This essay orginally appears in the September/October issue of TEA Magazine
We are not alone.
Human life is wholly dependent on the plant life of the Earth. Without plants there would be no oxygen and no food, and no earth either. These fellow passengers on this fragile planet are essential for our very existence, and some plants are not only allies but friends. Certain wise plants have befriended mankind and, if kindly entreated and brought within, can guide us deep into the blazing quiet of our own being. Silently and mysteriously, they can heal our bodies and lift up our hearts, working sometimes through sheer beauty, for Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these. Some soothe, some exhilarate and some just make it all better, like Peter Rabbit’s chamomile. We need not be herbalists to feel loved and blessed and kissed by Spirit every time we meet a plant friend on our way—but we must not call it tea.
Tea is the name of the plant Camellia sinensis, of the plucked and dried leaf it yields, and of the infusion made from this leaf – and none other. Other plants produce roots, barks, berries, leaves, tonics, decoctions and tisanes in profusion but, properly speaking, none should be called tea, no matter how delicious or reviving. Let us remember Joyce’s “When I makes tea I makes tea as old mother Grogan said and when I makes water I makes water.”
Tea is tea.
An herbal infusion is something else entirely—tisane is my favorite term. The tea plant is a “master herb” like ginseng or marijuana with a great many physical functions and benefits including a mild sort of intoxication. Tea is a gracious hostess to sisters like jasmine or rose and finds few plants unwelcome company, especially the aromatic ones. In earlier times when food, medicine and botanicals were not separate categories, aromatic herbs were especially prized since scent is the pathway to the deepest levels of our subconscious.
In the moment between breathing in and breathing out we can discover the mysteries of God’s gardens within us no less than outside. Think of the thousands of scents hidden in the tens of thousands of breaths you draw daily. Webster’s Dictionary simply but profoundly defines “breathe” as “be alive.” Our plant friends offer their lives and their all—leaves, petals, roots, bark and fruit—for relief from hunger, malaise and injury. Their essences can heighten wisdom, sharpen focus, bring joy and sunshine to the soul and re-awaken sensuality in the heart. They help us learn to love ourselves, our lives and one another.