Make wellness your own cup of tea

Overindulgence during the holiday season results in many people resolving to take better care of their health in the New Year. Diet books will be pulled from shelves and dusted off as folks resolve to expel excess body fat and toxins, and gyms all over the country will see a big increase in memberships. It’s also an opportunity to consider adding tea to your chosen regime.

Traditional Eastern medicine has acknowledged the health benefits of tea for centuries. At the end of the 12th century, Myoan Eisai, who founded Zen Buddhism in Japan, traveled to China to study its philosophy and, in the process, discovered the importance of tea. He returned to Japan with tea leaves and experimented with growing, processing and brewing tea according to “Ch’a Ching” (Book of Tea) written by Lu Yu in 780 A.D.

Eisai wrote a book in 1211 (translated) “Tea Drinking is good for health,” and claimed tea remedied most health problems, including recovery from paralysis and beriberi. This belief was tested when a government official, in danger of death from overeating, asked Eisai to pray for him. Instead of trusting only in prayer, he made the official drink tea and upon his recovery, he waxed eloquent about the “miracle beverage.”

Centuries later, Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary that tea brought his wife relief from colds and bronchitis.

Medical and scientific research in the West during the last decades has tested and seemingly confirmed these claims. John Weisburger, a senior researcher at the Institute for Cancer Prevention in Valhalla, N.Y., was one of the first Americans to show how tea-drinking modified the metabolism to aid the detoxification of harmful chemicals.

“Tea is full of antioxidants, the disease-fighting compounds that protect cells from free radicals and damage that can lead to blood clots and cancer; they help the body stave off illness,” claimed 82- year-old Weisburger, who drinks 10 cups of tea daily.

The main teas, black, green and oolong, derive from the tea-plant species “camellia sinensis” but green tea undergoes the simplest process, leading many researchers to claim it provides greater benefits, including lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, normalizing blood sugar, aiding proper liver function and detoxification of the body. Others claim it promotes healthy cognitive functions, helps prevent senility and protects bones from the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

Lester Mitscher, Distinguished Professor of medicinal chemistry at Kansas University, explores such claims in “The Green Tea Book,” and he also gives practical guidance for using green tea for health.

Lawrence physician and photographer Steven Ramberg, keeps up-to-date with medical and scientific research.

“I believe the findings that show tea promotes good health,” he said. “I drink green tea through the afternoon for stimulation and clarity, and herbal ones, usually chamomile, for relaxation in the evening.”

You’ll find great resources for health-giving teas in Lawrence. The Bay Leaf, 725 Mass., has a wide selection of loose teas, teapots and mugs with inbuilt infusers to help you get started. Rebecca Snyder, a tea veteran, prepares samples costing from $2 to $4.50.

“There’s been an upsurge in tea-drinking recently,” she confirmed. “It’s hard to keep pace with demands for samples. Black teas sell best, but fruit ones are gaining in popularity, especially the Apricot Arabesque.”

I noticed a Tibetan Raspberry. My mother used raspberry infusions in the last days of her pregnancies.

“It opens everything up,” she explained.

All eight babies arrived on time. She also used it as a cleansing blood tonic, and dosed us with it during puberty to prevent acne.

You’ll find pu-erh, a rare tea (which naturopathic doctors recommend for patients needing to lower cholesterol and weight) at the House of Cha, 21 W. Ninth St. Co-owner Fanny Shiau is knowledgeable about teas and herbs, and she’s mixed some interesting worldwide herbal blends. There’s “Memory Tonic” containing rosemary, lemon, verbena and peppermint, and “Body Revival,” with added marigold and chamomile. I’m trying the “Evergreen Forest” with verbena, rosemary and lemon grass, which promises to “burn fats, reduce water retention and improve liver function” – just what the doctor ordered to get rid of all those toxins stockpiled in my body during the holidays.

I wish you all a happy New Year, and may your teacups be filled with the blessings of health.