Today, thousands of bloggers are writing about water as part of Blog Action Day. Many participants will be talking about the scarcity of clean water in some places and the overconsumption of water in others, and these things need to be talked about. But I’d like to take just a couple of paragraphs in appreciation of one of water’s many gifts.
I’m in the midst of an herbalism course, and during our first week ‘on campus,’ our teacher asked a few times, “What’s missing from dried herbs?” The answer, of course, is water. In other words, when a plant is dried with real care, it will typically retain all the good stuff except water. And for most herbs, you can then enjoy their flavors and health benefits just by adding water to the dried plant, in the form of a tea/infusion or decoction. If I may personify water for a moment, I think it’s awfully generous of this substance to leave herbs so we can store them past the growing season, and then to absorb the plant’s nutrients so we can drink them in a tea.
I think this process is, if anything, even more remarkable with tea from the tea plant itself, Camellia sinensis. Because with Camellia sinensis, the leaves might be dried quickly in the sun, resulting in a mild and refreshing white tea; or they might be steamed and then dried, resulting in a nourishing and oceany Japanese green; or they might be kept moist for some time, resulting in a rich and earthy puer tea – and so on. The conditions under which they are dried can turn leaves from even the same bush into completely different teas.
And then, since the dried leaves are portable, I can buy here in New England an oolong that was grown, picked, rolled, and dried in Taiwan. And when I add hot water, I can taste a flavor from far off tea gardens and, infusion after infusion, watch the tea leaves swell with water, unroll, and ‘grow’ again right here in Vermont.