Is Tea an Entheogen?

Tea is traditionally known to induce mental clarity, cognitive function, physical activation and relaxation. The acute psychoactive effects of tea in literature is mostly attributed to caffeine, L-theanine, and Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) influencing mood and cognitive performance.

So is Tea an Etheogen?

An entheogen is a psychoactive substance that induces alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behavior for the purposes of engendering spiritual development or otherwise in sacred contexts. Entheogens have traditionally been used to supplement many diverse practices geared towards achieving transcendence, including divination, meditation, yoga, sensory deprivation, asceticism, prayer, trance, rituals, chanting, hymns like peyote songs, drumming, and ecstatic dance.

Tea, as we know from both cultural and botanical contexts certainly appears to tick all these boxes.

Theanine is a physiologically and behaviourally active compound and, while it is unclear its mechanism of effect its properties are owing to its abilities to pass the blood brain barrier.

Terence Mckenna, American ethnobotanist and mystic is quoted as stating the role of entheogens is in dissolving boundaries . The human mind, embedded in culture, is constantly wanting to draw boundaries or place phenomena in neat tidy boxes. For example we break up the study of knowledge into 1st, 2nd, 3rd year undergraduate study, and differentiate between post-graduate and doctoral study. Similiarly we break up and box off child development into areas of motor, speech , cognitive learning. Many examples exist. Our minds essentially limited to defining and forming boundaries and structure, not able to recognise the infinity of nature and phenomena experienced only in the present moment.

Entheogens break down these boundaries and finite limitations of our conciousness and perceptions. Perhaps that is why Tea historically goes hand in hand with Buddhism and Taoism, where it enhances practices that aim to acheive a similiar effect, albeit without intoxication.

In all culture we have a co-history of plant use and other naturally occuring pharma that helps takes us beyond the constraints of learnt and constructed boundaries, Tea is just one of these, despite it becoming more of a social ritual and lifestyle habit than what we would normally associate with other Entheogens. However, take for example the concept of a “tea break” , here we halt time that is imposed by the structure of work to bring people together in social and emotional elevation, enabling often the freeing up of normative notions of identity and power embedded in the workplace or a diurnal routine.

Austin (1999) points out that the Japenese Tea ceremony is pervaded by feeling tones of harmony, reverence, purity and tranquility. Participants entering into a spirit of equality , their relationship to each other not conditioned by social rank, privelege or gender.

Over the last 12 months we have been living under the pressure and social stress induced by changes in routine , social patterns and behaviours due to the COVID19 pandemic. It is well documented that such social trauma and anxieties can reduce the ability of individuals to enact self directed choice or engage in phenomena or activities outside of the self e.g. spiritual and social transcendence.

Chronic psychosocial stress is associated with the development of depression, mood disorders,
and various other stress-related diseases as well as impairing high executive fucntions such as self-control by reducing the use of cognitive control (Wolff et al 2020). It would appear during Chronic Stress conditions we become vulnerable both to learnt behaviours and imposed behaviours. An example of this maybe cited in “stockholm syndrome”.

The role of tea pharma such as theanine in reducing stress and lowering blood pressure has been long documented (Yokogoshi et al 1995). Enacting physically percevable benefits to an individual provides opportunities for it to be used both etheogenically and psychoactively to re-engage an individual into the world and provide a mechanism of re-aligining conciousness to broader and wider phenomena beyond the self.

Theanine is also recognised as a relaxing agent, its sedative effecr seems to be related to the modulation of a wide range of neurotransmitters, and, in particular, to a reduction in glutamate transmission (Borgonetti et al 2020). Glutamate receptors are responsible for the glutamate-mediated postsynaptic excitation of neural cells, and are important for neural communication, memory formation, learning, and regulation. Thereby the role of theanine from tea , enacted in Tea as an entheogen may be to enhance both mood, memory and social cohesion and connections.

There is more to be discussed around this topic as both culture and history of Tea pervades numerous examples of its role in the classic sense of an entheogen. However this is often overlooked due to its pervasive prescence and acceptance in many cultures and throughout history.

Tea is psychoactive, its pharma confirms this, but because it effects are subtle and its enhancements are gentle, albeit long lasting, it fades into the background when ethnobotanists or anthropologists talk about entheogens. It does not capture the headlines like peyote or psilocybin, however as conversations around “microdosing” in these areas start to occur, we should look towards Tea as both an example and guide. We have been microdosing tea psychoactives for thousands of years!!

Austin JH. Zen and the brain: Toward an understanding of meditation and consciousness. MIT press; 1999 Jun 4.

Borgonetti V, Governa P, Biagi M, Galeotti N. Novel therapeutic approach for the management of mood disorders: In vivo and in vitro effect of a combination of l-theanine, Melissa officinalis L. and Magnolia officinalis rehder & EH Wilson. Nutrients. 2020 Jun;12(6):1803.

Dietz C, Dekker M. Effect of green tea phytochemicals on mood and cognition. Current pharmaceutical design. 2017 May 1;23(19):2876-905.

Rogers PJ, Smith JE, Heatherley SV, Pleydell-Pearce CW. Time for tea: mood, blood pressure and cognitive performance effects of caffeine and theanine administered alone and together. Psychopharmacology. 2008 Jan;195(4):569-77

Unno K, Furushima D, Hamamoto S, Iguchi K, Yamada H, Morita A, Horie H, Nakamura Y. Stress-reducing function of matcha green tea in animal experiments and clinical trials. Nutrients. 2018 Oct;10(10):1468.

Wolff M, Enge S, Kräplin A, Krönke KM, Bühringer G, Smolka MN, Goschke T. Chronic stress, executive functioning, and real‐life self‐control: An experience sampling study. Journal of Personality. 2020 Aug 28.

Yokogoshi H, Kato Y, Sagesaka YM, Takihara-Matsuura T, Kakuda T, Takeuchi N. Reduction effect of theanine on blood pressure and brain 5-hydroxyindoles in spontaneously hypertensive rats. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry. 1995 Jan 1;59(4):615-8.

Matcha tea – wonder drug or over inflated claims?

Kochman et al (2021) make a grand and sweeping claim, in their review, that Matcha has the potential in preventing many diseases and supporting cognitive function.

As with many scientific research upon the health benefits of tea, much of this is attributed to the high content of anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds in processed tea material. However, to the contrary, studies in coronary disease challenge previously claims of anitoxidant dietay consumption and their benefit on heart health. Luo et al (2021) recognise that whilst observational studies have identified associations between higher levels of dietary-derived antioxidants and lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), randomized clinical trials showed no reduction in CHD risk following antioxidant supplementation.

Much of the evidence for the role of antioxidants in health has been dependent on in-vitro trials rather than in-vivo studies and therefore the mechnism by which cell health is modulated by dietary anti-oxidants to some extent remains elusive.

This said, promising in-vivo studies of isolated specific tea pharma and phytochemicals are well documented. One such chemical is Theanine, which I have discussed in previous topics. Kochman et al (2021) report, due to the methods of shade growing tea for Matcha production, Theanine does not break down resulting in high values leading to its health benefit. It has been shown that values in brewed Matcha can be between 6.1mg/l and 44.65mg/l (Unno et al 2018).

There are no official guidelines regarding how much Theanine a person should consume to experience health modulating outcomes, however more recent research into this phytochemical appears to suggest a therapeutic dose in the region of 200mg. This is a lot of Matcha tea!!

A further pharmaceutical of interest in Matcha is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), another chemical I have discussed in previous posts. It is understoofd that EGCG exerts dose-dependent antiproliferative effects on cancer cells in-vitro (Du 2012) however again the mechanism by which these beefits could be conferred through dietary consumption remain elusive, however its volatile rings could offer a pathway of absorption into tissues and cells to modualte health. It is additionally understood that EGCG is stored in the liver in higher concentrations than blood plasma, which has led to concerns about its hepatotoxicity, however demonstrates is rapid uptake in some tissues via dietary means through blood plasma. Generally 100ml of green tea contains about 70.2 mg of EGCG with safe therapeutic doses of around 338mg per day, suggesting that Matcha may confer more long term health modulation via this chemical alone. Interestingly, enough EGCG is destroyed through black and red tea production to render them absent of this health benefit, whilst extraction values from green tea such as Matcha is dependent on the temperature of the water.

EGCG has been additioanlly shown to activate macrophage phagocytosis and therefore, similiar to Theanine could provide benefits as an immune modulator without interfering with normal antigen pathways. This makes it particulary interestign and potential useful in the immune compromised patient or immune suppressed.

Much of the recent evidence is within the framework of scientific reductionist enquiry, and I have yet to present a view point from other health frameworks such as Classical Chinese Medicine, however it interesting to note that both of the chemicals highlighted above are thought to play a role in the bitter sweet flavour profile of Matcha tea and therefore tonify Heart and Spleen and therfore also can play a role in maintaining health.

In summary, I would’nt go as far to say that Matcha is a wonder drug, and claims made elsewhere maybe over-inflated but there are some significant findings that suggest, as part of maintaining health and modulating health, there is enough potential to consider its importance.

Du GJ, Zhang Z, Wen XD, Yu C, Calway T, Yuan CS, Wang CZ. Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) is the most effective cancer chemopreventive polyphenol in green tea. Nutrients. 2012 Nov 8;4(11):1679-91.

Kochman J, Jakubczyk K, Antoniewicz J, Mruk H, Janda K. Health Benefits and Chemical Composition of Matcha Green Tea: A Review. Molecules. 2021 Jan;26(1):85.

Luo J, le Cessie S, van Heemst D, Noordam R. Diet-derived circulating antioxidants and risk of coronary heart disease: a Mendelian randomization study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2021 Jan 5;77(1):45-54.

Unno, K.; Furushima, D.; Hamamoto, S.; Iguchi, K.; Yamada, H.; Morita, A.; Horie, H.; Nakamura, Y. Stress-Reducing Function of
Matcha Green Tea in Animal Experiments and Clinical Trials. Nutrients 2018,

Tea and the Bamboo Grove

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove - YouTube

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (竹林七賢) were a group of Chinese scholars, writers, and musicians of the third century. They were highly gifted individuals who were opposed to the teachings and state institutionalized structure of Confucius, instead believing in individual freedom, openness and spontaneity.

They existed historically at the end of the Han Dynasty, which had led to a period of social, economic and political chaos. Their achievements on literature, philosophy and arts, alongside their lifestyle, spirit and pursuits has held an important position and big influence in Chinese culture (Yin 2011).

It is difficult, especially living under the varying rules and regulations of a pandemic, not to draw comparisons between the post-Han dynasty period and current times. They directly invoke ideas of resistance or escape from restrictions of freedom and state operated control of populations that forms an analogy for life under politically fraught periods of history. However, whether you believe that these sages are more symbolic and figurative, than historic, there is long-standing culture iconography of the Bamboo Grove in respect to tea practice.

Fucui (2012) argues that the Seven Sages represent an aesthetic ideal. To a certain extent this might be a factor in their popularity as subjects in Chinese artistic representations.

Yet, it has been argued that within the depiction of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove it is alcohol rather than tea that was extolled in a form of “alcoholic utopianism”. So how did they become represented so widely in tea culture?

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove are widely represented in both art that bedeck tea houses as well as teaware.

MUSADO JAPANESE SAMURAI Martial Hexagonal Blade SK-5 Steel Blood Grove -  $685.00 | PicClick

Nowhere, more than in Japanese tea ceremonies of the Edo period, was there a popular depiction of the Seven Sages alongside tea culture. Ironically, a period noted for its Neo-Confucianist ideology.

During this period, in Japan, the country was under rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and was characterized by strict social and class based feudal control. Hence it was suggested that the relative freedom and liminal space of the Japanese tea house offered both sanctuary and unbridled conversation and discussion. This almost directly analogous to the Bamboo Grove of the Seven Sages.

It has been suggested that those marginalized from the affairs of government often politicized the seven sages theme, those whose reclusive sensibilities were motivated by religious practice or aesthetic pursuits also ascribed to it. Zen monasteries and their patrons, for example, often commissioned seven sages paintings. Perhaps the commissioning of the seven sages themed artwork by Buddhist monasteries in Japan additionally entangled their iconography with tea culture, in that the practice of tea and Zen holds a long and rich history.

Graham (2007) points to a decline in the institutional power of the religion after the sixteenth century in Japan, therefore its reasonable that the popularity of the Seven Sages amongst larger and more established Buddhist institutions in the Edo period was itself a playful statement of their direct opposition to the Shogunate power base. The Tokugawa anti-Buddhist sentiments are well documented (Klautau 2008).

Yet, during the Edo period, tea culture in the form of the tea ceremony was a formal practice. The decline in the Buddhist religious power is thought to have allowed the traditional purist “Zen Spirit” of tea practice to open up to a wider culture, particularly women and lower classes (Corbett 2018). Tea practice was simultaneously popularized and systemized and led to an explosion in ceramics for tea practice, perfect medium for not only communicating artistic iconography but subtly communicating political or religious opinions.

Perhaps, despite the Seven Sage of the Bamboo association with tea is a later development, the ideology and iconography they represent in symbolized freedom and artistic expression has led to it being a rich reference to tea practice.

During current times tea practice has continued as much in pre-COVID times, to offer a Bamboo Grove to those seeking escape and sanctuary in which to enjoy a space to express creativity, conversation and opinion without fear of judgement. Whether we meet up over a steaming cup of tea or conduct a more formal tea session , tea provides a panacea to the feelings of control, restraint and restrictions we are currently experiencing.

Corbett R. Cultivating Femininity: Women and Tea Culture in Edo and Meiji Japan. University of Hawai’i Press; 2018 Mar 31.

Fucui Z. Aesthetic Ideal of the Unrestrained Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove in A New Account of the Tales of the World. Journal of Jixi University. 2012(11):49.

Graham PJ. Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art, 1600–2005. University of Hawaii Press; 2007 Sep 30.

Hai-qing YIN. Cloud Platform and Mountain Vary in shape, Seven Sages Give New Voice——The Review of Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove in Recent 20 Years. Journal of Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences (Social Sciences Edition). 2011;6.

Klautau O. Against the ghosts of recent past: Meiji scholarship and the discourse on edo-period Buddhist decadence. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 2008 Jan 1:263-303.

Anti-viral properties of Tea

In current times it is impossible to get through the day , let alone a tea session, without some conversation about viruses or the coronavirus.

The ongoing COVID19 global pandemic drives a “vaccine race” between multi- national agencies and states as the world tries to react to the current infection. Staying healthy and virus free has never been more of a concern.

A recent study by Karthikeyan et al (2020) recognised the value of tea and methanol extracts of tea leaves in having a strong anti-viral activity against Newcastle disease virus.

Newcastle disease virus is a virus that causes a deadly infection in many kinds of birds. In humans, it causes mild flu-like symptoms or conjunctivitis (an infection of the eye that is also called pink eye) and/or laryngitis (an irritation and swelling of the voice box and the area around it).

The study recognised that tea exhibits diverse biochemical and pharmacological effects including stimulation of defence against viral agents by modulating immunological parameters.

Its important to additionally recognise from this study that tea extracts, including water based extracts that inform most of our culture of tea drinking, perhaps provides an important ally against any viral pandemics. Equally, by protecting against other viral agents in a pandemic, tea offers an opportunity to reduce burdens on already over-stretched health care systems.

The immuno-modulating properties of tea may offer a level of protection against the severity of the symptoms of viral infection. It has previously been suggested that Theanine, a significant health benefitting amino acid in tea, may offer a frontline treatment against the severity of symptoms from COVID19 by triggering host response earlier to the virus and thereby preventing hospitalization.

Recent studies have revealed the possible binding sites present on SARS-CoV-2 and studied their interactions with tea polyphenols. Theaflavins, especially theaflavin-3,3′-digallate (TF3) have shown a significant interaction with the receptors suggesting activity of these polyphenols against COVID-19 (Mhatre et al 2020)

Ghosh et al (2020) identified 3 main green tea catechins/polyphenols could provide potential as anti-COVID-19 drug candidates. These namely being epigallocatechin gallate, epicatechingallate and gallocatechin-3-gallate, all of which bind to the corovirus thereby modulating its ability to bind with host cells.

It would appear from current anti-viral research, it will require a broad spectrum multi-modal approach in combatting any viral pandemic such as COVID19 and perhaps one drug or vaccine is not the panacea. The fact that tea has the potential to interfere with viral reproducibility as well as modulate immune level responses to pathogens makes it a comprehensive phyto-pharmaceutical alongside actions such as hygiene controls (e.g. handwashing, wearing face masks etc. ) that reduce the viral load.

Ghosh R, Chakraborty A, Biswas A, Chowdhuri S. Evaluation of green tea polyphenols as novel corona virus (SARS CoV-2) main protease (Mpro) inhibitors–an in silico docking and molecular dynamics simulation study. Journal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics. 2020 Jun 20:1-3.

Karthikeyan N, Balasubramanian G, Baskaran C, Padmaraj A, Gayathri T, Sivamani P. Phytochemical and antiviral potential analysis of Camellia sinensis (Green tea) against Newcastle Disease Virus (NDV) in ovo. 2020

Mhatre S, Srivastava T, Naik S, Patravale V. nAntiviral Activity of Green Tea and Black Tea Polyphenols in Prophylaxis and Treatment of COVID-19: A Review. Phytomedicine. 2020 Jul 17:153286.

Is it really just about the Theanine?

Theanine is the most abundant amino acid in tea leaves (40-70%) and therefore strongly indicated in the pharmaceutical and health benefits of tea.

Theanine has a chemical structure very similar to glutamate, a naturally occurring amino acid in the body that helps transmit nerve impulses in the brain. By mimicking neurotransmitters, L-Theanine induces a state of relaxed focus. It’s incredibly useful in helping to address states of hyper-stimulation such as anxiety or muscle tension, as well as for optimizing the effects of other substances like caffeine or stimulating herbs/medications (Cooke 2019).

A recent study demonstrated l-Theanine was higher in albino yellow tea leaves compared with normal green one (Cheng 2019) suggesting different growing techniques could change the outcomes of pharma in the tea leaf. However equally genetics may also contribute to the range of values of theanine found in different teas.

Interestingly, Theanine is primarily synthesized in tea roots and is subsequently transported to young shoots. In tea plants, theanine serves as both a storage and
transport form for nitrogen and its transport is modulated by soil levels of nitrogen itself. This suggests also an intimate relationship between soil and pharma in the leaf that then is experienced in the final brew and cup.

Recent studies put an interesting slant on the culture of having a chat over a cup of tea.  Dassanayake, Kahathuduwa & Weerasinghe (2020) demonstrated that Theanine can increase attentional processing of auditory information, in important effect especially for any tea session conversations! Equally it upholds the centuries of cultural behaviours around tea drinking, study and oral traditions. Whereby, such as in Chan Buddhism, tea drinking goes hand in hand in the  oral recitation and transmissions of teachings.

Theanine has also been cited as modulating the health outcomes of COVID19 infection in positive favorable ways (Tanno , Takahashi & Tsuchiya) in that it is thought that it stimulates increased anti-body production, perhaps effectively “buying time” and numbers against any potential viral load.

Theanine has additionally been reported to inhibit inflammatory responses in some diseases can prevent inflammatory responses by suppressing the NF-κB signaling pathway reducing the release of downstream pro-inflammatory mediators in inflammatory-related diseases (Bai et al 2020).

Tea continues to be a natural source of extraordinarily useful pharma for human health as well as a rich resource of culture. Over centuries both the observed effects of tea consumption and the effects of its benefits have merged together in its value as a medicine in all domains of health.

Bai H, Zhang Z, Li Y, Song X, Ma T, Liu C, Liu L, Yuan R, Wang X, Gao L. L-Theanine Reduced the Development of Knee Osteoarthritis in Rats via Its Anti-Inflammation and Anti-Matrix Degradation Actions: In Vivo and In Vitro Study. Nutrients. 2020 Jul;12(7):1988.
Cheng S, Fu X, Liao Y, Xu X, Zeng L, Tang J, Li J, Lai J, Yang Z. Differential accumulation of specialized metabolite L-theanine in green and albino-induced yellow tea (Camellia sinensis) leaves. Food chemistry. 2019 Mar 15;276:93-100.
Cooke J. L-Theanine Summary. Heart. 2019 May 4.
Dassanayake TL, Kahathuduwa CN, Weerasinghe VS. L-theanine improves neurophysiological measures of attention in a dose-dependent manner: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Nutritional Neuroscience. 2020 Aug 7:1-1.
Tanno H, Takahashi M, Tsuchiya T. Effects of oral amino acid cystine (700 mg) and theanine (280 mg) administration on SARS-CoV-2 virus infection-A case series. Authorea Preprints. 2020 Oct 5

The subtle art of Tea, Tea Medicine & Wu Wei


“Those who are good in ancient times are subtle and profound, but they are incomprehensible”

The Tao Te Ching, credited to the 6th-century BC sage Lao Tzu says this much. We can apply this wisdom in regard to Tea Medicine practice in that it is less about knowledge or comprehending a way of medicine but more about intuitive embodiment of a practice. Practice remains subtle, intuitive and beyond merely comprehensive structural theory.

That isn’t to say there is not a foundation in knowledge or Classical theory but that is more the application and experience of practice than knowing the theoretical.

This is the same for most things, we can be classically trained in music theory and composition but this does not guarantee that we will be a good violinist or pianist!

In Western approaches, as indeed historically in systems such as Sung Confucianism, we find that there is this over reliance on certification, examination, and accreditation to provide proof that you have the knowledge or skills to apply to practice. However unless you apply your knowledge is just merely another piece of paper or title after your name.

Equally it goes further than applying it, in more classical practice of music , medicine or any similar art it is about “becoming” it.

Without seemingly quoting Heidegger or Merleau Ponty upon what is to “be” something or “become” something, it is simply down to applying the intuitive alongside the learnt or known.

This may appear something philosophical or abstract in regard to Tea and tea culture or Tea Medicine, however it is about the principle that, like any art form, it embodies both knowing and feeling, in other words it can be seen to embrace the Yang of action or intuition, and the Yin of non-action, or theory.

When we practice the art of Tea drinking or the art of Tea Medicine we can strive to embrace both the Yang and the Yin of doing and knowing, this is the Wu Wei of Tea!!

Wu Wei – Doing Nothing 無爲 -The School of Life Articles | Formally The Book  of Life

Tea Interview with a Taoist Master

Master Gu is a 15th generation Taoist master of the Wudang Sanfeng Pai lineage and is the spiritual teacher of the Wudang Taoist Wellness Academy.

Live Long, Live Well. An Online Academy for your mind, body and spirit

I had the opportunity to interview him upon Tea and Taoist culture and it is a pleasure to share his responses with everyone. I found it both touching and reassuring that he was able to share this philosophy of Tea that is intimate to both spiritual, social and physical cultivation and wellness.

Q. Master Gu, what is your earliest experience of tea drinking?

A. My earliest experience of tea dates back to my childhood, as a small boy, I jokingly imitated adults drinking tea to make great decision. I started to grow interest in tea drinking actually after my graduation from university and from working in the Wudangshan area.

Q. Tell me more about the tea on Wudangshan…..

A.The tea grown on Wudang mountains, how is it special in the whole tea family? The tea here we generally speaking call it Wudang Daocha (“Taoist tea”) as it was very early planted and grown by the Taoist people staying in the mountains.

Q.So would you say that Tea and Taoism have a strong connection?

A.Tea drinking is important to Taoist culture: firstly, the Taoists in the past very much use it as a remedy to cure some wounds or illnesses. Then they found it drinkable and keep sustained benefit for the health. More importantly, drinking tea can sends one to meditative manner, good for cultivation

Q. How important, therefore, is the practice of Tea in regard to “living long and living well”?

A.So Tea is important to living long and living well!!

Q. Do you have any special or favourite place to drink Tea?

A.My favourite place to have Tea is in WTWA tea pavilion which is under construction now

Q…..and do you change your Tea drinking habits with the seasons?

A.I change my tea drinking habits from time to time: in the Spring and Summer, I like drinking green tea; in the Autumn I prefer red tea; in Winter black tea. I have some other teas to alternative on a daily basis, for example; morning ginger tea with bit of salt sometimes, Huangjing tea or other herbal tea.
Well, personally, I also like drinking plain water, regarding it also a kind of tea!!

Q I want to thank you Master Gu for sharing your thoughts and responses, however is there any final advice you would like to share today?

A. Finally, there is one last important to drink – your own water..saliva!!

Wudang Taoist Wellness Academy is located in the heart of China’s Wudang Mountains a traditional home and spiritual location for Taoism.

Master Gu is the director of Wudang Taoist Culture Centre (WTCC) and headmaster of the Wudang Taoist Wellness Academy (WTWA). Among the martial artists in the Wudangshan area, he is one of the few who was born here, and perhaps the only one who can teach in fluent English. While most institutions focus primarily on movement teaching, Master Gu has been directing his academy to follow the Taoist Way: not only movement but also internal alchemy and cultural exploration.

His shīfu (fatherly teacher) is Grandmaster Zhong Qingwei or Zhong Yunlong.

Master Gu aims to spread the wisdom and wellness practices of Taoism, and to help all who wish to learn and explore deeper into the Taoist culture. He teaches primarily in the Wudang Mountains, but also teaches abroad when invited and now and more recently online courses upon Taoism, meditation, culture, Taiji and Qigong at the Wudang Taoist Wellness Academy.

Taoist Wellness, Tea & Medicine

The influence of Taoist culture on  poems about tea in Tang dynasty started from Li Bai (Wen & Guan 2007)

“This tea is pure in fragrance and mellow in taste, different from other teas. Thus, it restores youth and reverses decay, enhancing longevity. While in Jinling, I saw my nephew Zhongfu who showed me several tens of tea leaves, all curled and layered, shaped like hands, and bearing the name Immortal’s Palm tea.”

Around this time Taoist external alchemical practices involving pill-taking also infiltrated the creation of the poems about tea. The culture and practice of taking-in medicine for longevity is perhaps one of the first records where we start to see alchemy, medicine and tea practice coalesce into something definable as Tea Medicine.

Ideas around tea alongside observation of its effects on both well being and the micro-cosmic Taoist body perhaps allowed this emergence of tea practice within health as well as spiritual domains.

Taoist culture provides fertile cultural resources for Tea Medicine practice and its with this that I am please to have been able to affiliate with Master Gu in Wudang around the application of Taoist practices to live long and live well that are directly applicable and complimentary to Tea Medicine.

Master Gu’s Taoist Wellness Academy provides opportunity to explore and develop practices from a rich Taoist culture that can support both our Tea practice and Tea Medicine practice.

Tea Medicine crosses over both external and internal practices of Taoist cultivation of health and well being. We can apply tea as both external medicine to balance our health alongside applying it as internal medicine utilizing approaches that is encapsulated in Taoist Nei Jing such as Qigong or meditative forms and five element theory.

WANG YF, NIU YF. Study on Taoist culture and the innovation of tea culture of Laoshan [J]. Journal of Qingdao University of Science and Technology (Social Sciences). 2011;2.
WEN M, GUAN J. Taoist Culture and Poems about Tea in Tang Dynasty. Journal of Zhejiang Shuren University. 2007;4.


Tea Medicine as Classical Chinese Medicine

There is a well known saying:

“Drink water to quench thirst, drink alcohol to remove anguish and anxiety, and drink tea to recover from fatigue and refresh mind” 

This would suggest that tea holds the qualities of other tonic herbs such as ginseng or dang sheng. However when we look at materia medica from the classics of Chinese Medicine, tea does not feature until middle and late period texts. The Shennong Bencaojing  holds no reference to any Camellia species.

Does this mean that Tea Medicine is a later development of practice?

The answer to this question is a resounding “NO” , there are many texts and practices that have have been cultivated or edited to develop a systematized modern or contemporary Chinese Medicine. Much more there has been a systematized approach towards theory and practice to make it teachable. Liu Lihong (2020) touches on this in his latest treatise, in that it takes now 3-4 years to teach Chinese Medicine whereas in the past its has been a lifelong pursuit. Hence, Tea Medicine practice, has remained some what niche , like other schools of medicine precisely because it has confidently and silently remained resistant to institutional or systematized formal structuring. This doesn’t mean it isn’t teachable, however it confers that to learn it is to live it rather than know it without necessarily practicing it.

Tea perhaps didn’t feature in the Shennong Bencaojing , written between about 200 and 250 CE as it had already achieved a cultural value in the proceeding Han Dynasty and its medicinal value and practice had already begun to be obscured in more popular practice through the variety and practice of use and value of different tea contemporary to these times.

It is also possible that due to naming taboo principles, as suggested in Yoke (2007) alongside using the same name for various plants, that tea as a herb may have had an obscured identification in any documentary texts. For example a 12th Century text, the Xixi Congyu refers to a variety of tea noted for its ability to confer longevity called “wanshou longya“. In previous more historic texts this name has been used for different plant material, therefore we cannot assume to expect to see just one entry in the medical canon as “tea” or “茶” . In regard to the variety of tea material (i.e. Camellia species) and what we should expect, especially from a Tea Medicine tradition, is to see a variety of different types or varieties of tea being referred to through individualized names based on their qualities and health value. This somewhat makes it difficult to identify a systematized or ordered catalogue of its use through time.

The next question, therefore logically to ask is whether Tea Medicine remains outside classical Chinese theory?

The answer again is “NO”. In the Shennong Bencaojing classification of materia medica is split into “noble”, “middle” and “low” medicine. Noble medicine consists of herbs and material that are non-toxic but are tonifying and supportive to human health. Tea fits this classification, despite not appearing in this medical volume. Tea not only tonifies but the variety of types and processing of tea allows its application in addressing a full compliment imbalances that leads to disease according to Classical Chinese Medical theory.

The ‘Yin–Yang’ theory is an ancient Chinese philosophy that underlies the practice of Classical Chinese medicine. Although Yang-tonic herbs tend to boost body function possibly through enhancing the mitochondrial oxidative processes, the Yin property (i.e. antioxidant potential) of these herbs can also play a role in safeguarding mitochondrial ATP generation. Tea has been shown to enhance metabolism with anti-oxidative chemicals within its leaf material as well as stimulate and and encourage regeneration at a cellular level.

Similarly tea contains both chemicals that stimulate the sympathetic nervous system as well as the parasympathetic. It is the skillful application of tea based upon the knowledge of both type, processing and quality of the tea material that allows Tea Medicine to effectively operate both physically and metaphysically in health based on Classical Chinese Medicine Theory.

Kim MJ. Tea and Curing through Analysis of Yin-Yang Theory. Journal of Industrial Convergence. 2020;18(1):97-107.
Yoke HP. Explorations in Daoism: Medicine and alchemy in literature. Routledge; 2007 Mar 6.
Z, Zhang S, Huang L, Zhu X, Zhao Q, Zeng Y, Zhou D, Wang D, Kuga H, Kamiya A, Qu M. Altered resting-state brain activities in drug-naïve major depressive disorder assessed by fMRI: Associations with somatic symptoms defined by Yin-Yang theory of the traditional Chinese Medicine. Frontiers in psychiatry. 2018 May 15;9:195.

Reflections on Tea Medicine practice

Tea is perhaps a little late to the party of Classical Chinese Medicine and herbology (中藥學 zhōngyào xué) and is not one of the chief herbs in the “Ten Key Formula Families”. Despite legends of Shen-nong , it doesn’t have a star role in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (神農本草經), the classic of materia medica.

However, tea’s medicinal and tonic herb value has been somewhat overtaken by its cultural and social value without necessary any reflection on how it achieved its place in both human history and worldwide recognition. Behind the story of tea and even the legends is this fundamental principle of cause and effect and the value of tea in both treating and managing imbalance in the body or restoring health. Folklore does not document its knowledge in the same way as science and whilst there is legend it is mainly an oral tradition that is passed through generations.

Tea medicine is an example of this, but equally not resistant or opposed to classical medical inquiry and theory or more modern scientific scrutiny.

There remains a mind-set however that is resistant to the idea that one species of plant could hold so much potential or variance in its therapeutic value, yet there co-exists a recognition that the  same species of plant can provide such a variety of sensory and epicurean experience. I find this to be a mismatch as the same chemical and phenolic compounds in tea that give the variety of experience provide for the same variety or nuances of therapeutic value.

Perhaps one of the reasons of the poor acceptance of Tea Medicine as a practice is the failure of it to almost “self-certify”. We don’t have any written classical text of study, in fact perhaps the first classic text of tea could be cited as the text by Lu Yu (c. 760 CE) written during the Tang period of China. In this text there is very few references to the practice of Tea Medicine. In our current epoch, we feel the need of having some proof or certificate that accredits the value on things , whether its an artifact, artifice or cultural process. But now, more than anytime we should also recognize that not all proof denotes value and not all value has proof!

Equally and similarly, to the way Liu Lihong (2019) describes how Traditional Chinese Medicine has become devalued in practice due to a lack of understanding in its practice that is based on classical theory, I feel also the practice of Tea Medicine has not been valued due to failure of some to scrutinize with the same understanding available from the theory held within the classics, such as the Huangdi Neijing (黃帝內經).

I remember, in fact, it was my first experience of Tea Medicine with tea master and Taoist Master To in the early 1990’s that taught me the true understanding of Yin & Yang from the Huangdi Neijing. Master To was teaching me about tea but I had thought the tea was just an analogy to help me understand classical principles of Yin & Yang in respect to its application in health and Chinese medicine. It took me a long time to realize things were the other way round, as well as many years of staying with tea.

However, we all need reassurance of truth and value. When we are gifted gold and silver we look for a hallmark or assay, but unlike gold and silver true value rests in understanding and practice. A bar of gold resting in a bank only has monetary value, but when made into gold leaf and used to decorate Buddha statues or crafted into jewelry, its value can be expansive.

There have been some recent reassurance of the value of Tea Medicine from published research that I feel is worth sharing.

Tea Medicine efficacy rests on the key principle of modulating medicinal practice and values. Tea’s value as a tonic herb is associated often with its strong anti-oxidative compounds that are recognized as preventing cell damage through scavenging free-radicals. The anti-oxidative values of tea dried at different temperatures demonstrate differing levels of anti-oxidative properties (Afifah & Niwat 2020). Therefore the differing quality of a tea informed by different tea processes modulates its health effects adding meaning to the approaches undertaken with Tea Medicine which relies on classical Chinese theory of medicine.

Like other aspects of classical Chinese medicine herbology, Tea Medicine recognizes patterns and qualities related to Ying & Yang, Wuxing and Sheng Zhang Shou Cang and how such theory and understanding can be communicated or developed through the senses e.g. taste, smell & touch. Catechins, caffeine and theanine are just some of the important metabolites in tea leaves that play a role in in formation of taste and flavour of tea ( Gong et al 2020) but equally have well recognised pharmaceutical and medicinal function. Their quantities in tea leaves can be modulated by such things a sunshine as well as processing and soil qualities or rates of fertilizer or nutrition (Okemwa et al 2020). Hence different qualities of tea and processing will lead to different qualities of tea and its application in Tea Medicine.

Seasonal difference between the same tea material picked in Spring or Autumn harvests also confers to classical Chinese medical theory around the 5 elements (Wuxing) and Sheng Zhang Shou Cang which supports Tea Medicine practice and is exemplified in a recent study by Yu et al (2020) that showed the quality of black tea manufactured in the early Spring was better than that manufactured in the late Spring. The research demonstrated that different expressions of phenolic compounds expressed in the leaf material were the primary cause of this with most of these compounds such as catechins and gallates having significant pharmaceutical value. Therefore reassuring us of a practice that involves quality appraisal upon the 5 elements , embedded in Tea Medicine, that can direct a practitioner to exposing or identifying the tea’s medicinal value and use.

Much of modern research support for Tea Medicine practice is focused upon the pharmaceutical or biochemistry of a variety of tea. However we cannot ignore the value of the culture and rituals surrounding tea practice that also has its health benefits in both mindful practice and balancing rest and reflection with activity and study. This  itself following classic principles of Chinese medicine in the achievement or support of  balancing Yin and Yang.

Hence, Tea Medicine remains holistic and yet structured or targeted, but always flexible and responsive.

I continue to look forward to many future years of research in the field of tea and its associated impact on valuing the practice of Tea Medicine.

Afifah RA, Niwat C. Phenolic Contents and Antioxidant Activities of Various Infused Tea Liquids Made from Leaves of Green Tea (Camellia sinensis), Banaba (Lagestroemia speciosa) and Moringa (Moringa oleifera L.). Jurnal Teknologi Pengolahan Pertanian. 2020 Jul 5;2(1):14-9.
Gong AD, Lian SB, Wu NN, Zhou YJ, Zhao SQ, Zhang LM, Cheng L, Yuan HY. Integrated transcriptomics and metabolomics analysis of catechins, caffeine and theanine biosynthesis in tea plant (Camellia sinensis) over the course of seasons. BMC Plant Biology. 2020 Dec;20(1):1-4.
Lihong L. Classical Chinese Medicine. The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press; 2019 Apr 19.
Okemwa EK, Silvanuss KK. Effects of Different Fertilizer Rates on Total Polyphenols and Catechins of Selected Clones of Green Tea (Camellia sinensis L.[O] Kuntze). World. 2020 Jun 29;5(2):13-9.