I live in an area known as “The Bread Basket of the Fraser Valley” where much of the land is used to grow food crops but plants you won’t see as you drive through the picturesque farmland are tea bushes. Tea grows naturally in a hot, humid climate with lots of moisture and sunshine, often doing best at a high altitude where the plants grow slowly giving the leaves lots of time to produce the nutrients that give the tea it’s wonderful flavor. Even though at this time of year my area has lots of sun, the growing season is short and the weather will cool off by fall and the winter can be cold and rainy. Add to this we are not near a large body of water so there is no ‘water moderating climate’ for tea to grow in, (a topic for the future).
Needless to say the Fraser Valley does not have the ideal conditions to grow tea, but a plant that does thrive is the blueberry bush. There are thousands of acres under production with most of the crop grown for export. Blueberries are Canada’s #1 fruit export. This time of year the bushes are loaded with big plump juicy berries that are so sweet; I eat them by the handfuls until both my teeth and tongue are blue!
The berries can be used in cooking, baking, for jams, jellies, they can be frozen for later use and they make a wonderful tea. If just the berries are used the beverage is a tisane, in order to be called a tea, the tea plant, camellia sinensis, has to be included. There is even a cocktail called blueberry tea made from either hot, brewed orange pekoe or earl grey tea then different liqueurs are added for a tasty bevy.
Even though these two plants seem worlds apart they do have a few things in common: The first is tea and blueberries are considered ‘Super Foods’ in that they both contain high levels of antioxidants that help the body fight off diseases. In blueberries its anthocyanin, the pigment that gives the berry its blue colour that has the health benefits. Tea is loaded in polyphenols and catechins, both powerful antioxidants. Second, both the tea plant and the blueberry bush need acidic soil, lots of watering when first planted, young plants need minimal maintenance and both take a few years of steady growth before they are mature. Third, both plants can be picked by machine or by hand.
Some differences are tea plants won’t go dormant unless the nighttime temperature drops below 50 degrees, but blueberry bushes go dormant in the winter because of the natural, cold temperatures. Tea leaves are picked according to the flush, blueberries when the fruit is ripe. Both need a certain seasonality to thrive, tea grows well in conditions where there are 2 rainy seasons and two hot seasons per year like that found in Kenya and Sri Lanka. Blueberries need the 4 seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter.
I think of these two plants as friends who live far way but when they get-together they have a lot of fun!