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Traditional Herbal Teas in Southern China

Traditional herbal tea container

Guangdong is a province in southern China located in a sub-tropical zone. The high temperatures and humidity can cause bacterial and fungal growth, meaning that people tend to become dehydrated with a tendency to suffer from heat stroke, skin rashes, diarrhea and infectious diseases. Local residents prepare various refreshing drinks to cope with the rigors of their environment.

From a TCM understanding, hot and wet weather makes it easy for exogenous heat and dampness evils to attack the body. These two important pathogens combine to form damp-heat evils which consume the qi (vital energy), impair body fluids and cause a series of health problems. When contacting damp-heat evils, individuals will present fever, irritability, thirst, excessive secretions, limb heaviness, chest tightness, nausea and diarrhea generally. When these evils attack different parts the body, they cause specific syndromes. For example:
on the skin, they cause eczema, acne and other raised rashes;
localized swelling and pain in the joints and tendons;
gastric and abdominal distention, poor appetite, loose stools and urinary difficulty when the spleen and stomach are affected;
rib pain, bitter taste in the mouth, lack of appetite, blurred version, jaundice, or alternating fevers and chills if the liver and gall-bladder are affected;
urinary frequency, urinary difficulty, scanty, turbid and dark yellow urine when these evils attack the bladder;
in the large intestine, these evils cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, mucus bloody stools, and burning sensation in the anus.

Herbal tea shop

Herbal beverages are an ideal way to prevent the above conditions as they are made for clearing heat and dampness, replenishing qi, supplying fluid, nourishing yin and checking yang. These beverages are referred as "cooling teas" because of their bitter flavor, dark brown color and the cool or cold properties of their ingredients.

Their healing properties are exerted in the following ways:

1.  Clears heat and promotes perspiration: this helps in the alleviation of colds and flu, upper respiratory inflammations, dysentery, and signal symptoms of some infectious diseases.
2.  Clears heat and cools the blood: this can lower blood pressure and arrest bleeding.
3.  Clears heat and resolves dampness: this helps in the treatment of digestive problems like stomach upsets, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hepatitis and gall bladder infections.
4.  Clears heat and promotes urination: this helps in the treatment of urinary tract infections.
5.  Clears heat and aids detoxification: this helps in the treatment of tonsillitis, sore throat, mumps and skin diseases.

People in Southern China have been drinking "cooling tea" for over two centuries. In addition to the common heat - clearing herbs, people like to use local ingredients, and brew according to their own preferences. At first, people brought the herbal ingredients back home and cooked them themselves; gradually, herbal shops began to provide ready-made forms for convenience. In the early days, these drinks were effective and affordable remedies for ordinary people to treat and prevent disease.

Due to their general healing benefits, herbalists use many ingredients to prepare their herbal teas. A typical tea called "Twenty-four Flavor Tea" is claimed to have over 20 kinds of herbal ingredients. There are no standard prescriptions, and often herbal shops keep their recipes secret. Recipes may alter ingredients due to the particular time of year.

Today, these traditional teas still remain popular folk remedies in southern China. These natural fresh drinks are not only able to protect against climatic influences, but also aim at relieving aliments caused by stressful urban lifestyles. Below are common teas found in Hong Kong.

Dampness Expelling Tea ( h )

The main ingredients include Indian bread, waterplantian rhizome, white mulberry root-bark, fresh ginger and tangerine peel. This beverage induces urination to facilitate dampness and the elimination of toxins. It can relieve fatigue, head and limb heaviness, promote appetite and manage body weight.

Silk cotton flower

Five Flowers Tea ( )

The main floral ingredients are honeysuckle, chrysanthemum, silk cotton, Plumeria rubra and Pueraria lobata. This beverage can clear heat and expel dampness and anti-inflammation, which helps to alleviate symptoms like fatigue, sore throat, indigestion, poor appetite, insomnia and urinary difficulty.

Canton Love-pes Vine Tea ( )

Canton Love-pes vine (herba abri) can remove toxic heat, induce urination, enhance liver functioning and remove stasis. This beverage helps to relieve fatigue, blurred version, low spirits, gastric distension and pain; it is also drunk to prevent hepatitis and urinary stones.

Chrysanthemum Tea ( ȵS / )

Chrysanthemum is the main ingredient in this beverage; it can clear toxic heat and sharpen the eyesight. It is suitable for individuals who always feel thirsty and who have a bitter taste in the mouth, or who have a sore throat, hoarseness, dark yellowish urine or headache due to a wind attack the head region.

Selfheal Spike

Selfheal Spike Tea ( L\ )

Selfheal Spike is an ingredient used to clear liver fire. Other herbs used in this beverage may include Fructus Momordicae, liquorice and pagoda tree flower. It is usually drunk to prevent hepatitis and heat stroke in summer; it also relieves symptoms like crusty lips, hoarseness, blood shoot eyes, excessive secretion in the eyes, irritability, constipation, headache and bone aching.

Hemp Seed Tea ( ¤ )

Hemp seed is used to lubricate the intestines and promote movement of the bowels. This beverage is made for individuals with constipation and excessive sweating.

Sugar cane and Lalang grass rhizome

Sugar Cane and Lalang Grass Rhizoma Tea ( ˽Tڤ )

Sugar cane aids lubrication and promote body fluid production, Lalang grass rhizome cools the blood and clears away heat by inducing urination. This beverage helps to replenish body fluids and clears dryness and heat symptoms such as thirst, mouth sores, dry throat, bad breath, crusty lips, nasal bleeding and scanty urine.

Plum Soup ( ı )

The main ingredients in this soup are smoked plum, hawthorn and liquorice. This is a sour liquid that helps to promote the appetite and assist in digestion. It can also enhance liver function and raise the spirits.

Fermented soybean is a common ingredient for the common cold in TCM

Flu Tea ( P_ )

Many ingredients can be used in this tea such as the lophatherum herb, fermented soybean, isatis root, loquat leaf, honeysuckle, Fructus Forsythiae, Herba Schizonepetae, basket fern and Houttuynia, which makes it taste very bitter. It is recommended when you have early symptoms of cold or flu such as heaviness in the forehead, fatigue, general weakness and slightly runny nose.

Twenty-four Flavors Tea ( ܥ| )

Over 20 kinds of herbs are used in this tea with many of them only grown in southern China. This is a very bitter tea used for excessive fire in the body and is helpful to many aliments. The brew helps to alleviate sore throat, high fever, common cold and flu, inflammations, hypertension and skin problems.

Generally, the drinks provided by herbal shops may target more specific conditions, as each of the shops has its own unique formulation for various types of tea. It should be noted that these cooling teas are only indicated for individuals who have excessive fire or heat. These individuals always feel hot, have a dry mouth, prefer cold drinks when thirsty; they also may have a reddish complexion, are easily annoyed, and tend to suffer from insomnia or acne. Symptoms also present may include scanty yellowish urine and hard stools. The elderly, children or menstruating women or others suffering from some weakness should not drink these preparations. The cooling properties can cause side effects like profuse sweating and urination, dizziness, chest oppression, and even palpitation and syncope.