Camellia sinensis L O Ktze

[After Kamel, 17th century Jesuit and botanist and from Latin, sinensis = from China]

Synonymy: Thea sinensis L., Thea cochinchinensis Lour., Thea chinensis Sims

Common names: Tea; the (French); letpet (Burmese); ming (Chinese); caolo (Vietnamese); cha (Portuguese); teylai (Tamil).

Physical description: It is a shrub native to Asia and has been cultivated for ages in China and Japan. The bark is dark grey and the stems glabrous and terete. Leaves:simple, spiral and without stipules. The petiole is 4 mm-7 mm x 4 mm, channeled above, hairy and rugose. The blade is elliptic, rigid, 11 cm x 5 cm-12.5 cm x 5 cm. The margin is recurved and serrulate, and the blade shows 9-11 pairs of secondary nerves. The flowers are showy and axillary. The calyx consists of 5 sepals which are round, hard, 4mm-5mm in diameter, and finely ciliate. The corolla consists of 5 thin petals which are white, obovate, 1 cmx 1.2 cm, and somewhat pubescent beneath.The stamens are numerous and showy. The ovary is villous and develops 3 glabrous styles connected beyond the middle. The fruits are capsular, 3-lobed or irregularly shaped, glossy and green at first, dehiscent, and approximately 3cm-4cm in diameter. The seeds are smooth, brownish, globose and of 1.8 cm in diameter (Fig. 90).

Tea spread to Europe during the 17th century. In Occident, the most popular form of tea is black tea, prepared by drying, rolling and crushing fresh young leaves kept in a damp area to promote oxidation. Green teas are non-oxidized and are enjoyed in the Orient.

Fig. 90. Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze.

Pharmaceutical potential: The tonic property of Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze is mediated by caffeine, a purine alkaloid, which stimulates the cerebral cortex and has inotropic positive, relaxes the vessels and promote urination. A growing body of evidence indicates that flavans of Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze are of possible therapeutic interest.

Chemotherapeutic properties: One such compound is (-)-epigallocatechin-3-O-gallate abrogates the survival of xenograft tumors (Sintippour MR et a/., 2001). Catechins of tea are bactericidal towards Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus which are responsible for dental caries (Hamilton-Miller JMT et a/., 2001).

Anti-oxidant properties: Note also that the relative risk of incident myocardial infarction is lower in tea-drinkers (Geleijnse JM et a/., 2002) and tea lowers cholesterolaemia in animal models (Bursill C et a/., 2001). Black tea has antiinflammatory properties (Chaudhuri AK et a/., 2005).

Uses: In Asia, an infusion of the leaves is used to make a drink (tea) to invigorate the mind and the heart, stop spasms and dysentery, treat fever cough, and nervous disorders, and to promote urination and digestion. In Europe, tea has been listed in the 1949 edition of the British Pharmaceutical Codex and is found in the 10th edition of the French Pharmacopoeia. Stuart reports the Pen Ts'ao Kang Mu as "tea clears the voice, gives brilliancy to the eyes, invigorates the constitution, improves the mental faculties, opens up the avenues of the body, promotes digestion, removes flatulence, and regulates the body temperature". (Stuart GA, 1911).

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