The tea plant is a small, variable, evergreen shrub with white flowers that is native to mountainous regions of China, Japan, and India.1 It is cultivated around the world in countries with tropical and subtropical climates.2 The plant can grow to 30 feet, but usually is pruned to 2 to 3 feet.3 The young leaves and the dried leaf bud are used and are considered to have a better quality than older leaves.3
Tea is believed to have originated with the Buddha. While meditating, Buddha fell asleep, and upon awakening, he cut off his eyelids in disgust. Tea plants grew from where his eyelids landed, so that he could give the gift of awareness to his disciples.1
Tea is used extensively in the traditional medicine systems of China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea.4 In China, the use of tea as a beverage dates back to 2700 BCE.4 Next to water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. The Chinese have a ritual tea drinking ceremony which started during the Sung Dynasty.
Traditionally, tea was rarely used as a medicine except as a stimulant, astringent (drying agent), and in infusions (teas) to relieve headaches.5
1 Bown D, Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd; 2001.
2 Roberts JE, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Herbs of Choice, 2nd ed. New York: The Haworth Herbal Press; 2000.
3 Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients. 2nd ed. New York: Wiley & Sons; 1996.
4 Blumenthal M, Hall T, Goldberg A, Kunz T, Dinda K, Brinckmann J, et al, editors. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2003.
5 Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol II. New York: Dover Publications; 1971.
6 Henson S. Green tea and cancer care. HerbClip. June 15, 2004 (No. 020141-258) Austin, TX: American Botanical Council. Green tea catechins and L-theanine in integrative cancer care by Huber L. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. December 2003:294-298.
7 The health benefits of tea. HerbalGram. 1996; No. 37:38.
8 Aims of World Green Tea Association. Available at: http://www.o-cha.net/english/association/index.html. Accessed March 20, 2005.