The tea plant (Camellia sinensis) has been used for more than 4,000 years to treat body, mind and spirit. According to legend, the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was boiling water when a windstorm blew leaves from a nearby shrub into his pot. The aroma so captivated him he decided to taste the mixture, possibly the first cup of brewed tea.
Tea has been valued by societies throughout history, around the world. In colonial America, tea became so synonymous with quality of life that colonists used it to make political statements, such as the Boston Tea Party in 1773.
Although “tea” technically refers to the tea shrub, C. sinensis, today the term also is used to describe a variety of aromatic plants brewed into health tonics and refreshing drinks.
Because tea is a powerful antioxidant, it also has become a key ingredient in natural skin- and hair-care products. Japanese research has shown tea to be effective against free radicals, which cause our bodies to age. Tea also offers beauty benefits: You can use it to cleanse skin, soothe sunburn, highlight hair, relax muscles and calm puffy eyes. Here are some of my favorite ways to apply tea’s rejuvenating powers to skin and hair.
Terrific Tea Tips
Try these six easy ways to look and feel your best with tea:
1. Reduce under-eye puffiness by placing two cool tea bags over each eye; relax for 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Soothe an insect bite or cut by placing a green tea bag over the affected area. The tea will reduce itching and swelling.
3. For a bad sunburn, try a tea bath. Hang four or five oolong, jasmine or green tea bags under your bath spout as you fill your tub. Soak in the fragrant, warm water.
4. If you use henna to color your hair, use tea instead of water when mixing your paste for a richer color. Try black or Ceylon tea if you are brunette, use chamomile if you are blonde.
5. Use herbal tea blends as simple skin fresheners and toners. Make a strong infusion and pour into a clean spray bottle. Mint tea has an uplifting fragrance.
6. A great way to relax or practice simple meditation is with a cup of tea. Start your day with a cup, or take a tea break to refocus during hectic times.
7 Terrific Tea Recipes
In England, tea is much more than just a popular beverage; it is part of the culture and has become an important part of the beauty scene.
Try this mild astringent toner to keep your complexion clean, smooth and glowing.
• 1/4 cup boiling water
• 2 tea bags of your choice (green, orange pekoe, Earl Grey and jasmine are nice)
• 1/4 cup witch hazel extract
1. Pour boiling water over tea bags. Steep at least 1 hour to make a strong infusion.
2. Combine cooled tea with witch hazel. Stir mixture well; pour into a clean bottle. Apply to skin with a cotton ball or pad.
Green tea will tighten pores, calm sensitive skin and provide anti-aging benefits when used regularly. This recipe is ideal for soothing troubled or sunburned skin.
• 1/2 cup distilled water
• 2 teaspoons green tea leaves
1. Bring water to a boil.
2. Place tea leaves in a clean glass or ceramic bowl.
3. Pour boiling water over leaves and steep for 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Strain tea leaves and allow liquid to cool. Apply with a clean cotton ball. Do not rinse off.
Nothing could be easier than creating a bath from your favorite herbal tea blend. Simply fill a large tea ball or muslin bag with a few chosen herbs, hang it under your bath spout and lie back! This Herbal Tub Tea also makes a great gift; just fill a china cup with a muslin bag of tea herbs tied with a gorgeous bow.
• Large tea ball, muslin sack or square of cheesecloth
• 1/4 cup dried herbs or 1/2 cup fresh herbs
•Stimulating—rosemary, lavender, mint
•Relaxing—chamomile, elderflower, angelica
•Refreshing—basil, lemon balm, mint
•Invigorating—raspberry leaves, bay leaves, mugwort
•Cleansing—sage, thyme, lemon verbena
1. Fill container with desired herbs; use either a blend of your choice or individual herbs.
2. Hang tea-filled container under the spout as you run your bath, letting the water flow through it. Gently squeeze tea bag or allow tea ball to float in the water as you bathe.
Use this stimulating toner after shampooing to help keep your scalp healthy and clean. Or, fill a small spray bottle with this toner and spritz it onto your hair for a refreshing, pick-me-up anytime throughout the day.
• 1/4 cup mint tea OR 3 to 4 tea bags
• 1/2 cup boiling water
•½ cup witch hazel
1. Steep tea in boiling water 5 to 10 minutes, or until tea is strong.
2. Cool completely. Strain out all leaves or remove bags. Stir in witch hazel.
3. To use, massage a small amount into your scalp after shampooing to increase circulation and stimulate your scalp.
Chamomile has many healing properties, including anti-inflammatory and disinfectant abilities. Use this recipe to soothe chapped or sunburned skin.
• 2 tablespoons dried chamomile flowers OR 2 chamomile tea bags
• 1 cup boiling water
1. Steep tea in boiling water until cool. Strain out all solids and pour into a clean container.
2. To use, apply to skin with a clean cotton pad, or spray on skin.
You can use herbal “teas” to make natural rinses for adding color highlights to hair. These rinses work gradually; the longer you use them, the more dramatic the results. After shampooing, try one of the following herbal rinses: 1) chamomile—to lighten fair hair; 2) sage—to darken hair; or 3) hibiscus—to add red highlights.
• 2 tablespoons dried herbs OR 1/4 cup fresh herbs
• 2 cups boiling water
1. Steep herbs in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. Start with the shorter steeping time. You can lengthen the steeping time of future treatments if you decide you want more color.
2. Strain. Allow liquid to cool before use.
To keep your feet smelling their best, try a foot soak in natural tea. Soaking your feet in black tea will help reduce foot odor because tea is naturally astringent. It also can help reduce perspiration. The tannic acid in the tea changes the skin’s pH level, making it unfriendly to odor-causing bacteria.
• 2 black tea bags
• 2 cups boiling water
• 2 quarts cool water
1. Make a very strong tea by steeping tea bags in boiling water for at least 15 minutes.
2. Fill a large bowl or plastic pan with cool water; stir in tea solution.
3. Soak feet for 20 to 30 minutes. Repeat treatment daily for about a week; you should notice a decrease in foot odor.
Beauty in the Bag
Tea bags are ideal for making scented baths, toners, sprays and oils, as you do not have to strain out any leaves. A wide variety of blends, from traditional English teas to exotic herbal teas, are packaged and sold in bags. You also can purchase small kits to make your own tea bags for garden herbs.
Janice Cox is the author of Natural Beauty at Home (Holt Paperbacks, 2002). She lives with her dog and cat in Medford, Oregon. Visit her at www.HerbCompanion.com/Contributors .