Camellia sinensis is the plant from which tea is made. Only two varieties exist: the more common modern variety and an older, larger-leafed variety that is used only to make the Chinese tea pu erh. The benefits of Camellia sinensis range from the aesthetic beauty of the bush to the health benefits of products made from its leaves.
Camellia sinensis as an ornamental tree or shrub with large flowers that range from 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Flowers on the Camellia sinensis are either white or pink and are highly fragrant. The leaves of the bush are oval, with a sharp point. They can grow to between 2 and 4 1/2 inches long, depending on the variety of Camellia. Camellia are sometimes planted as ornamental landscape trees or shrubs. Unless pruned, they can reach over 40 feet tall, but, because they aren't fast growers, keeping them pruned to a smaller size is not difficult.
Camellia sinensis are also popular as bonsai; a combination of pruning, root pruning and leaf pruning can create small Camellia sinensis trees with proportionally large flowers.
The leaves of Camellia sinensis are dried and processed into the different kinds of tea. The basic types of tea are defined by how much processing they receive. The best-known types are green, oolong and black (or "red" tea, in Chinese). Green tea is the least processed of the teas. Green tea is not allowed to age, or oxidize, before it is dried or pan-fried. Oolong tea is allowed to age for a while before drying. Black tea is allowed to age the longest of all the teas.
Less commonly known varieties, like white tea and pu ehr tea, exist, as well. White tea is an un-aged tea that is picked before the leaf buds are fully open. Pu erh tea is made from big-leaf Camellia sinensis and aged so long before drying that it develops a thin layer of edible mold.
Teas, especially aged teas like oolong and black tea, have caffeine. All tea has antioxidants, but teas that are aged less, like green and white tea, have more antioxidants than varieties that are aged more. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the polyphenols in green tea can contribute to reducing the growth rate of some cancers. These polyphenols can also reduce atherosclerosis and can lower low-density lipoproteins--LDL or "bad" cholesterol--while raising high-density lipoproteins--HDL or "good" cholesterol levels.