Quick 10: 10 Alternative Uses for Tea

Today marks the 235th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, but this list has nothing to do with that event. Where I come from, tea comes one way: sweet and iced. It serves primarily as a substitute for water (get eight glasses a day!). But there's more to tea than that. I've assembled a list of ten alternative uses for tea—none of which include sugaring it up and drinking it by the gallon.


1. Make new things look old
Matcha green tea has been used to dye fabrics in China, Korea and Japan for centuries. More familiar stateside is the brown Oolong version, the tea stain or tea dye. Fabric or paper is stained with a strongly brewed tea to make it appear antique (or otherwise old and brown). You can even buy a tea-stained Betsy Ross flag for next year's Boston Tea Party anniversary.

2. Make old things look young
In the same way tea stains your clothes, teeth and the tablecloth, black tea can be used to tint graying hair. Just brew up a few cups of really strong tea and run it through clean, damp hair; you'll probably have to do it several times. Thearubigin formed during the oxidizing process binds to proteins in the hair, giving it a semi-permanent dye job.

3. Analyze Your Personality
This website seeks to update the old tradition of reading someone's fortune in tea leaves by defining a person's character by their teabag. Are you a Left to Dry, Pull-String Diva, or a Drip-Trail?

4. Feed the Flowers
Acid-loving plants (such as azaleas and citrus trees) get a big boost when watered with brewed tea.

Or mix tea leaves in with the soil or simply bury teabags around the base of the plant.

5. Cool stuff off
Back in 1925, EC Davidson developed a way to use tannic acid for cutaneous burns that both soothed and cooled the skin, while the astringent properties helped prevent infection. The tannins present in black tea can help similarly with superficial burn injuries and sunburns. Just apply a cool, damp cloth soaked in tea (or a damp teabag) where it hurts. If you need full-body therapy, steep teabags in the bathtub, let it cool, and climb in.

6. Make an Old-Fashioned Eye Mask
You've seen it in movies and maybe at home; two warm tea bags placed over the eyes is thought to reduce puffiness and lighten dark circles. These claims have yet to be proven, but it certainly won't hurt to try.

7. De-funk your feet
One of my worst food-related pet peeves is when I eat something bitter and, suddenly, my mouth feels dry. Pecans are notorious for doing that to me. Anyway, it turns out that the tannins in the lining of nut shells are the same as those in tea, and that dry feeling is actually an astringent effect. Using a strong tea solution to soak your feet will help eliminate odors and may reduce sweat production for a short time.

8. Do the windows (finally!)
Astringent tea is great at removing greasy fingerprints from glass. Use a damp teabag or a spray bottle filled with tea instead of your regular household cleaner.

tea art9. Make art
In 1992, Tiny van der Plas developed a new form of origami using squares cut from decorated teabag wrappers. The papers are folded into interlocking pieces to form pinwheels and rosettes. Mrs. Van der Plas used her designs to decorate greeting cards, but creative math teachers are using the craft to illustrate basic geometry problems.

10. Give it to People who Make Art
Original T-Bag Designs in Hout Bay, South Africa is a group of artist who paint on teabag "canvas", then turn the paintings into various gifts (like cards, mugs, and jewelry). They rely on donated used teabags to make their paintings, the profits from which support nearly 100 people. For more information, visit The Teahouse Times.

A Very Brief History of Chamber Pots

Some of the oldest chamber pots found by archeologists have been discovered in ancient Greece, but portable toilets have come a long way since then. Whether referred to as "the Jordan" (possibly a reference to the river), "Oliver's Skull" (maybe a nod to Oliver Cromwell's perambulating cranium), or "the Looking Glass" (because doctors would examine urine for diagnosis), they were an essential fact of life in houses and on the road for centuries. In this video from the Wellcome Collection, Visitor Experience Assistant Rob Bidder discusses two 19th century chamber pots in the museum while offering a brief survey of the use of chamber pots in Britain (including why they were particularly useful in wartime).

A Tour of the New York Academy of Medicine's Rare Book Room

The Rare Book Room at the New York Academy of Medicine documents the evolution of our medical knowledge. Its books and artifacts are as bizarre as they are fascinating. Read more here.


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