Botanical name: Camillia sinensis
Common name: Tea leaf
Literal name translation: tea leaf
Family: Theaceae, tea family
Part used in Chinese medicine: leaf
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Clears heat, drains dampness downward
Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Camillia sinensis; 06/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 2: Camillia sinensis; 08/2008; suthor C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 3: Camellia sinesis, Hangzhou (Zhejiang, China), Longjing (Dragon Well Tea); 11/2007; author Kuebi; permission under GFDL
The leaves of Camellia sinensis are well known as to tea drinkers, but the plant is rarely cultivated ornamentally as the flowers are quite small and inconspicuous. There is some disagreement as to the origin of the plant but it appears to be from the region extending from Assam to Yunnan. The Chinese were the first to use and cultivate the leaf though drinking tea was not widespread among all classes of people until the 6th or 7th centuries. The leaves are listed in the Jiuhuang Bencao as a food for times of famine.
Tea was first introduced to the West from Fujian where the word tea was pronounced “tay”. From this, “tea” became the name adopted in English and several other European languages.
The tea plant grows only in warm climates where the temperatures do not fall below 40 degrees F, and is hardy in USDA zones 7 to 9. The plant can be grown as a shrub or tree, reaching heights of 3-17 feet and having glossy evergreen leaves. It is usually kept below 2 feet high by pruning, in order to make harvesting the leaves easier. Scented 2-inch white blooms with large yellow stamens appear in late summer and early fall.
Growing and Propagation
The plant does best grown in full sun to partial shade, in soil that is consistently moist and rich in organic matter, with good drainage. The soil should not be allowed to dry out. Propagation is by seeds that are soaked in warm water for 24 hours prior to planting so that the outer casing can be removed. Germination takes 1-3 months at temperatures of 71-75 degrees F.
Harvesting and Preparation
Young shoots and leaves are harvested every 5 days, then left to air dry for 4-18 hours. For Chinese green tea, the leaves are steamed or heated then rolled and dried.