Despite having an entire language named after them, the English certainly have a way of mangling words. “Cuppa”? What the heck is that? Well, anyone who’s been around for a few, knows the phrase “have a cuppa” is simply English-speak for indulging in a cup of tea. It’s something the Brits have been inviting the world to do since 1657 when a fellow named Thomas Garway invited London to tea. He’s the guy who owned a popular coffeehouse in the City of London. Exercising a history making pivot, Garway imported a shipload of tea from China. Where else? Even in the 1600s, Western culture was depending on China!
Garway’s idea was to expand his business by offering a unique experience. His experiment began the British Empire’s tremendous influence over the Western world’s tea-drinking habits. Because England was the preeminent naval force in the world, both commercially and militarily, most new discoveries of exotic foods and plants came with England’s empirical expansion. That’s how the Brits came to discover tea.
Cozy with a cup. Broadly speaking, the beverage “tea” is the result of steeping a bolus of a substance in boiling hot water long enough to extract the water-soluble components that give the substance its nature. The marc, as it is scientifically named in pharmacognosy, can be any kind of plant material. Tea beverage can be brewed from bark (as Lewis and Clark were taught by the Plains Indians during the harsh winter of 1803-04), stems, leaves, roots, etc. of any plant that one chooses. The resultant brew will carry some specific characteristics of the plant but only the ones that are water-soluble.
For purposes of clarification, though, the word tea also refers to a specific plant. That plant, Thea sinensis, is native to the Asian continent. It is a hardy evergreen that can grow to 30 feet but when cultivated for tea, it is manicured to 4-6 feet high. The Western world knew nothing of tea until the era of European exploration in the 1500s. Travelers wrote from China and Japan about a drink that was a staple of Asian culture and revered for its beneficial effects. Especially appealing was tea’s stimulant nature. Tea contains caffeine and other alkaloids, including theophylline, an isomer of theobromine. The English word tea is based on the Greek word for “goddess,” thea, so maybe the early explorers knew more than we realized about tea’s divine healing properties.
The Chinese considered tea so valuable that even as recently as the 1800s it was pressed into blocks and used as currency. It was conveniently pressed with demarcations in order to break off just the right “denomination.”
Black? Green? Oolong? They are all the same plant. The difference is how they are processed before the consumer gets them. With green tea, the tender young leaves at the top of the plant are picked and dried gently, historically by sunlight. The leaves are prevented from fermenting and packaged that way. With its limited processing, green tea is not oxidized and more of its natural properties remain intact. These properties have been known in Oriental medicine for thousands of years. Recently even Western science has noticed them.
The magic in green tea is antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that eliminate free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals oxidize things, supposedly causing everything from heart disease to cancer as well as attacking the immune system. A simple explanation is that they cause the body to corrode, like a rusting car. Anti-oxidants keep free radicals from attacking cell integrity. They keep us from oxidizing — rusting.
Wait! There’s more. The most famous antioxidants are probably vitamin C and vitamin E. But University of Kansas research shows that, as an antioxidant, green tea is 100 times as effective as C and 25 times better than E.
Other research has focused on substances in green tea that are cancer growth inhibitors. Tannins are active elements of tea. A specific extract of green tea called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) causes a surprising effect in tumor cells: they commit cell suicide (apoptosis). Green tea is bad for cancer cells; good for people, something known by billions of people for thousands of years. The research was done at Case Western.
The Shanghai Cancer Institute, Columbia University and the U.S. National Cancer Institute found that people who drink even one cup of green tea a week have a reduced risk of rectal, colon and pancreatic cancer. A related study found the same light use of green tea reduced the incidence of esophageal cancer by 60%. Green tea has been shown to protect against lung cancer and skin cancer as well.
Of course, eventually some explorers other than the Brits would have brought the tea leaf to the West. But if not for England, our Founding Fathers would’ve had to find something else to toss into the Boston Harbor.
Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit HeartlandHealing.com.
(1) Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 89, Issue 24: December 17, 1997.