Tea in the face of the common cold

Phase One:  I cannot get a cold 

I make a lot of bargains with the universe.

You know, the kind that goes I can’t get sick now because my absolutely must-do list is about a mile long but next month is looking good—until of course next month rolls around and the absolutely must-do list has not diminished.

This haggling with the unknown actually bought me a couple of virus-free years. My entire family and all my colleagues could be dropping around me but I kept at my list undeterred.

Til my luck ran out, of course.

Phase Two: I have a cold

Now I know people who gamely soldier on while sick—working and driving and making important decisions. And I know people who can use a nasty virus to good advantage—binge watching, reading, cruising the internet.

I am not one of those people. Nope.

But I CAN drink tea!

Phase Three: Hmmm, which tea?

Although scientists discuss and debate whether black or oolong or green or white tea has the most health benefits, all can agree that tea is good for us. Interestingly, my mother-in-law dislikes tea—because she associates it with being sick, which was the only time that she drank it when she was young.

But based on current research, tea IS a good choice to combat the symptoms of the common cold.

Tea won’t cure a virus, although one preliminary study suggested that the catechins of green tea may have an effect in preventing flu (1). However, a follow-up experiment showed inconclusive results (2), and studies are ongoing. But even if it won’t prevent or cure a virus, tea has plenty of flavonoids (plant metabolites), which have anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. Logically, then, it would seem that such properties would at least mitigate the effects of a cold.

In a review of tea’s anti-infectious activity, researchers state that “the broad-spectrum activity associated with tea polyphenols should be given proper attention as an alternative to pre-existing prophylactic and therapeutic measures” (3).

More broadly, hot beverages alone relieve some cold symptoms (4).

My Pick Today

Since it seems that any tea will have its benefits, I simply choose what appeals to me. And this time around, it turned out that I just wanted a strong black tea that had a bold and clean taste—no subtle nuances sought, just something strong that I could taste through congestion engl westand fogginess.

So it was English Westminster, one of my very first favorites that I discovered at TeaHaus. A simple and straightforward tea. While this tea holds up well to additions—and I have been known to lace it with raw honey from our beehives (and honey definitely has its own health benefits!)—I enjoyed it black this time around.

And gave up all thoughts of my absolutely must-do list. . . .

So what tea do you reach for when the common cold hits??

1. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 11(2011):15  
2. PLoS ONE 9.5 (2014)
3. Expert Review of Anti-infective Therapy 5.3(2007):497ff.
4. Rhinology 46(2008):271ff.


Assam Tea At Risk? Climate Change Threatens

I am seriously cold all the time.

All. The. Time.

My husband will attest to this. And tell you how I wear a sweater on all but the very hottest Michigan summer day. Which means that winters are particularly challenging. And that I reveled in last month’s record-breaking warm temps!

But Michigan is not supposed to be that warm in December!

Climate change is here. And it’s having very real effects on crops worldwide, including in Assam.

Planting Tea Plantations—But Not with Tea?

In an earlier post I wrote about NASA’s initiative that seeks to help farmers in the Assam region maximize irrigation efforts and the Tocklai Tea Research Institute’s ongoing studies to smartly use resources while sustaining tea production.

That all sounds very academic and science-y, but a recent article in the Economic Times drives home some very real ramifications of climate issues, with the Indian Tea Association calling for alternative crops to be grown on currently vacant land within tea plantations.

What? Not grow tea on the tea plantations?

Why Would They Do This?

With its tropical monsoon rainforest climate and production of lowland tea, Assam is particularly susceptible to temperature increases. However, new studies are showing that precipitation has a greater impact on tea than does temperature—and Assam has been experiencing changes in the monsoon as well as periods of drought. The tea industry’s viability, then, is intertwined with increasingly unpredictable rainfall.

Tea plantations are a long-term investment, with tea plants taking several years to mature and then producing for decades. Further, because tea production is done by hand and is not mechanized, many people are involved—around two million in Assam alone. Therefore, when the effects of climate change result in less tea, and/or lower-quality tea, the economy suffers. The economies of both Assam and India, as Assam produces 50% of India’s tea.

Predictions are dire:

empty teapot_low res“Broad-scale climate-landscape modelling indicates that tea yields in north-east India are expected to decline by up to 40 per cent by 2050. As yield is directly associated with revenue, changing climate is also likely to impact economic structures of those reliant on tea” (teaclimate.com).


What To Do?

The University of Southampton and the Tea Research Association have teamed up to study Assam’s environment, regional climate, and agricultural practices. Their aim is to learn how these factors can be handled to ensure the well-being of those who currently depend on the tea industry for their livelihoods. Or as the project puts it: “Determining the role of tea in a climate-smart landscape to facilitate sustainable, food-secure and climate-resilient livelihoods” (Teaclimate.com).

They are asking questions:

Are tea plants resilient in the face of a changing environment? Is tea the best crop in light of the vulnerability of the people involved in the tea industry? Is tea sustainable, and are there “best practice strategies [that can be transferred] to new-world commercial and smallholder tea ventures” (Teaclimate.com)?

Other researchers are using different but related tactics to  find solutions. Propagating tea plants by cloning is faster than conventional methods, so if drought tolerant strains could be identified, those could be selected. A team of scientists have done groundwork on deciphering the genetic linkage map of Indian tea and the drought tolerance locus. Eventually they hope to understand the genetics well enough to molecularly breed drought tolerant plants (Bali et al, 2015). 

Ultimately, the solution will probably be a combination of tactics: identifying those tea plants that are more drought resistant, using smarter techniques such as better-targeted irrigation, diversifying crops in the Assam region so that risk is spread out, among others.

And although Assam tea is beloved worldwide—and is certainly one of my own favorites—the goal must be first to ensure the sustainability of the people who live in Assam. Hopefully, Assam’s distinct tea will continue to be part of that solution.

Sources (for further reading, see in particular the informative Tea and Climate website):
—”Indian Tea Industry Faces Major Challenge due to Climate Change,” by Sutanuka Ghosal, Economic Times, December 23, 2015, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/50295609.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
—”Precipitation Key to Tea Yield: Study,” by Roopak Goswami, Telegraph, November 12, 2015, http://www.telegraphindia.com/1151112/jsp/northeast/story_52658.jsp#.Vov4eiQiWbK
—”Global Warming Changes the Future for Tea Leaves,” by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, June 4, 2015, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/global-warming-changes-the-future-for-tea-leaves/
—Tea and Climate, project funded by the UK-India Education Research Initiative, http://teaclimate.com
—”Construction of a Genetic Linkage Map and Mapping of Drought Tolerance Trait in Indian Beveragial Tea,” by Sapinder Bali et al., Molecular Breeding 35:112, May 2015.