The Uses and Abuses of Tea.

Original title page

To us today the idea that one can “abuse” tea sounds quaintly odd. Likewise, the idea that tea can “seriously damage your health” sounds a bit on the alarmist side, though as medical sciences proves that more and more things are bad for us, it cannot be long before Darjeeling gets on the list of dangerous drugs!

Our author begins by pointing out that Hypochondriasis was apparently unknown in the ancient world, since no ancient author mentions anything like it. He goes on:

 “Now because diseases are nothing but the effect of an Alteration of our Bodies, when any new Disease appears among us, it seems very well worthy of our Observation and Study, to trace out the cause of this Alteration in our Bodies; not only as it is the readiest method we can take to fix the true Indications of Cure; but also as it will put it in our power, to prevent many from falling into the Disease.”

Many diseases come about via a “defect in the use of…the Non-naturals”, the non-naturals being listed as Air and Water, Meat and Drink, Sleep and Watching, Ease and Exercise, Lust, and Passions of the Mind. Hypochondriasis, our author believes, results from faulty diet. He writes:

“Among many other Novelties in our Diet, there is one which seems particularly to be the cause of the Hypochondriacal Disorders; and is generally known by the Name of Thea or Tea. It is a Drug, which has of late Years very much insinuated itself, as well as into our Diet, as Regales and Entertainments, tho’ its Operation is not less destructive to the Animal Oeconomy, than Opium, or some other Drugs, which we have at present learn’d to avoid with more Caution. That this Drug is useful in Physick, is what I can by no means deny: But the same Energy, by which it is of service as a Medicine, makes it very hurtful as a Diet. And it may be said of all Bodies whatever, which are useful as Medicines, that they are Poisons as a Diet; for our Diet and Physick are exactly opposite to each other, the first being design’d to preserve the Body in the same State in which it was before; whereas the last is design’d to subvert the old State of the Body, and bring on a new one.”

Tea, our author argues, has three effects upon the human body. It thins the blood; it “depauperates” it (ie it introduces toxins into the bloodstream); and it induces “plethoras” (ie distension of the blood vessels, or high blood-pressure, as we would now say.)

To take one example of our author’s animal experiments to prove his claims: he injected a dog with “about three ounces of a strong decoction of Bohea-Tea.” He then took an ounce of blood from the dog and waited for it to congeal. It took three days to do so. Conclusion: tea thins the blood.

Too much tea also results in excessive perspiration and depression, we are told. It increases the quantity of blood, and decreases the force needed to pump it round the body, resulting in “a Dizziness and Pain, which seems as if the Brain were compressed.”

But there are more far-reaching, nay, even sinister, effects:

“Whatever Evils we have as yet shewn to depend upon the too frequent Use of Tea, can only be said to regard the present Age, and the Constitutions of the Persons themselves, who have too much addicted themselves to its Use; but there are other Inconveniences, which not only affect the present Age, but do likewise entail the Curse on the succeeding Generations.”

In the case of pregnant women, for example, the blood-flow from mother to child is affected in both quality and quantity. Thus tea can result in “a Proneness to miscarry.” Again, if a mother drinks too much tea, this can affect the purity of her milk, and if this is taken in by her child, who knows what dire effects it might have. Our author writes:

“Nor can we suppose that a Milk which abounds with active stimulating Particles, can ever be convey’d into the Body of the Child, without laying a strong Foundation for the incurable Chronical Distempers.”

Thus far, the effects on women and their children. But tea can also diminish “the Prolifick Energy in Men”, and “may possibly make no small Impressions on the Animalcules in Semine, and by that means prevent the Faculty of Conception.” That is, too much tea-drinking can make a man impotent, and lower his sperm count to the point where he becomes infertile!

Having argued earlier that tea thins the blood, it comes as a surprise to find our author arguing that it can also thicken the blood. He tries to explain this apparent contradiction, but to be honest, I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. Suffice it to say that it is the thickening of the blood which results in some of the most curious forms of “Hypochondriack Madnesses”, such as the case of the Matron of Gryfwald, in Pomerania. This unfortunate lady lived solely off the milk of one particular cow, and positively refused to change her clothes, or receive visitors, for fear of catching epilepsy.

So, before you put the kettle on for the morning tea, beware. As our author says:

“Whether or no we ought to abandon the Use of what may possibly be of so vast Injury to us, I leave to every reasonable Man to judge; having myself done the Duty of a Man and Christian in warning them of what Dangers they may fall into.”

Me too. Pass the Earl Grey….