Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tea: From the Kitchen Cupboard to the Medicine Cabinet

Should tea be a required item in our first aid kit? Tea does have many known health benefits. Lately with the craze over H1N1 influenza, I asked myself, could tea help prevent flu or colds; or at least help ease the symptoms? Worried about getting H1N1 myself, I desperately scrambled for serious answers to the question.

Upon further research I found there is a whole body of study; called Tea Therapy in China. I consulted books on the subject, searching for flu treatment and found:
Tea as a result of its many components can be used to treat colds and flu. Caffeine and theanine in tea have a mild diuretic effect and help detoxify the body. Tea polyphenols have bacteriostatic and disinfectant properties. Catechins aid in curing migraines and headaches. Vitamin C boosts immunity and is an anti-infective agent. So there are many good reasons to keep drinking tea, especially during this cold and flu season.

In China, I should point out medical practice and hospitals unlike in North America, place particular emphasis on herbal remedies (including tea) alongside western pharmacological medicines. In Fuzhou’s Provincial Hospital 省里医院 for example, there is a western pharmacy and a separate Chinese medicine pharmacy located on the main floor of the hospital. And whenever I get sick in China, doctors sometimes prescribe Chinese herbal medicine over western medicine, which seems to be quite effective.

Can tea really aid in curing colds and flu or any ailment? Believe what you want. I have to admit, I drink tea regularly, but I still get colds and flu (mostly from close contact with infected people: darn those co-workers!)

The Government of Canada, being quite thoughtful folk, printed a colorful booklet titled Your H1N1 Preparedness Guide. The Government tells me to keep tea on hand should I get sick. Good advice.

They also say I should stay home until all symptoms are gone. Ok I confess, I used to go to work with a cold in stealth mode. In China, I used to take 白加黑 cold medicine. Cleared up all symptoms of the cold, and I felt totally normal (but still was infective to everyone else).

Of course, infections are serious. So serious, companies are stepping up efforts to prevent infection in a variety of settings; such as healthcare-associated infection. Everyone needs to do their part in reducing transmission and infection to others.

Times have changed. Now, we can’t seem to live without hand sanitizer. Even my local town police, being so friendly, during roadside spot checks give away a free bottle of spray hand sanitizer to each driver.

Yes, I got my H1N1 shot at the local vaccination clinic; which was more like a community festival than a clinic. Everyone showed up as soon as it was open; chatting it up with the nurses joking and laughing with each other; and just taking up so much time. People actually have things to do (like me); not try to stall and deliberately go to work late – those slackers! I probably knew about half the people at the vaccination clinic. My nurse was actually my cousin’s wife. She swabbed my arm with alcohol; and then, I never felt a thing! I had to ask her: “Did you inject me?” She said: “Yeah”. Lucky me. The guy at a neighboring station screamed out: “Ouch!”

Ok, so I got the H1N1 vaccination – finally! I thought I would have to wait until the end of December or maybe never to get it; exactly why the H1N1 Guide was printed: in case we never get vaccinated on time! But that doesn’t protect me or anyone from seasonal flu or colds.

What to do when you get a cough from a cold? Maybe we should look in our medicine cabinet for that box of tea we store in there.

Chinese Cough and Cold Remedy
Here’s a recipe using tea as a simple home cough remedy; which I find does ease my cough somewhat:

2 tea bags (black tea – any brand)
1 pear (preferably Chinese pear, or Fuyu pear, but any pear will do)
1 liter of water (or less)
Sugar (white or brown) to taste

In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil.
Peel and core the pear. Slice in half, lengthwise.
Add pear and tea bags to boiling water. Boil for 5 minutes or so.
Add sugar to sweeten.
Ladle the tea into a cup and drink to ease your cough. You may eat the pear when finished drinking tea.

Tea does have many health benefits. But it is not a panacea. Tea should perhaps best be consumed for its relaxing effect on the mind and body – and that’s it. If, in drinking tea, there are some anti-aging, anti-stress, cancer-preventative, heart disease preventative properties, consider that a bonus. Just enjoy tea for what it is, a relaxing, stimulating, and warming cup for the soul. Leave medicine and serious health matters to medical professionals. But don’t forget to stock your cupboard with tea.


  1. In China, I used to take 白加黑 cold medicine. Cleared up all symptoms of the cold, and I felt totally normal (but still was infective to everyone else).

    Uh, how do you manage to shed virus on your victims without showing symptoms? Does it take ninja training?

  2. "Should tea be a required item in our first aid kit?"

    The Koreans that reside around the famed tea producing area, Jiri San, quite literally keep tea in their first aid kits.

    Check out this post on MattCha's Blog on how they use this diverse plant to heal burns and cuts:


  3. Anonymous9:14 AM

    Bacteriostasis. What a nice word. I'm depending totally on tea to prevent colds and flu for me. I don't believe in flu shots after learning about their dangers. Some vaccines are indispensible, flu shots aren't good. I haven't gotten a cold or flu this year because I rely on the tea when I'm out around people.

  4. Thanks to Niisonge for a fine post. Readers should of course note our standard medical disclaimer [on the right-hand side of the blog page].