Acupuncturist Melissa Tsai Talks About Medicinal Value of Select Chinese Teas“The first pour is to rinse the leaves, the second pour is to drink.”
Growing up, this was how my father enjoyed his tea. He would spoon a small amount of high mountain tea from his loose-leaf tin, stick it in a small clay pot, and drown it in hot water. After a quick aromatic bath, the tea was ready for consumption, tasted in small sips from a cup no bigger than an espresso shot. Each pot was good for a few rounds before the flavor ran out.
This way of drinking tea is commonplace in the East, where tea is often enjoyed after lunch and dinner. It is a way to clear the palate and help digest food. Tea is a cultural staple in China, and most convenience stores are chock-full of tea-based options, ranging from Taiwanese milk tea to traditional vintages like black lemon or oolong. But there’s more to tea than gastronomic delight.
Tea has also served as an herbal medicine for thousands of years. It aids in circulation, mental awareness, and digestion, to name a few benefits. Most teas begin life green-leafed, but after a mild fermentation, the leaves turn dark. This oxidizing increases the tea’s digestive properties, which is one reason tea is often paired with a meal. The oxidation also gives tea its warming properties according to Chinese Medicine.
Ancient Chinese healers categorized teas as “warming” or “cooling” by observing the body’s reaction to them. These terms do not refer to a literal temperature, but to the internal properties of any food or drink that interacts with the body’s ecosystem, and they are designed to guide health-promoting consumption. From this perspective, tea, like all foods, exists to serve your physiological needs.
Red, black, and oolong teas are considered to be warming, while green tea is cooling. Because of this, practitioners recommend drinking green varietals that are served warm, although cold green tea in the summer can provide welcome cooling during the hot months. If you find that drinking green tea is upsetting your stomach, it may be “too cold” for you (even when served hot). Try a black or oolong tea instead. These guidelines aren’t rigid rules, but they can help you decide which leaves to steep now and which to save for another season.
In the same way, observing how your body reacts to caffeine can help guide you toward the healthiest choices for your body at any given time. Take the light-headed dizziness that can arise from caffeine. This is a sign of qi deficiency—the dizziness is like the body’s version of a “check engine” light. Since caffeine moves qi, dizziness signals overly rapid circulation caused by the stimulation. In such cases, it’s advisable to avoid caffeine until qi function has been boosted with herbal medicine or other remedies.
For those who are avoiding caffeine altogether, herbal teas can provide an excellent alternative.
The chrysanthemum, also known as Ju Hua, comes in a cornucopia of colors, but in Chinese Medicine, the yellow flower is most commonly applied to aid with dry red eyes and blurry vision resulting from a common cold or headache. It also possesses detoxifying properties that help cleanse the liver. In Chinese medical theory, organs throughout the body are thought to be interconnected and to affect each other. The eyes have a relationship with the liver, and eye issues can be the symptoms of a liver disorder. Thus, clearing the liver of toxins can relieve related symptoms in the eyes.
In Chinese herbalism, herbs are often cooked together to build a formula that will produce balanced, synergistic effects. There are a few easy combinations to try at home with chrysanthemum tea to release its herbal effects:
- Chrysanthemum and mint tea: This is a great pairing for soothing the throat and the early stages of a cold, including fever, chills, headache, dizziness, or sore eyes.
- Chrysanthemum and goji berry tea: This combination is great for improving vision, specifically blurred vision, and for dizziness. An ideal drink for people who use TV, computer, or phone screens often and experience eye strain from overwork.
- Chrysanthemum, jasmine flower, and dandelion tea: This blend is great for colorless, slow-healing sores, or for sores that emit pus. The three flowers can be made into a paste or applied as a compress.
Some precautions for drinking chrysanthemum flower tea: If you often feel cold, it may make you feel colder. It should be not be taken if you have diarrhea and lack an appetite. And if you find you develop a stomachache when you drink it on an empty stomach, consider having it with food.
Melissa Tsai L.Ac.