All About Thyme
  A Weekly Calendar of Times & Seasonings

  Celebrating the Mysteries, Magic, and Myths of Herbs
Susan Wittig Albert  
Special Feature, June 4, 2018  

Tea: The Real Deal

We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven't had any tea for a week...
The bottom is out of the Universe.
—Rudyard Kipling, Natural Theology

According to Chinese legend, the first cup of tea was brewed about five thousand years ago by Shen Nong, a.k.a. The Divine Cultivator. One day, he was boiling water outdoors when leaves of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) blew off a nearby bush and dropped into the water. The Divine Cultivator tasted the brew and found that it hit the spot. A cup of tea was soon on everyone's table.

The Buddhists explain things differently. The monk Dharuma practiced meditation all day long. One drowsy afternoon, he found his eyelids drooping. So that this would not happen again, he sliced them off and threw them away. A tea plant sprang up where they fell, and after a little trial and error, Dharuma discovered the secret of brewing its leaves into a drink that would keep him awake—although one has to suppose that he learned to sleep with his eyes open.

Tea became known in Europe in the 1600s, as ships of the British East India Company made their way to the Orient and back again The sprightly stimulant became immediately popular and a brisk trade developed. Tea helped to precipitate at least one war (the American Revolution began with the Boston Tea Party), served several governments as currency, and helped to build the British Empire. Americans have done their fair share, too. They invented iced tea (served at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904) and the tea bag (first used in 1904 in New York City by Thomas Sullivan).

Tea is more than just a delicious stimulant, however. In the last few years, scientists have compiled a convincing dossier on the virtues of tea. Tea can help to protect the arteries against cholesterol clogs; inhibit the growth of cancers of the colon, stomach, and breast; reduce inflammation; and neutralize many viruses. You can drink black tea or green tea, hot tea or iced tea, with or without caffeine. But do drink brewed tea; scientists say that bottled tea and instant tea don't have as many antioxidants. Herbal teas have different health benefits; you'll want to check them out, as well.

Kipling is right, of course. No tea for a week would turn our world upside down!

Read more about the mysteries of tea:

Iced tea is too pure and natural a creation not to have been invented as soon as tea, ice, and hot weather crossed paths.
—John Egerton

Story Circle Network Books

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Who's Susan Albert?

Susan Wittig Albert is the author of two recent memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place. Her fiction, which has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, includes A Wilder Rose (a novel about Rose Wilder Lane's collaboration with Laura Ingalls Wilder in the writing of the Little House books); the China Bayles mysteries; the Darling Dahlias mysteries; the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter; and a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries written with her husband, Bill Albert, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige. She is founder and past president of the Story Circle Network, a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, and Honorary President (2012-2014) of the Herb Society of America. More

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