Chinese Herbal Teas – A Unique and Perfect Drink
Chinese herbal teas are considered to be part of the sum total of Chinese medical theory and practice, referred to as Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. Unlike the West, where scientific investigation produced a powerful body of knowledge and careful correlation of theory and fact, TCM is a loose collection of accumulated and practical lore considered proven by the test of time.
In this body of knowledge, theory begins with ideas of “chi’ and “yin and yang.” The practical application of medical treatment is based on the observations of my healers over the course of centuries. The application of TCM and Chinese herbal teas, while not offering the detail of scientific studies, is most assuredly based on long histories of successful treatments.
For the Chinese, tea from the leaves of the Camilla Sinsensis tree is a unique and perfect drink that slakes the thirst and eases the minor sufferings of the body. There are entire books of poetry dedicated to the varieties of green tea and its cousins, black tea and oolong tea! Chinese herbal teas, however, are placed almost entirely in the “medical” category.
In TCM, the use of herbs is highly complex. There are numerous annals, books, compendiums and pharmacopoeia (encyclopedia’s of medicines), some of them going back to the 1st century A.D., and several still used today by TCM practitioners! The use of Chinese herbal teas is divided into “superior” materials, tonics and boosters that must not be used for prolonged periods, and a third category for small doses of very specific treatments.
The “superior” medicinal Chinese herbal teas have multiple uses and are primarily used to maintain the spiritual balance of the body, which strongly reflects the frugality of the Chinese village culture.
Chinese herbal teas are usually blends of many different herbs and other materials customized to the needs of the individual patient. The lore of Chinese herbology dictates that prescriptions be combined to manage the Four Natures, the Five Tastes, and the Meridians. The Four Natures refer to the balance of yin and yang, and range from cold (extreme yin), cool (yin), warm (yang), and hot (extreme yang).
The Five Tastes are the signal flavors of the Chinese herbal teas and other medicines. They include pungent, sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. Each flavor is connected to medical action, and the healer ensures that the action is applied by manipulating the flavor of the herbal blend. The Meridians refer to the organs or zone of the patient that are targeted by the treatment.
When working with such a wide range of materials, practitioners of TCM and Chinese herbology often find themselves dealing with toxic substances. Experienced and expert healers will carefully cancel out this effect with counteractive ingredients in Chinese herbal teas.
Less knowledgeable practitioners are at risk of dangerous errors when working with these materials, and like healers everywhere they bear the responsibility to follow the Hippocratic Oath, and “do no harm.”
While Chinese villagers often blend herbs into their teas for the pleasure of the many wonderful flavors they offer (especially ginseng), the role of Chinese herbal teas is primarily medical. The place of green tea, of course, is atop a pedestal of exalted and passionate devotion!