07 Jun

It took me many years to appreciate the connection between Camellias and tea.


When my children were small an ideal afternoon trip was to the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park. It also impressed my mother-in-law even if she considered me an irresponsible mother as three,explorative dear little children ran up the tiny streams in their Wellington boots, played hide and seek under bushes, climbed precariously on cut down trees and expended enough energy to be awarded with an ice-cream that I think grandma was more grateful for than them. Visits can be all the year around in fact as soon as the snowdrops appear, a welcome assurance that the brighter days of spring are on their way. Camellias, magnolias, as well as daffodils and bluebells are soon to follow.

From late April, the mind blowing beautiful display azaleas and rhododendrons storm into flower reaching their peak in May.
– See more at:

Strangely it was the dramatic colourful splendour of azaleas and rhododendrons that drew my attention to the Camellias as they heralded the onset of this display.
I was soon to learn that the first recorded camellia in this country was grown by Lord Petre at Thorndon Hall in Essex in the 1730s, and we know it was thriving and flowering by 1745.
The first named varieties to attract public interest were C. japonica ‘Alba Plena’ and ‘Variegata’, both of which were brought to England in 1792 on an East India Company ship.
Although many gardens planted Camellias it was probably not until the 1990’s that they were planted in Richmond Park.

Many years later I was fortunate enough to take a Medical trip to Kerala,South India not only to have lectures in Western Medicine but also Ayurvedic medicine (also called Ayurveda) which is one of the world’s oldest medical systems. It originated in India more than 3,000 years ago and remains one of the country’s traditional health care systems. Its concepts about health and disease promote the use of herbal compounds, special diets, and other unique health practices.
TeaDuring this trip I visited the TaTa tea plantation and the picture on the packet of PG tips came alive. These acres of plants were Camellia senensis Tearelated to those plants I had admired in The Isabella Plantation and the Asian lady on the packet represented a workforce of women who delicately plucked those tender leaves to be dried and fermented to make tea.
As doctors because they assumed we could be trusted not to touch the exposed machinery we were privileged to be shown around the factory. I certainly hope health and safety standards have now improved. During this visit I was made aware of the chemical contents of tea
which contains xanthine derivatives such as caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine, and the glutamide derivative theanine. These substances have well-known stimulant properties, and have also been reported to have beneficial effects on memory and on the immune system. Tea also contains many nutritional components, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, fluoride, and potassium.
This made me appreciate why tea breaks were introduced in factories in order to calm the workers with theanine at the same time stimulating them with caffeine. Tea is thought to differ from coffee in that coffee simply stimulates without the calming effect and it was found that workers drinking tea carried on for long rather than in a short, sharp spurt. It also made sense of something I have heard on countless occasions when breaking bad news or after a sad or significant event, “shall I make a cup of tea?”
Before soldiers departed on a mission they would often have “a mug of tea” no doubt to calm them before setting off.
In another context when I worked with miners who had chronic chest problems they often told me how they couldn’t get going in the morning before they had their first cup of tea ” I like it strong, doctor so that the spoon stands up in it!” What they were really saying was they wanted a good dose of theophylline ( a bronchodilator) to improve their breathing. Nowadays, there is appropriate medication in the form of inhalers but these were not available.

Caffeine has been the most popular medical subject for people to read about in 2014 especially with regards to anti-ageing.
Now, new research suggests that a dose of caffeine after a learning session may help to boost long-term memory. This is according to a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
This is my introduction to the fascination subject of tea!


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