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Camellia sinensis.

This is the scientific name for the tea plant. It is native to south east Asia which explains why China was the birthplace of the tea industry. Did you know that all types of tea come from this plant? The differences come from the fact that there are two varieties, the time of picking and the method of processing. Green tea is the least processed, in fact it is not really processed, thus preserving the natural compounds that are reputed to do you good.

But what good can drinking tea do for you? Depending on the type, research indicates that in certain cases it can assist your body to heal itself or stay healthy:

- Digestion

- Anti-bacterial action

- Slimming

- Cancer prevention

- Heart (blood vessel suppleness and cholesterol levels)

- help keep strokes at bay

- Tooth care

- Longevity/anti-aging

- Menopause symptoms

- Menstrual cramps

But the research on humans is not widespread and utterly conclusive. However, pure, organic loose teas taste good whether they do you good or not.

OK, back to Camellia.

It is a small shrub which has small white fragrant blossom during late winter and the spring. In warmer climes is grown outdoors as an ornamental garden plant - the leaves are a bright green and often have a hairy underside making the plant tactile as well as a visual ornamental. The fruits are a dull brown-green. Left wild, it grows to a tree standing just less than 20m in height so to grow it as an ornamental will normally require pruning. Propagation is normally by cutting as it is notoriously hard to raise from seed. The reason for that is that if the seeds are dried, viability is reduced - they need to be planted fresh whilst they are still moist. However, if the seeds are stored in moist conditions at a temperature a little above freezing, they can remain viable for a year or more. It prefers a slightly acidic well drained sandy soil. Chinese tea is produced from the hardier variety Camellia sinensis var. sinensis which is hardy to about -5 degrees C. The leaves are more delicate than its Indian counterpart Camellia sinensis var. assamica.

In cooler climates such as Northern Europe, the plant can be grown in a greenhouse. The ideal climate will have warm wet summers and moderately cold but dry winters. If you have an alkaline soil, it Camellia sinensis grows well in a container so no problem there. When planting an established bush, for example one bought from a garden centre, add plenty of organic material to the hole, well rotted compost or leaf mould is perfect. Do not plant it too deeply; the base of the stem should be a little higher (around a couple of centimetres) than the surrounding soil. Mulching with bark or whatever will help the plant to establish by retaining moisture and minimising freeze-thaw during the winter. A newly planted camellia sinensis should be watered weekly, unless there has been a lot of rain. During the first winter, water during dry spells if the weather is mild and the ground is un-frozen. There is little need to feed the plant, if you do, a light application of an acidic fertiliser can be made in early spring. Pruning is done to shape, control the height and to remove dead or leggy branches. If you need to prune heavily, do it in early spring before the new growth appears.

For growing at home, it is best to spend money on an established plant; it can take many years for a new plant to reach maturity and begin to flower. If you are not growing it for purely ornamental purposes, you can pick the young leaves and shoots and dry them in different ways to make your very own green or oolong tea. To make oolong, the initial drying needs to be in the sun, for green tea the initial drying needs to be in the shade. Oolongs are usually rolled into small balls. That breaks the cells and allows some fermentation to occur, which gives the characteristic oolong flavour. Harvesting your Camellia can take place throughout the growing season. In the tea industry, the harvests are referred to as 'flushes', early spring is the time of the first flush harvest, late spring and early summer the second flush and late summer into the autumn is the final flush.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for entertainment only; it is not a medical guide. If you suffer from any of the medical conditions mentioned you should consult your GP for advice specific to your own personal situation. Likewise, the care of your tea plant is your responsibility. Please ensure that you double check our information and consult the grower from whom you purchase your tea tree. We cannot accept any liability for the health of your plant; there are too many variables that are beyond our control. Should you decide to make your own tea from your plant, we strongly recommend that you consult a professional with detailed knowledge in order to avoid problems.

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