Herb To Know: Tea

From garden to cup.

| October/November 2008

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  • Tea forms an attractive, evergreen shurb in warm climates. Mulch helps retain moisture.
  • For green and white tea, harvest only the tender new growth at the tip of leaves.

Genus: Camellia sinesis

• Hardy to Zone 8

We cherish tea for its timeless flavor, health benefits and social pleasures, yet rarely think of it outside of its box, bag or strainer. In truth, tea (Camellia sinensis) is a valuable plant and can be a prized garden element.

The most useful of the Camellias, the tea plant makes a pleasant, evergreen accent for gardens in the southern United States. In cooler climates, tea can be grown in a pot and moved indoors for winter.

A shrub or small tree native to the highlands of Asia, C. sinensis thrives in tropical and sub-tropical areas, growing 3 to 12 feet tall and as much as 12 feet across. Glossy, dark green, elliptical leaves cover the plant year-round. In late summer to fall, 1-inch creamy white flowers appear, each with a cluster of yellow stamens. Like other camellias, the blooms are delightfully scented.

Modern research is confirming what Asian herbalists have believed for thousands of years: Drinking tea has many health benefits. Recent studies suggest drinking tea can help prevent tooth decay, cancer and heart disease; and can help heal cuts, burns, bruises, insect bites, sunburn and swelling. For more, see “Leaves of Fortune in Your Tea Cup” on Page 46.

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