One of the most studied plants by the scientific community is the tea plant, or Camellia sinensis L., a perennial plant that is said to have originated in Yunnan, China . The leaves are usually consumed as beverage through infusion in hot water although the leaves can also be infused in very cold water for longer period of time.
Tea is said to be the master of chemical diversity. It has potent secondary metabolites called polyphenols.
Metabolites are the small molecules produced as end-products of metabolism. There are 2 main types of metabolites: Primary metabolites which are responsible for growth, reproduction and development of the living thing.. In the absence of primary metabolites, the living thing could die.
The secondary metabolites are the molecules responsible for the protection of the plants against predators. Polyphenols in general are compounds responsible for protecting the plants against damaging sunlight radiation and in fighting off disease-causing organisms. Edible (dietary) polyphenols are responsible for the bitterness, astringency, color, flavor, odor of the plant and its derivatives.
Recent studies suggest that long term consumption of food rich in polyphenols such as teas can contribute to preventing or delaying the onset of chronic diseases.
So, what makes up tea? About 30,000 polyphenols that can help heal our body and calm our minds.
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Plants do not want to be eaten. Like all living things, they also have their defense mechanism that ensures their species’ development and perpetuation. Unlike animals, plants cannot run away from their predators. They just stand bravely still and let chemistry protect them.
Their defenses are in the form of natural pesticide and toxin compounds that ward off vegetarian pests. These abilities of the plants to defend themselves despite their inability to move, made them to be one of the most successful living organisms on earth.
Sometimes these plants compounds can be very toxic, like the ones present in hemlock poison which was used in Ancient Greece to kill prisoners, Socrates was sentenced to death by drinking this plant extract.
There are also plant compounds that are non toxic, but very bitter, sour, or sappy, which help the plant ward off insects and animals. These are the plants that we call “edible”, not necessarily “palatable”. It can be consumed by humans without causing immediate harm to the consumer. In fact, some of the compounds present in plants can be helpful to humans not only for nutrition, but also to heal various human sicknesses.
In China, there are more than 16,000 ancient cultivars of flora and fauna that are still being used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
With the advancement in science, people learned to cultivate plants by removing or reducing the compounds that are responsible for their unpleasant taste. It resulted to sapid fruits and vegetable that we know today.
Science experts are now able to observe the bioactivity and bioavailability of phytochemicals and how these plant compounds can help in the preventing, managing and delaying human health disorders. The benefits of white tea are attributed to catechins and other active compounds present in the leaves.
PLANT IS ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL LIVINGS THINGS TODAY. Because of the protective chemical that they possess, they were able to continue the perpetuation of their species.
Some of the most ancient tea trees in China are more than 3000 years old.
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