I love tea. No, really, I LOVE tea. Just look at my tea drawer:
Partially, it is the ritual of slowing down, waiting for water to boil, needing to slow down and cradle my mug in my hand as it cools, bringing my face close and breathing in the hot fragrant steam while I wait. There are also the benefits of whatever tea is steeping in my cup- medicinally, nutritionally, and emotionally, but I’ll come back to this.
Tea embodies the philosophy of ‘bringing wellness with joy’ to me. The benefits can be so monumental, yet it is also such a simple pleasure. Tea is universally enjoyed- from a traditional tea ceremony in Japan, to a yurt somewhere in Mongolia, to a little restaurant in London, to my couch here in Seattle- and I find that magical.
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” (Thích Nhất Hạnh)
There are so many benefits to slowing down for 10 minutes to be fully present. As someone who struggles to excel at traditional meditation, a cup of tea is my personal meditation. I’m not alone in this, Thích Nhất Hạnh, talks about the practice tea meditation in this short video.
I think this quote nicely skims the benefits of slowing down and being present without delving into a study about the benefits of 10 minutes of mindfulness in a day. “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
Tea can provide space for idleness. Whether a morning cup of green jasmine pearls that you watch unfurl as you wake up in the morning, or a mug of gunpowder green on the bus on your way to work, or a favorite herbal blend to soothe your soul and calm your mind after a hectic day.
Tea is comprised of several hundred active substances, numerous vitamins and amino acids, and yet only has a couple calories a cup. No wonder we are still drinking it 4,000 years after its discovery (thanks Shen Nung- According to legend, in 2737 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water, when some leaves from the tree blew into the water. Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, decided to try the infusion that his servant had accidentally created. The tree was a Camellia sinensis, and the resulting drink was what we now call tea.)!
One of the most talked about benefits of tea is due to its antioxidant content. One of the most important antioxidants is a subclass of molecules called catechins. You may be used to the abbreviations EGCG, EGC, EC, or ECG, which are the principal catechins. Catechins are present in higher concentrations in green tea because it does not undergo oxidation. Antioxidants are important to have in your diet because they help to neutralize free radicals (a complicated process I won’t get into here) which keeps your cells and tissues in tip-top shape from your skin to your organs. The antioxidants in tea (green tea especially) help lower the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol and improving arterial function, supported by a Harvard study in addition to a Dutch and Saudi Arabian study.
My love affair with tea began with herb teas from the teachings of Juliette de Bairacli Levy, Seven-Song, and Rosemary Gladstar as I searched for pleasant ways to improve my health and cope with pain, depression, and anxiety associated with my autoimmune disease (at the time I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia). One of my favorite teas to this day was discovered at my sickest and made even the worst days a little better. Additionally, my eyes were also opened the the magic of including herbs in your daily life though cooking, flower essences, and aromatherapy.
Celebration Love Tea is made by Jen Lashua of Love & Tea, a Vermont company. It contains: Org. Oat Straw, Org. Spearmint, Org. Damiana, Org. Rose Petals, Org. Cinnamon, Wildcrafted Jasmine Flowers, Org. Orange Peel, Org. Ginger Root, Org. Clove, Org. Licorice Root. © It is sweet, warming, and a little spicy, and wonderful for your adrenal system and immune system. I love it hot or iced, year round. It is my go-to for company, and for showing people that herbal teas don’t need to be horrible tasting in order to have benefits.
Just a few of the health benefits:
- Oat Straw (also known as wild oats, or avena sativa) is high in B-vitamins, calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium, and strengthens the nervous system (improving energy and response to stress).
- Damiana is frequently associated with romance and passion but is also helps restore exhausted nerves, and an exhausted spirit. It is a relaxant and antidepressant. It also helps you remember your dreams. It is really bitter, but can be masked well with sweet herbs.
- Cinnamon aids digestion by aiding in the breakdown of fats, is a powerful antifungal (as well as an antiviral and antibacterial), and it is also beneficial in assisting with management of cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It is also delicious!
- Ginger is another tasty do-it-all ingredient. As an old Indian proverb says, “Every good quality is contained in ginger.” Ginger is known for its ability to help nausea and other digestive discomfort by soothing the muscles that line the intestines (it also soothes other smooth muscle, like the uterus, during menstrual cramps). It also helps to break down proteins due to compounds similar to digestive enzymes. It is also anti-inflammatory and can be useful in managing arthritis.
- Licorice is fabulous for the endocrine system- especially your worn out adrenal glands (Feeling stressed or sad? Boost your adrenal system). It has components that are similar in function to the natural steroids in your body. It is also great for your respiratory system and is anti-inflammatory. Licorice is very soothing and is extremely sweet, it is very common in Chinese medicine and is thought to promote long life and radiant well being.
Love & Tea’s Chai is also the best I have found, and is made with rooibos instead of black tea- no caffeine, and delectable spicy warming sweetness. (Do you see a trend in my tea preferences? I swear, sometimes I do go for the smokey gunpowder green…)
Another herbal favorite that is simple and highly beneficial is Tulsi tea, I get it loose leaf at my local COOP but you can find the bagged Organic India brand in the tea section at many stores. Holy Basil (Tulsi) helps protect against the effects of stress, is anti-inflammatory, and helps bring joy. During the longer winter months I drink at least a couple of cups a day. It helps with the malaise that long winters create, when we just need to feel the warmth of the sun.
If you feel a spark of interest in the world of plants and herbs I encourage you to play with flavors you enjoy, discover herbs that aid in the creation of the experience you would like to make reality. Being aware of the dysfunction you are looking to aid and consciously choosing to take steps toward balance gives you power in your own life. It should be fun! Hate licorice but want to work on your adrenals? That is okay, find another herb that you do enjoy. Create a ritual for enjoying your tea- begin with a finding a favorite cup or mug, then a teapot, infuser for loose leaf teas when you begin that journey. I started with bagged Yogi teas and a favorite mug, don’t feel overwhelmed by the options out there, explore when you are ready.
Now, I am discovering the world of traditional teas, something very overwhelming at first to me- the complicated names with no explanations, not knowing what flavors to expect. Now, I bring my sense of adventure to the table and am beginning with little tastes of bulk teas- from Taiwanese Gabacha with its woody and stewed apricot flavors bringing the mouthfeel of silk, or a Japanese Bancha with full almond and grass freshness with no bitterness to sour the flavor. The history and timeline of some of these varietals is fascinating, and ruminating on the journey of a 10 year aged Pu Er from China as you sip can be transporting and deeply meditative. While I sit, cradling my favorite mug, watching the steam form patterns against my walls, I can move to reading “Tea” (A lush, history and information filled book I discovered at my favorite local bookshop) as I wait for the right time to take a sip without burning my tongue.
“”Tea” to the English is really a picnic indoors.” (Alice Walker, The Color Purple)
“Would you like an adventure now…. or would you like to have your tea first?” (J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan)
“There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)