History of Herbal Tea

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Herbal Tea is among the world’s oldest and most revered beverages. Also known as a tisane or herbal infusion, an herbal tea is simply the combination of boiling water and dried fruit, flower or herb. An herb is a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, aromatic or savory qualities. Herb plants produce and contain a variety of chemical substances that act upon the body. Herbal tea has been imbibed nearly as long as written history has been recorded.

There are texts surviving from the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and India that describe and illustrate the use of many medicinal plant products and their uses in the form of herbal teas. In the scriptural book of Ezekiel, which dates from the sixth century B.C., we find this admonition regarding plant life: “..and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and leaf thereof for medicine.” Egyptian hieroglyphs show physicians of the first and second centuries A.D. treating constipation with senna pods, and using caraway and peppermint to relieve digestive upsets.

Greeks and Romans, such as Plato and Pliny, also studied and cultivated herbs. They created healing brews and tinctures, using herbs as important medicinal tools.  Herbal tea was consumed in Europe before black tea was introduced.  Some of the original herbal teas in Europe, such as Peppermint and Chamomile, are still favorites.  In colonial America, herbal teas were consumed after the Boston Tea Party, as a form of defiance and patriotism. In addition, we also know that herbal teas have been used by shamans, village doctors, and herbalists all around the world – including Africa, Central and South America, North America, India, Russia, Japan, China, and many other countries.

 One of the first recorded history of herbal tea dates back to China (2737 BC), discovered by Shen Nung Pen, a Chinese emperor and scholar, who ironically was also the first person to identify traditional tea.  Shen Nung wrote the first history of herbs in his book, Pen T’sao Ching (The Classic of Herbs), , and listing over 300 different plants and their medicinal value.

The history of herbal tea is clearly intertwined with the history of herbal medicine. Herbal Medicine has a long and respected history. Sometimes referred to as Herbalism or Botanical Medicine, is the use of herbs for their therapeutic or medicinal value. Herbal Medicine, makes use of the leaves, flowers, stems, berries, and roots of plants to prevent, relieve, and treat illness. Many familiar medications of the twentieth century were developed from ancient healing traditions that treated health problems with specific plants.

Herbal medicine is the oldest form of healthcare known to mankind. Herbs had been used by all cultures throughout history. It was an integral part of the development of modern civilization. Primitive man observed and appreciated the great diversity of plants available to him.  Much of the medicinal use of plants seems to have been developed by trial and error. As time went on, each tribe added the medicinal power of herbs in their area to its knowledgebase. They methodically collected information on herbs and developed well-defined herbal pharmacopoeias. Indeed, well into the 20th century much of the pharmacopoeia of scientific medicine was derived from the herbal lore of native peoples. Many drugs commonly used today are of herbal origin. Indeed, about 25% of the prescription drugs dispensed in the United States contain at least one active ingredient derived from plant material.

Throughout the Middle Ages, home-grown botanicals were the only medicines readily available, and for centuries, no self-respecting household would be without a carefully tended and extensively used herb garden. For the most part, herbal healing lore was passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. Mother taught daughter; the village herbalist taught a promising apprentice.

By the seventeenth century, the knowledge of herbal medicine was widely disseminated throughout Europe. In 1649, Nicholas Culpeper wrote A Physical Directory, and a few years later produced The English Physician. This respected herbal pharmacopeia was one of the first manuals that the layperson could use for health care, and it is still widely referred to and quoted today. Culpeper had studied at Cambridge University and was meant to become a great doctor, in the academic sense of the word. Instead, he chose to apprentice to an apothecary and eventually set up his own shop. He served the poor people of London and became known as their neighborhood doctor.

The first U.S. Pharmacopeia was published in 1820. This volume included an authoritative listing of herbal drugs, with descriptions of their properties, uses, dosages, and tests of purity. It was periodically revised and became the legal standard for medical compounds in 1906. But as Western medicine evolved from an art to a science in the nineteenth century, information that had at one time been widely available became the domain of comparatively few. Once scientific methods were developed to extract and synthesize the active ingredients in plants, pharmaceutical laboratories took over from providers of medicinal herbs as the producers of drugs. The use of herbs, which for most of history had been mainstream medical practice, began to be considered unscientific, or at least unconventional, and to fall into relative obscurity.

The efficacy of many medicinal plants has been validated by scientists abroad, from Europe to the Orient. Thanks to modern technology, science can now identify some of the specific properties and interactions of botanical constituents. With this scientific documentation, we now know why certain herbs are effective against certain conditions. However, almost all of the current research validating herbal medicine has been done in Germany, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Russia. And for the most part, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for licensing all new drugs (or any substances for which medicinal properties are claimed) for use in the United States, does not recognize or accept findings from across the sea. Doctors and government agencies want to see American scientific studies before recognizing the effectiveness of a plant as medicine. Yet even though substantial research is being done in other countries, drug companies and laboratories in the United States so far have not chosen to put much money or resources into botanical research. The result is that herbal medicine does not have the same place of importance or level of acceptance in this country as it does in other countries.

Herbs are available in a variety of forms, including raw herbs, tinctures, extracts, capsules, tablets, lozenges, ointments and herbal teas.

Drinking the leaves, flowers, stems, berries, and roots of specific condition plants/herbs dissolved in hot water is an excellent way to expose the body to the very powerful healing power of herbs. The medicinal uses of tea are extensive; they have been used to treat virtually every illness or disease known to mankind.  Many teas are utilized for boosting general health and wellness; these may be enjoyed at any time.  Others focus on relaxation, building immunity and resistance to illness, treating specific ailments/illnesses, increasing energy and vitality, cleansing and detox, strengthening the organs, memory enhancement, insomnia, circulation, improving digestion, adding nutrients and minerals, stomachaches, headaches, allergies, and an infinite number of other uses.  Herbal teas can be used to treat virtually any condition, and many may be consumed simply as a prevention method, as an immune or body strengthener, or as support for a cure. Herbal teas are truly an important medicinal instrument. The fact that most herbal teas taste wonderful, and do not have the side effects of drugs makes them even more desirable.

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