Did you know that tea is a part of Chinese medicine? It’s true. Most of us are aware that tea (Camillia sinesis) comes from China, but you might not know that its original use was as medicine. Tea has been a part of the Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia for almost 2,000 years, even though the herbal system itself goes back more than 3,000 yrs. Many plants, like dandelion, rooibos, and verbena, cooked into a broth are commonly referred to as “tea,” but technically these are called “tisanes.”
An important thing to understand about the philosophy of Chinese herbalism is the premise that nature provides everything for our physical wellbeing and overall balance. Chinese herbalists not only specialize in knowing the function of herbs, but also specialize in determining an herb’s appropriateness given the individual’s diagnostic markers. These diagnostic markers are based on the body’s function, that is hyper-function or hypo-function. Not all individuals will benefit from green tea, for example, despite its many researched benefits, which probably comes as a relief to those of you who have suffered from gas and bloating after drinking it. A Chinese medicine herbalist can explain to you why green tea may or may not be a good choice based upon your personal hyper- or hypo-functionality. In very general terms this has to do with whether a person runs on the cold, hypo, or hot, hyper, side.
Among the many teas, white, green, red, oolong and black, there are many distinguishing attributes. Chief among them is their ability to either up- or down-regulate the body. This is not simply a matter of any one constituent in tea, such as caffeine. All tea contains caffeine, but the way in which a tea is processed impacts the nature of the tea, which can vary from warming, those teas with greater oxidation and processing like black and red teas, to cooling the green and whites. Processing here does not mean artificial procedures. Rather, it refers to the “curing,” aging and preparation of the tea.
A person who has a hypo-functional body will not respond well to a down-regulating tea. Using the example above of green tea, it is fair to conclude that if someone does not respond well to green tea that they have a hypo-functioning body. In instances of hypothyroid or weak digestion, it is easy to see why a condition could be made worse.
Tea can be a fabulously healthful complement to one’s lifestyle given the right circumstances, which can be determined through a little trial and error or by consulting a Chinese medicine herbalist. As a rule of thumb, less processed teas tend to be cooler and have a down-regulating action on the body, whereas the more processed and oxidized teas are more up-regulating. It is important to understand how those actions will work in your body depending upon whether you run hot or cold. In many cases, people may run a combination of hot and cold, so having guidance on balancing tea by amount and time of day can make a big difference in the benefit achieved. It is also important to note at which times a person favors a particular temperature, in the evening or late afternoon for example. These are all diagnostic factors of vital import in determining whether, when, which type and how much tea is right for you. Remember, tea is medicine, so check with a primary care professional to find if it is right for you, particularly if you are already on medications. Licensed acupuncturists are primary health professionals in the state of California.