White Tea: The Other Tea with Health Benefits
History of White Tea
The history of tea begins thousands of years ago in China with the legend of emperor Shen Nung. While traveling through the country, the legend goes, Shen Nung stopped to have some water. The water was terrible, so he ordered it to be boiled. While waiting for the water to cool, a tea leaf blew into it, and instead of pulling it out he let it stay there before drinking it. Tea drinking was born.
Initially, tea was cultivated by monks and used primarily for medicinal purposes and to show respect for nature. However, tea not only became a staple in Chinese homes, but it also became a significant part of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system. They may not have known that tea has over 4000 chemicals, but ancient TCM practitioners knew tea could heal.
In TCM, tea stimulates the mind, increases blood flow, strengthens vital energy, helps with digestion, calms emotions, and supports body systems. The importance of the benefits of tea in Chinese culture is summed up in this Chinese aphorism: “Better to go three days without food than one day without tea.”
White tea was the tea of emperors and the royalty. It was given as a gift to emperors to curry favor. The tea ceremony began with white tea as a tribute to an emperor during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.C.E). Emperor Hui Zong (1107-1110) was obsessed with white tea and in particular with finding the perfect tea leaf. His fixation with white tea cost him a large piece of his empire to invaders.
What Is White Tea
Producing white tea is as delicate as its flavor. It can take several years before a tea plant yields its first harvest. Leaves are usually picked in the spring only and not when it’s wet, damp, or foggy outside. The leaves are not rolled like other tea leaves. For these reasons, it is considered a rare tea.
White tea leaves are the same type of leaf as those that are made into black, green, or oolong tea. They all come from the Camellia Sinensis plant. However, unlike the other teas, only immature leaves or young buds are picked for white tea. After harvesting, the leaves are immediately steamed and dried to prevent oxidation. There are four main types of white tea: silver needle (the most well-known), white peony, long life eyebrow, and tribute eyebrow.
‘”Our research shows white tea extract can actually destroy in vitro the organisms that cause disease. Study after study with tea extract proves that it has many healing properties. This is not an old wives tale, it’s a fact.”’ – Milton Schiffenbaurer, Ph.D., Professor at Pace University's Dyson College of Arts & Science[i]
White Tea Health Benefits
Low or zero oxidation gives the leaves their high antioxidant content. Flavonoids and especially catechins are types of antioxidants found in large amounts in white tea that combat free radicals. Free radicals are chemicals in the body that contribute to diseases and speed up the aging process.
Here are some of white tea’s health benefits.
- Pace University laboratory research found that white tea extracts used to treat Staphylococcus infections and pneumonia were more effective in killing bacteria, virus, and fungus than other teas.
- The Pace study also found that the high amounts of fluoride in white tea protected teeth from plaque by preventing its overgrowth.
- Protecting the colon from cancer was the result of another study on how white tea helps the body. Laboratory studies from Oregon State University, Corvallis suggests that white tea may be almost as effective as the prescription medication sulindac.
- A study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research showed that extracts from white tea in laboratory cultures killed two different kinds of lung cancer cells.
- White tea is also said to reduce blood pressure and keep arteries flexible.
- It also may lower HDL (bad) cholesterol because of its high levels of catechins.
- Because it may lower cholesterol and blood pressure, white tea may offer heart protection.
- Studies showed it lowered blood sugar which may help prevent diabetes.
Drinking White Tea
White tea's name comes from the silver like fuzz on the buds that turns white when the tea is dried. It has a much more delicate flavor than green or black tea. Green tea has a grassy, herbal character and black tea because of tannins has an acidic and sometimes bitter aftertaste.
The nuances and subtle flavors of white tea are best experienced through whole leaves. Heat water to just before boiling, pour the water over the leaves and steep the tea from five to eight minutes. Use a strainer to pour the tea into the cup.
White tea can also be purchased in teabags. Typically, though, teabags contain the dust and remnants of the leaves that remain after packing the leaves. Tea in the bags can lack flavor or be bitter.
White tea is rare, delicious, and exotic. Add to that the added health benefits from white tea and you have a win-win.
[i] Pacific College, Health Benefits of White Tea, September 09, 2017. Web.
Fung, Jason, Dr. Endothelial benefits of tea drinking. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@drjasonfung/endothelial-benefits-of-tea-drinking-d6535438945.
Health Benefits of Tea. Retrieved from https://sevencups.com/learn-about-tea/health-benefits-of-tea/.
Health Benefits of White Tea (September 09, 2017). Retrieved from https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2014/07/23/health-benefits-white-tea.
History of White Tea. Retrieved from http://www.whiteteaguide.com/whiteteahistory.htm.
Laboratory Study Suggest Potential Ant-Cancer Benefit of White Tea Extract. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/092110.htm.
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