The Garden Muse: Tea and it’s many varied cultural ceremonies

Published 1:30 pm Friday, April 28, 2023

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Did you kthe Garden Musenow that there is much more to the ceremony of drinking tea than the well-known and very popular British tea culture? Let’s talk tea.

Camellia sinensis (Theaceae) commonly known as the tea plant, tea shrub, and tea tree is a species of evergreen shrub or small tree in the flowering plant family Theaceae. Both its leaf buds and leaves are used to make the beverage tea. White, green, oolong, black, and pu’erh (post fermented) teas are all made from the common tea tree. I have been told that there are tea trees in China over one thousand years old. The skeptic in me had to look this up and sure enough, I did find information claiming this to be true.

Different varieties of the tea tree, processing techniques, temperature and type of water used, duration of steeping time, and type of drinking vessel will all affect the unique rich flavors of the tea beverage.

The rich history of tea has been around for thousands of years all around the world, with its origins beginning in China.

Traditionally the many different types of ceremonies held celebrating the ‘taking of tea’ have been in the honor of the Tea tree Camellia sinensis.

Lately there has been an increase in popularity and interest in Herbal Teas which are not derived from the common tea tree and contain no actual ‘tea’ in the beverage. Herbs (fresh or dried) of choice made into a tisane or infusion to be consumed as a beverage, most likely took on the moniker of Herbal Tea due to the common name of tea’s popularity.

Whether sipping solo for a soothing relaxing personal tea experience or with others for a special more formal occasion, the alchemical fusion of water and healing plants consumed as a beverage in the herbal tea ceremony is just one of the many varied traditions in tea culture.

The United Kingdom, China, Japan, Russia, Myanmar, India, Persia, and Egypt all have their own distinct and very different traditions involving the tea ceremony.

Because the nature of herbs themselves are primarily medicinal, Herbal tea is most often consumed for that purpose. The ritual of an herbal tea ceremony is most often practiced honoring the herbs used to make the tea and heal the body. Unlike others herbal tea ceremonies are usually held outdoors and examples of the plants used are shared for educational purposes.

The most common herbs used for tea from the garden are Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum Ocimum tenuiflorum), Peppermint (Mentha x piperita0, Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), and Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium.)

Also, the most commonly wildcrafted herbs for tea making are Nettle (Urtica dioica), Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Birch (Betula lenta), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Plantain (Plantago), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), and Burdock (Arctium lappa.)

Drinking tea alone or in a group can have a lasting impact on one’s wellness. Numerous studies have shown a variety of teas to boost the immune system, decrease inflammation in the body, and fight cancer and heart disease.

Let’s all raise a steamy cup or cool glass of iced tea and toast for good health and wellness.

Dawn Conrad is a Retired Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Herbalist, Writer and Artist. She can be contacted at