Tea drinkers, aficionados, connoisseurs, what if I told you there was a way to have a continual supply of fresh, unbelievably delicious tea, steps from your backdoor? I’m not talking about a magical self-refilling tea fountain, although that would be awesome, I’m talking about growing your very own tea tree, a camellia sinensis, from camellia seeds in your backyard!
Camellia sinensis plants are easy to grow, absolutely beautiful, and useful, supplying you with four kinds of tea: oolong, green, black, and white. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about harvesting and planting tea seeds, and growing camellia sinensis plants so you can evaluate whether this project is your cup of tea.
All About Camellia Sinensis
What is Camellia Sinensis?
Camellia sinensis plants are tea trees. Their leaves’ potential was discovered thousands of years ago in 2737 BCE in China when Emperor Shennong was boiling water under a camellia sinensis tree. A leaf fell into his brew, and he unknowingly drank it. He marveled at the refreshing taste and medicinal benefits and wanted more.
Tea was born.
All “true” traditional caffeinated teas come from camellia sinensis plants. That’s right, white, black, green, and oolong tea all come from the same plant. “But they taste different!” you may protest, “And look different!”
Yes, they do. However, all of the differences between these teas can be attributed to how they are harvested and oxidized. Which means if you grow camellia sinensis, you can have access to not just green tea, but all traditional caffeinated teas.
What is Camellia Sinensis Good For?
Camellia sinensis trees produce tea leaves which you can harvest and oxidize to make the tea of your choice. Need black tea to help you wake up in the morning? White tea to drink on a lazy afternoon? Green tea to help with your weight loss? Oolong tea to help improve your heart health?
You can use your camellia sinensis plant to achieve all of these tea dreams and more!
Not only are these plants useful; they also are elegant growing dark green, glossy leaves and delicate-looking white and yellow flowers.
Can You Make Tea From Any Camellia?
At this point, you may have realized that you, your neighbor, or family member has a camellia shrub. It might be camellia sinensis, or maybe it is camellia sasanqua or japonica. Either way, does it matter? Can you use any camellia species to make tea? The answer is yes, you can. What is up for debate is whether you should.
Many camellia plants also contain caffeine in their leaves and various compounds that could be used for their medicinal benefits. However, the tea you make with other camellia leaves will not taste, look, or smell the same as camellia sinensis tea. I don’t want to say that the final product when you roast and harvest other camellia leaves is “worse,” because to each their own. But in my humble opinion, yeah, it’s worse.
However, if you are looking for a fun experiment, and you have another camellia shrub on hand, then go for it and decide for yourself.
Is Camellia Sinensis the Same as Chamomile?
Although their names sound similar, and both create “tea”, camellia sinensis and chamomile are not the same thing. At all. Chamomile tea is made from the dried flowers and leaves of a daisy-like plant called chamomile, which has close to nothing in common with camellia sinensis. While camelia sinensis leaves contain caffeine and energize drinkers, chamomile relaxes drinkers, inducing sleep due to a flavonoid it contains called chrysin.
Also, technically to be “tea” a beverage has to contain camellia sinensis leaves, so chamomile is not a tea but rather a herbal brew.
Camellia Sinensis Seeds
Can You Grow Camellia From Seed?
Yes, you can absolutely grow camellia sinensis from seeds. The process of growing camellias is a slow one, and growing from seeds instead of a plant can add on a few months and a couple of extra steps to that process, however, growing from seeds can be extremely rewarding.
What Do Camellia Seed Pods Look Like?
Camelia seed pods are small, pear-shaped pods. They start out green, but once they mature they turn dark brown and crack open. The camellia sinensis seeds within are small, light to dark brown balls that are about 1 inch in diameter.
How Do You Collect Camellia Seeds?
Camellia seeds ripen throughout the year, at times that depend on their location and variety. However, most seeds will ripen in the fall. When the seed pods ripen they will turn dark brown and then crack open. Let a couple of seed pods crack open and then choose one that is still closed from the shrub. Using a knife, split it open.
If the seeds are dark brown, then they are mature and you can collect them. If they are white, then wait to harvest the remaining pods, checking again once a couple more crack open.
When they are mature, collect seedpods that have slightly cracked open but still contain their seeds. Open them with your fingers and put the seeds in a bag. Then soak them for about 12 hours before planting them. Do not let them dry out before planting and plant them as soon as possible. They can keep for a few days in the fridge.
How Do You Start Your Seeds?
Starting a plant from seeds can be time-consuming. You can help your plant mature faster and increase your growth-success rate by kicking off the germination process.
How? Fill a bowl with water and place store-bought seeds in it. Leave them there for 2 days. After 2 days, separate the seeds from the water and spread them out on a tray. Then, place the seeds on a tray and leave them somewhere sunny, covering them with an inch of vermiculite. Mist them frequently with water, always keeping the seeds damp. In 6 to 8 weeks they will germinate.
They should grow to be a few inches tall and sprout at least three leaves before you transplant them.
Growing Camellia Sinensis at Home
What Do You Need to Grow Camellia Sinensis?
- Tea Seeds
- Common Gardening Tools
Where is the Best Place to Plant a Camellia?
Camellia sinensis grows best in the USDA grow zones 7-9.
That doesn’t mean you can’t grow a tea shrub if you don’t live in these zones, it just means that you are going to have to be more resourceful, utilizing a greenhouse, grow lamps, and containers indoors to grow your tea tree.
You should pant your tee tree in soil that is slightly acidic with a pH between 6-6.5.
Your tea plant should be in a sunny spot. For best results, the spot should spend part of the day shaded and part of the day with full sunlight. Tea shrubs need a few hours of sun every day to thrive.
How Do You Care For Camellia Sinensis?
Don’t just add water to your leaves after harvesting, they also need a lot of water while growing. Tea plants love water! Water your tea tree every few days, keeping in mind that the soil around it should always be moist. Camellia sinensis plants are hardy, so they can endure some drought, but they grow fastest when frequently watered.
Their hardiness also does not completely protect them from the cold. If you are growing your tea tree in a container, move it indoors when frosts start occurring. If your plant is outside, cover it to protect it from frosts. You can keep your plant healthy by using a balanced, organic fertilizer on it. This is especially true for container plants since they have less access to nutrients.
Prune your tree in the fall once its flowers begin to disappear after it has surpassed two feet in height.
How Long Does Camellia Sinensis Take to Grow?
Tea drinkers are notoriously patient people.
But there is no denying it, it’s hard to wait for your tea plant to fully mature. Especially when you are dreaming about all of the delicious tea leaves that it will supply you with.
It takes 3 years for camellia sinensis to mature and produce enough leaves for harvest. Sometimes you can do a small harvest in the second year, but normally you should wait to harvest until the 3rd year of growth.
The good news?
Once your tea plant matures you will have a guaranteed continual harvest for many years to come.
Some camellia sinensis plants live to be over 50 years old. The oldest living one if over 200 years old!
Using Camellia Sinensis
What is Camellia Sinensis Used for?
Camellia sinensis plants are used to make tea!
Oolong, green, black, white, and every other traditional, caffeinated tea all come from this incredible plant.
Are Camellias Toxic to Humans?
Camellias do not put the “tea” in toxic, however, there is such thing as too much of a good thing. If someone consumes too many camellia sinensis leaves that may suffer from an elevated heart rate and other problems that are a result of taking in too much caffeine. The thick leaves of the tree, if eaten raw, could cause choking since it is hard to effectively chew them.
Also, if you treat your plant with pesticides, then they could be poisonous. Use more natural pest control like blasting your plant with hose water to deter pests if you are planning on using the leaves for tea.
Is Camellia Fruit Poisonous?
Nope! Camellia fruit, flowers, and leaves are not poisonous. However, it is very uncommon for people to eat camellia fruit so it is uncertain what will happen to you if you eat it in large quantities.
How Do You Prepare Camellia Sinensis Leaves?
Below are the harvesting and oxidation instructions for 4 popular teas you can make with your camellia sinensis leaves.
To make black tea you have to fully oxidize the leaves. After harvesting the leaves, roll them between your hands, massaging them, until their color becomes darker. Then, air-dry the leaves, spreading them out in a cool, dry place for a few days where they will not be disturbed by pests. After they dry out, put them in the oven for 20 minutes at 250 F.
Green tea is not oxidized. After you harvest the leaves, immediately heat them for a couple of minutes and then run cold water over them. Then, roll the leaves and bake them in the oven at 230 F for 12 minutes. Turn the leaves every 5 minutes.
White tea goes through the smallest amount of processing. Harvest white-ish unopened tea plant buds and immature tea leaves. Don’t let them oxidize. Steam the leaves for 1 minute and then dry them in the oven at 250 F for 20 minutes.
Oolong tea is partially oxidized. After you harvest the leaves, leave them outside to wilt in the sun for 1 hour in a safe space. Then, dry them out in a shady spot for 12-24 hours. Stir them occasionally to aerate. After they have dried out, pop them in the oven for 20 minutes at 250 F.
Still think that growing camellia sinensis from green tea plant seeds is your cup of tea? Good! This project is perfect for gardening beginners to avid gardeners who love tea. It doesn’t take a lot of work to plant, grow, and harvest tea but it does take a lot of time. But, as soon as your tea plant matures and starts producing incredibly refreshing tea, it will all seem worth it.
I hope you enjoyed this tea-torial! If you did, be sure to share, and comment below with your thoughts and questions.