Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chinese Medicinal Tea

No, It's Not Hashish

Not long ago I picked up another great Qigong (Chi Kung) book, this one titled "Qigong- The art and science of Chinese energy healing" by Kenneth S. Cohen.
Cohen presents a useful bridge between esoteric energy studies and modern science, but what caught my eye was his chapter on Tea.
Now, I had quit coffee at least fifteen years ago, and have used common teas (Lipton, Red Rose, or Green) as well as herbs such as Dandelion, Milk Thistle and others, which are technically "Tisanes", not true tea.
As Cohen describes, infusions from the camellia sinensis plant are the only "true" teas, and they are indeed medicinal.
Much has been said recently about the health benifits of green tea (which is un-fermented) as far as antioxidents and weight loss. What interested me was the research on black fermented teas, in particulear one called "Pu-Erh" (pronounced poo-air).

Cohen, on page 310 writes: "Pu Erh, a semifermented Oolong tea from Yunan Province, is probably China's most famous medicinal tea. - Pu Ehr is characterized by a mellow, earthy taste, almost smokey and peat-like".

I might add, it's earthy taste resembles "compost", because it is indeed processed in that way. The Holy Mountain Trading Company website describes the process:
"Tea leaves are withered, then, still slightly moist, they're heaped into piles where a bacterium creates a reaction. The leaves are then dried loose or compressed into teas or cakes". --and this:
"In the 1970's Chinese doctors in Kunming reported clinical experiments in which drinking pu-erh was shown to lower cholesterol levels in the blood stream. French researchers at St. Antoine Hospital in Paris duplicated these results and found that three cups of pu-erh a day for a month brought lipids down 25 percent in 20 hyperlipidemia patients, while those on other teas showed no change. These tests showed pu-erh performed at least as well as clofibrate, the most advanced medicine for the purpose, without the drug's side effects. It has since been shown to help reduce body weight by increasing the metabolism". -And this:
"In the study, men with a high flavonoid intake had a 73 percent lower risk of stroke during 15 years of follow-up, compared with men with a low intake of flavonoids. The men in the study got about 70 percent of their flavonoids from drinking black tea.
Men who drank more than 4.7 cups of tea a day had a 69 percent reduced risk of stroke compared with men who drank less than 2.6 cups a day, said the researchers of the National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection in Bilthoven, the Netherlands.
Tea also helps prevent tooth decay in several ways. It contains a solid dose of fluoride and works better than the antibiotic tetracycline. According to researchers at the Tokyo Dental College, it fights the kinds of bacteria in the mouth that cause gum disease and the eventual loss of the teeth. It also kills the greatest cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth, Streptococcus mutans".

One of the reasons I quit coffee years ago was because of the caffine. While teas also have caffine, Cohen suggests that tea contains other chemicals that may change or mitigate the effects of the caffine. He also reviews many studies including the Paris hospital experiment (it bears repeating) where twenty patients with abnormally high blood fat levels were given three cups of Pu-Erh tea a day for a month. Their blood fat levels dropped by 25 percent.
A quick spin around the internet will provide you with lots more information on the health benifits of tea, this research inspired me to rise above commercial teas and try some Pu-Erh.
As you see in the picture above, the best ones come pressed in neat little bricks that look like nice chunks of Afghan Hashish. I have yet to try the high-end varieties. Instead, for my first try I bought two pounds of loose Pu-Erh, shipped for a total of $35.00 from a supplier on This tea only needs a tablespoon to my one-liter work thermos, and I can even add more hot water after I drink half of it.
The taste is indeed peat-like, very rich like coffee. The color is a beautiful root-beer ruby-brown. This tea is much richer than a Pekoe like Lipton, for instance. The two-pound bag should last me six months. I plan on trying the high grade pressed cakes later, but for now I really like this tea.
I may have a chance to do my own science project with Pu-Erh tea. While my cholesterol levels have been good lately, I have another test in three months. This may be an interesting experiment in body chemistry, and if there are any significant changes, I'll write about it again.


Zacky Chan said...

For the past two years I have drank a considerable amount of tea, but not that I`m in Japan, I drink about 58 cups of green tea a day! Ok, maybe more like 5. But I have yet to find something good thats other than green. Chinese herbalist stores in rural Japan? You are right, and the internet is the way. Maybe I`ll order a few bricks. -Zacky Chan

Anonymous said...

you should watch out for the flouride in the tea. there is an epidemic of flouridosis in Ecuador. It causes bone density to increase but makes bones brittle! the symptoms are indistinguishable from Osteo-arthritis. (hope i spelled it right) They drink a lot of tea and its causing health problems. I only found this out from research my wife was doing to cope with her hypo thyroidism. turns out the flouride in the tea is toxic to the thyroid and was negating the effect of her Meds.


Dojo Rat said...

The articles do mention Flouride, but not at toxic levels. I'll bet there is more flouride in municipal water systems than in tea leaves. I'm on very good well water.

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