Garden Plants

Camellia: tea from your garden

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I was casually scrolling on Twitter the other day, seeing all the wonderful ways people are keeping creative and motivated during the lockdown, when I came across a tweet by Art by Lena. In it, she showed the Camellia growing at the back of her garden. I looked up at the Camellia at the back of my own garden and thought, “that would make a great post for this week!” Our Camellia (Camellia japonica) is a memorial plant; after my Grandad died, my parents took a cutting from the Camellia he grew in his garden, to grow in ours.

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Camellias are beautiful, evergreen shrubs that produce these wonderfully vibrant flowers at the beginning of spring, through until summer. There are a range of cultivars of Camellia, with flowers of different shapes, and shades of pink and white. As its species name ‘japonica‘ suggests, it’s native to Japan, but is also native in China, Taiwan and Korea. In Japan it is known as tsubaki, and is a popular girls name. Camellia japonica is also a cousin of Camellia sinensis, the species from which tea is made. This got me thinking, “Could I make tea from this species?”.

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After 10 minutes of frantic googling, I came across an article by Botany Guru James Wong, entitled: A cuppa from your own backyard. Upon reading, I realised I could not only make tea from my plant, but I could do it in less than a day and with minimal effort – ideal! So without further ado, I’m going to take you on a journey of discovery, from getting up off my sofa, to sitting back on it to drink my homemade brew.

The first step was to pick the leaves. From reading a few articles and watching a YouTube video or two, it seems that the younger the leaves you pick are, the lighter the tea you will make. New leaf shoots will make white tea, young leaves will make green tea and the older leaves will make black tea (but with some additional steps). I picked two kinds of leaves: new leaf shoots and young leaves.

Next was the preparation step. Once I had a handful of each type, I washed them thoroughly in a colander and then separated them by age. With the new shoots, I also removed the white bracts that surrounds them. Then, I crushed them in my hands, causing them to bruise, and laid them out on a tea towel and left them by an open window in a shaded spot. This allows the leaves to wilt and oxidise with the air, generating the signature tea flavour.

Final step: steeping and taste test. After about 3 hours, I checked the leaves. They had dried and where they had bruised, they were starting to brown. I then made my green tea and white tea in turn.

Taking my green tea first, made from the young leaves, I popped them in a tea strainer and steeped them in boiling water for 5 minutes. The verdict: delicious. Normally, I find green tea to be a little bitter. This could be because I’m buying poor quality tea, but I have found this across the board. Camellia produces a subtle taste, with a slightly floral finish. It has a beautiful golden colour and is a perfect companion for sitting in the sun.

Next, the white tea, using the same method as above (taxing, I know). The verdict: wonderfully delicate. Almost mimicking a jasmine tea, the leaf shoots produce a soft, sweet flavour. Light in colour, this tea would be perfect for waking to and enjoying first thing in the morning. I think I’ll save the rest for tomorrow morning’s yoga!

What started out as a morning scroll on Twitter, turned into a productive little experiment, enjoyed from the comfort of my own garden. I would highly recommend growing a Camellia to anyone. They enjoy growing in shaded areas, so they’re perfect for the part of the garden where you might be struggling to get anything to grow. They can also be grown as house plants or in pots. They’re green year-round and their blooms are fantastic, no matter the cultivar. And now I know Camellia’s are a source of tea, I think I’ll be taking a cutting for my own garden one day. 

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