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FEATURE - March 2017 - Kansas City
Health Benefits Steeped in the Tradition of Tea Rituals
by Emilie Jackson
People who know me well know that if you stop by my house, chances are that I will offer you a cup of tea as a sign of greeting and hospitality. This simple offering or tea ritual evokes a healing steeped in tradition—you are instantly brought to the present moment by the aromatic bouquet of leaves and a warm internal massage of antioxidants. In fact, I can’t imagine my life without my tea ritual every day. This custom comes from my childhood in France. My mother is the one who gave me the love for tea. Since I was little, I always saw my mom with her cup of tea in the morning with her French “tartines” and seasonal fruit.
There is something about Tea that is beyond just drinking. If you ask most people what comes to mind when they think about tea, the words “soothing” and “comforting” will come up first. Tea is as fascinating and complex as wine. If you are a wine drinker, you will agree with me that to truly appreciate wine, a three step process is required to engage the senses. You observe the color tones, smell the luscious bouquet, and savor the eruption of flavorful notes. The same ritual is used for tea, thus this activation of all primary senses has a therapeutic effect on your health. In fact, the scent of a tea blend can influence your mood, ranging on a continuum from relaxed to invigorating.
Smelling the delicate scent of the tea before drinking is probably one of my favorite moments. Suddenly the time stops…I am transported to be in the present moment. It is a true meditative state-of-being. In the evening after dinner, my mother and I would have another tea ritual, this one with Infusions or Tisanes (what English speakers would call Herbal Tea). It is made from herbs, dried fruits, and/or spices. Depending on our mood my mom would prepare a chamomile tea (which is known to relax the nervous system), Anise tea (that helps with digestive disorders), or fruit tea which contain curative properties as well.
What fascinates me the most about the Tea plant (Camellia Sinensis – Latin name), is that from one plant you get many different types of teas with numerous health benefits. In fact, six different types of tea to be precise: Black (called red tea in China), Pu-Er, Oolong/Wulong (also called Blue tea in some countries), Yellow, Green, and White teas. You may wonder, how? Mostly it is in how the tea leaves are processed or the level of oxidation (1) that determines the tea type.
Tea was first discovered in ancient China over five thousand ago. Now, it is a basic natural remedy woven into cultures around the globe. Along with being consumed after meals as an aid to digestion, it was also used in topical ointments and skins creams.
Recently, more studies have been done about Tea and the various benefits that it can bring to human health. The most common benefits outlined in those researches are how Tea may help with:
tooth decay prevention
boost the immune system
sooth the digestive system
reduce incidence of Type II diabetes
Weight loss and so on
Some of the recent studies reveal that drinking tea could have a positive effect on disease like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s (2), preventing brain cells from dying and how it may lead to a reduced risk of dementia. Tea, like red wine, cocoa, and many fruits and vegetables, is rich in flavonoids. Adding flavonoid’s to one’s diet shows positive effects on chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease. (3)
Green teas and White teas have the epigallocatechin gallate, also known as EGCG, which appears to have powerful antioxidant effects against free radicals—unstable molecules that can damage healthy cells and cause cancer as a result.
Tea is also known to help with focus and concentration. John Fox, Professor of Neuroscience at the City University of New York, used an MRI to map tea’s effect on the complex workings of the human brain. After drinking tea, the amino acid is absorbed into the circulatory system where it increases alpha brain-wave activity. This alpha brain rhythm is known to induce a calmer, yet more alert, state of mind.
In the ninth century when tea was traded to Mongolia, Tibet, and Japan, it became the favorite drink of Buddhist monks, who found that it helped them stay awake during long periods of prayer and meditation. Used as an elixir of sobriety and wakeful tranquility, tea was also a means of spiritual refreshment and the ritual of preparing and partaking of it was an occasion for spiritual conviviality, a way to go beyond this world and enter a realm apart.
Research confirms that even brief periods of relaxation can reduce cortisol levels, lower heart rates, and make us feel less anxious and stressed. So, I encourage you to go ahead and steep….creating your own tea ritual. At the end, you have nothing to lose, just a few tea leaves...
Oxidation is the chemical reaction that takes place when harvested tea leaves react with oxygen in the air. Oxidation changes the taste, aroma, and appearance of the leaves.
Dr. Silvia Mandel, of the Eve Topf Center in Haifa, Israel, show that green tea has rejuvenating effect on damaged brain cells.
Flavonoids are a group of plant metabolites thought to provide health benefits through cell signaling pathways and antioxidant effects.
Emilie Jackson, M.S. Communication & Marketing Strategy, is a Shamanic Ordained Minister and has cultural and linguistic expertise in the fields of health care, complementary, and alternative medicine. She lived in different countries including France, Portugal, England, and Mexico where ancient traditions are still alive. She is co-owner of Centered Spirit - Cultural and Holistic Center and tea specialist at Emilie’s French Teas—a French Tea Room located inside Centered Spirit. Location: 8131 Wornall Rd, KCMO 64114, 816-225-9393, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image courtesy of Emilie Jackson.