If you stumbled onto this blog, you might have already heard of Kombucha, the fermented tea that many people are drinking all over the world. Some drink it for its purported health benefits, some want a healthier replacement for their soft drink addiction and others just because they love the tangy and sweet flavour of this drink. But why is it also known as the tea of immortality? Do people in the past drink it to improve their longevity? To answer this question, we have to delve into the history of Kombucha but be warned, it is not as straightforward as you might expect as there are multiple versions of the “truth” and nobody knows the absolute truth so it is up to you which to believe.
The most popular kombucha origin story involves a Chinese emperor and his quest for longevity by any means available. The tales states that Emperor Qin shi huang’s alchemists and physicians came up with this ‘tea of immortality’ after years of research at around 220 BC. However, this could have been a mistake as tea made from another mushroom called Lingzhi (灵芝) is known by a similar name as well. Lingzhi has been used in Chinese medicine for a long time and 5 different types are listed in the “Compendium of Materia Medica (本草纲目)” which is a journal of medicinal herbs and plants that forms the backbone of modern Traditional Chinese medicine.
Elsewhere in China, the famed conqueror Genghis Khan and his huge army are also reported to have been carrying around a vinegary fermented beverage in their flasks. Given that we know Kombucha has certain energizing properties as well, could this be one of the earliest form of energy drinks?
"Hmms is the booch really the answer?"
The origin story in Japan involves a certain doctor named Komu-ha. I am assuming the ‘ha’ at the end is a short form for “Hakase (博士)” which stands for “doctor” in the Japanese language. So the tale goes that doctor Komu-ha was invited to treat a sickly emperor named In-giyō, as part of the arrangement of a yearly tribute from the kingdom of Silla (Korea as it was known in the past) The doctor came up with a fermented tea beverage and it was named after him as a tribute. This story is more widespread in Russia as it was told by soldiers that returned from the Russo Japanese war
Same as with Genghis Khan, elite Japanese warriors, the samurai, are also known to carry fermented tea in skin flasks when they go into battle. The brew was said to grant them additional energy and stamina and can be replenished with just sweet tea not unlike Kombucha.
We are starting to see that this seems to be a beverage fit for leaders, royalty and the elite in their quest for better health, energy and longevity, three things that are definitely linked to each other in one way or another.
"Ahhh that fizziness and tartness is perfect"
In Russia, it is a similar sorry albeit more modern. Joseph Stalin, a key figure in world war 2 sought the answers to a longer life as well. He stumbled upon kombucha after ordering teams of doctors to visit one Russian town after the other to find the cure for cancer that was quickly spreading across the country. The teams of doctor noticed 2 towns that had a relatively low incidence of cancer among its residents despite the relative toxicity of their environments. As they dug further, they soon found out that majority of the households were brewing Kombucha at home and residents also credited their good health to the beverage.
So it seems that from ancient illnesses to the plague of cancer, Kombucha has been seen throughout history in different countries as a possible remedy. It is no wonder kombucha is seen as a possible “tea of immortality”! While it is unlikely to give one immortality, the many possible health benefits of kombucha are slowly being unravelled as science starts catching up with ancient wisdoms so no matter which origin story you choose to believe, drinking Kombucha is not going to be detrimental to your health. What do you think?