who can resist this benefit?  As well, some tuo cha, like the ones we carry, are blended with chrysanthemum, which is said  to further assist the body in the digestion of heavy meals while adding a delicate floral fragrance.

Take a handful with you to Aunt Martha’s for Christmas.  Use them as stocking stuffers for your favorite tea lovers…..that will work like a charm, and you’ll be thanked, profusely, after dinner.

tea as a healing agent

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The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, has long been considered a healing agent, from Asia to Europe to the U.S.. Many claims have been made about its antioxidants, polyphenols, and even EGCG, the catechin said to combat leukemia, HIV, and other illnesses.

But there is a deeper healer in tea, one that scientists in laboratories cannot find through their dissection of the components of tea.  This element is what traditional healers would recognize as the spiritual aspect of the tea plant.

Humans and plants have responded in congruence for thousands of years. Since the beginning of human history, plants have served not only as our food but as our medicine. Traditional healers around the world agree that the plant world is suffused with spirit and personality, and each plant species has its own unique gifts to share.  Whether you agree with this premise or not, the tea plant will freely offer its medicine to you.  Here are some of the ways in which the spirit of tea acts as a healing agent:

Tea Inspires Intimacy & Compassion:  In nearly every culture of the world in which tea plays a dominant role, tea is the centerpiece of any gathering, whether a neighbor-to-neighbor afternoon chat or the celebration of an arriving dignitary. Tea acts as a social tranquilizer, providing a feeling of harmony and safety which inspires openness and sharing.  Heads of state in Asia often offer tea to their counterparts in other countries, as Chairman Mao did to Richard Nixon in 1972. Through the expression of goodwill and the sharing of  life stories and experience, the healing power of mutuality and compassion can occur, providing deeper connections between individuals, and even governments.

Tea Inspires Presence: Tea’s origin is found in China, and for several thousand years, remained in China alone. When Buddhist monks arrived from Japan during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) to study with Chan Chinese monks, they discovered an amazing plant that assisted their colleagues in meditation and helped lead them to clarity and wisdom.

Some people say that “tea is liquid wisdom.” Tea heals by providing a state of restful, relaxed awareness.  And it is this state of mind that practitioners of meditation in any tradition–whether Christian, Buddhist or otherwise– seek to attain. It is also only in this state of mind, Presence, that people can achieve revelation and epiphany. Anyone who has had a definitive moment of realization in his or her life will attest to the healing nature of such an event.

Tea Offers Relief:  The consumption of tea offers a feeling of relief and well being. This is why we are instinctively inspired to put on the tea kettle when a friend comes over to share a problem, or someone we care for is in a state of grief.  We innately understand that tea is an agent of healing through the quality of relief that it provides, even in the most dire circumstances.  Tea was thought to be indispensable in war for European as well as Asian armies. On the deepest level, leaders know the power of this plant to heal and revitalize anyone suffering from fatigue, grief, or lack of morale.

These are just three of the ways in which the tea plant acts as a healing agent. While scientists may offer a wry smile in response to these words, they too will reach for their stash of tea when their heart pounds or aches with grief.

tea dream

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A good decision should lead you closer to your goals and further away from conflict with yourself and others.

japanese tea news – shizuoka

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Just today I received a couple of links from different people which disappoint and concern me.  It appears that some Japanese tea from Shizuoka is tainted with radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant disaster which followed the earthquake and tsunami.

Here are three links:

1) Japan Today states that authorities in Shizuoka Prefecture suggested to a tea retailer that (s)he not publish news of tainted tea, for fear that people will overreact.

2) Japanese news giant NHK announced that “radioactive Cesium exceeding the legal limit” was found in Shizuoka tea at levels beyond what is considered safe.

3) The Wall Street Journal reports one incident of Japanese tea in Shizuoka Prefecture testing above the legally permissible limit of radiation.

Note that Shizuoka prefecture is approximately 300km from the Fukushima Daiichi Plant, where several nuclear reactors continue to be compromised. Approximately 50-60% of Japanese tea is grown in Shizuoka Prefecture (County), and much of the tea grown in this region is Sencha. Keep in mind that this is only one incident, and It is hoped that much of the tea grown in Shizuoka and other areas further south will be spared, providing a healthy and delicious crop for tea drinkers worldwide.

How do you know where your tea comes from?  Ask your local tea retailer or online tea store administrators.

Keeping readers informed, whether the news is good or bad, remains a priority.  Yet, while it’s important to report the news, it is also important to remain optimistic.  As far as I have heard, most Japanese teas growing in southern regions of Japan are still considered safe to drink.

So many continue to suffer in Japan, whether from loss of loved ones or loss of crops. Let every morning tea ritual begin with loving thoughts of health and healing for our friends in Japan, remembering that in tea, kinship is universal.

rethinking the steep

This morning I did a sampling of 2006 Rice Pollen Green Puerh from Pure Puer Tea. Using very hot water for the first couple of infusions for a minute or more produced a very bitter, almost undrinkable tea. But the lovely, smokey aroma wafting off the lid of the gaiwan suggested that I had erred, and there was something good to be found in this tea.

According to Roy Fong in his book, The Great Teas of China, “Younger, less fermented puerh can easily become bitter, so try about 2 tsp in medium-hot water with a 1-3 minute steep time.” I’ve noticed that Roy likes his tea “thick” (heavily infused), so even the 1-3 minute steep time might still be too long for some teas for another palate.

So I started completely over with a new serving of leaves, and this time brewed only one teaspoon in 185-190ºF water for only 5-10 seconds (similar to brewing specs at Pure Puer Tea). Nice!

I had a very similar experience with David Hoffman’s Bamboo Fragrance Puerh, which when steeped for 90 seconds was undrinkable.  Taking it down several notches made the magic happen. Brewed in 195ºF water for about 15 seconds created a really fine and unique brew, offering a kind of smokey, exotic taste that made me feel as if I were sitting by an open fire with the tribe that had picked and processed the tea.

So, the next time you find an “undrinkable” tea, try steeping it very differently.  Hotter or cooler water, more or less leaf, different tea ware, or a change in steeping duration (or a combination of some of these variables) can make all the difference.

Then again, some teas ARE undrinkable.  In such a case, toss it in the garden, and find a new tea.