Kukicha: Ya Gotta Love it! by Cynthia Briscoe

Ya Gotta Love It!  by Cynthia Briscoe

Have you heard the saying, “Love is in the eye of the beholder”? Perhaps this sentiment aptly applies to kukicha, aka twig tea. At first sight, twig tea appears to be just that, a pile of unappetizing, plain-Jane, stripped down, brown twigs. However, first appearances can be deceiving. Now, put on your ‘Ohsawa Magical Spectacles’ and examine the bigger view of these humble twigs. You too, will discover the beauty within.Did you know that when you drink tea, you are actuallly drinking camellia leaves? Below are two comparative photos of camellias. The flowers of camellia var: sinensis from which tea is made are not very flashy compared to many variations of camellia var: japonica that has been cultivated for its strikingly beautiful flowers.

George Ohsawa was a pretty smart guy to recommend kukicha as a daily beverage for macrobiotic practice. Partly, this judgment was historically based, but primarily the judgment was based on macrobiotic principles.

Historically, tea has been consumed in China for 5,000 thousand plus years. In the beginning, tea was consumed as a medicinal beverage. Tea consumption was brought to the forefront according to one legend, by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2737BC. At first it was recommended to drink tea instead of wine. In 600-800AD travelling monks introduced tea to Japan and Korea. Over these thousands of years, tea production and consumption grew into a fine art and is even celebrated in rituals such as the famous Japanese tea ceremony.

Variations in growing methods, harvesting, aging and processing developed to produce unique flavors, qualities and types of tea. The highest grade of green tea comes from pinching off of the first new buds and tender leaves showing after winter dormancy. Only the leaf bud tip with its two new leaves were taken. Originally, this tea was reserved for emperors. These outer tips represent the more yin part of the plant due to their peripheral location on the tea bush. (Peripheral location is considered more yin, or expanded energy expression.) Rapid growth is yet another yin quality. These new buds and leaves are highest in vitamin C and caffeine, both of which are more yin quality components.

Subsequent leaves and flushes of growth are harvested, processed and sold. Tea farmers often could not afford to lose profit by consuming valuable tea leaves for themselves, so they began trimming the small branches after the leaves had been harvested and made tea for their personal use from the twigs.  They steamed, dried, aged and roasted the twigs. Hence, twig tea, or kukicha, was nicknamed “peasant tea” and generally snubbed as a poor-man’s tea.

Yet this was the tea George Ohsawa chose as a healthy, daily beverage for macrobiotic consumption. Why did he choose kukicha over the myriad other teas available? Let’s put on our ‘magical spectacles’ and let’s look at twig tea from a macrobiotic point of view.

Twig tea is more balanced in terms of yin and yang because twigs are less yin than leaves. Ohsawa observed that daily consumption of concentrated yin could be harmful to health. Kukicha is also known as ‘three year tea’. This means that traditionally, the twig trimmings are from three-year growth on the tea bush. This older growth also reduces caffeine in the twigs. The negligible amount of caffeine in the twigs is further reduced by slow roasting. Also, the twigs are harvested during the fall when there is less caffeine present in the above ground plant. Therefore, twig tea can be consumed any time of day, even before bedtime, or given to young children. If infants need hydration beyond mother’s milk, they may be given diluted, very light twig tea.

Twigs contain less tannin than the leaves. Some tannin, which is astringent, can be beneficial, but the high amounts tannins in regular teas can be drying and too harsh for those with a sensitive stomach.

In the old style of growing, tea bushes were shaded for 21 days prior to harvest. This coaxed the tea bushes to increase chlorophyll production by reducing leaf photosynthesis. Lack of photosynthesis increases the production of the amino acid theanine, a component that induces relaxation and at the same time improves cognitive focus. Theanine can also repair liver damage, treat anxiety, high blood pressure and may be useful for preventing Alzheimer’s. Tea is the only natural, plant source of theanine and is highly water-soluble.

Twig tea offers alkalizing properties as well, due to abundant minerals contained within the twigs. The minerals make drinking kukicha alkalizing with all the alkaline health benefits. Here is list of minerals in twig tea:

  •  calcium                           
  •  magnesium
  •  potassium
  •  phosphorus
  •  iron
  •  zinc
  •  selenium
  • copper
  • fluorine
  • manganese

Compare the chart of minerals contained in our bones with the mineral content of twig tea. No wonder drinking kukicha builds healthy bone tissue.

Our bodies contain 2% calcium by weight!  Calcium is the most abundant mineral in kukicha. Different sources say that kukicha contains 6-13 times more calcium than cow’s milk. This plant-based calcium is not accompanied by the acidifying lactose, fat, animal protein and bovine hormones of milk. So kukicha actually builds healthy bones rather than contributing to osteoporosis as is happening through the consumption of cow’s milk, as reported in current research.

Also aligned with healthy bone tissue and tooth enamel are the trace amounts of naturally occurring fluorine in twig tea. Flourine and calcium work hand-in-hand to build the hard, smooth, outer surfaces of bones and tooth enamel that are resistant to acid. Thus drinking kukicha helps prevent dental caries.

What more could there be to love about kukicha?

Put all these parts together and kukicha consumption has the following additional health benefits:

  • Aids digestion and helps prevent gastric ulcers.
  • Slows aging.
  • Improves skin health – acne, psoriasis, skin cancer, sun damage.
  • Soothes the nervous system and enhances brain function.
  • Prevention of certain types of cancer.
  • Assists weight loss and weight management.
  • Helps the liver and kidneys detox and eliminate waste.
  • Lowers blood pressure, hypertension
  • Heart health.
  • Lowers cholesterol.
  • Contains 2 ½ times more vitamin C than oranges.

     Kukicha heals the skin, but the true beauty of twig tea’s healing power is far more than just skin deep. Kukicha tea as part of a macrobiotic diet is a winning combination.

Do you love it yet?

David’s note:  Some people have reported kukicha tea to be too strong, having a coffee-like stimulating effect, and also a drying effect. My observation has been that some of these individuals were making their kukicha tea way too concentrated. By making the tea lighter, more diluted, they were then able to avoid the reported effects.

How to Make Kukicha Tea

1 level Tbsp. twigs
1 quart spring water or filtered water

1. Add the twigs to cold water in a pot or kettle.
2. Slowly bring the water to a steam, but do not boil. The surface of the water will emit steam, but there is no bubbling or boiling movement. Ideal temperature is about 180°F. If the twigs are boiled, the tea tastes bitter.
3. Continue cooking over low heat for 15-20 minutes. The longer cooking gives the twigs time to release their calcium and minerals. Most recipes say to simply steep for 3-4 minutes. However, this is not enough time to release the minerals.
4.  Strain and drink hot, warm or room temperature. During hot summer months, the tea may be taken lightly chilled. Usually a cup of twig tea is recommended after a meal to aid digestion. This tea may be consumed any time of day.
5.  Save the twigs. They may be re-used up to four times. If the tea becomes too weak, simply add a few more twigs to the pot. After the twigs are spent, discard the twigs in your garden or compost.

Kukicha also comes in tea bags, which are convenient for travel or when outside the home. The loose twigs brewed at home are best though, because placing a tea bag in hot water cannot bring out the same mineral content as when preparing the loose twigs as above.

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