Green tea has become increasingly popular in recent years, both for its delicious flavor and its many health benefits. But the history of green tea actually goes back thousands of years. Green tea originated in China, where it has been consumed as a beverage for over 4000 years.

The earliest known references to green tea come from ancient Chinese medical texts written over 2000 years ago. Green tea was used medicinally for a variety of ailments. The leaves were commonly chewed or ground into a powder that was drunk as a suspension in hot water. Over time, steeping the leaves in hot water became the preferred method for preparing green tea. The custom of drinking green tea for health spread throughout Asia, first reaching Japan in the early 1200s.

Green tea remains an integral part of social and cultural life in China and Japan today. In traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, matcha green tea powder is whisked with hot water to make a frothy beverage. The ceremonies emphasize grace, tranquility, and the aesthetic appreciation of nature.

So what makes green tea so healthy? Green tea contains antioxidants called polyphenols, particularly one known as EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). Antioxidants help protect against cell damage from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage cells and lead to aging and disease.

Studies have found that the polyphenols in green tea can have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antibacterial, and anti-aging effects. Green tea may help lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. The antioxidants may also regulate blood sugar levels, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Drinking green tea has been linked with many other health benefits as well, including:

Improved brain function. The caffeine plus L-theanine, an amino acid in green tea, can help you stay alert yet focused. Green tea may also protect brain cells from damage and improve memory.

Increased fat burning. The EGCG and caffeine in green tea can boost metabolism and promote weight loss.

Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The polyphenols may help prevent the buildup of proteins linked to dementia.

Lower risk of some cancers. Studies suggest the catechins in green tea may reduce the growth of many types of cancer cells.

Reduced anxiety. L-theanine has anti-anxiety effects that can help relax and calm the mind.

Healthier teeth and gums. The catechins in green tea have antibacterial effects that may reduce cavities and gum disease.

Stronger bones. The antioxidants may promote bone mineral density and strength, reducing the risk of fractures.

With all of these potential health boons, it’s not surprising that green tea has become so popular around the world. The history and culture behind green tea make it even more appealing. Sipping green tea has become both an enjoyable daily ritual and a healthy habit for many people.

When choosing green tea, organic whole loose leaf teas tend to have higher antioxidant content than bagged teas. High quality Japanese matcha powder is also an excellent choice. To reap the most benefits, aim to drink 2 to 3 cups of green tea per day. Avoid adding milk or sugar, as this can reduce the antioxidant capacity.

Green tea is generally very safe, but contains some caffeine, so those sensitive to stimulants should use caution. Pregnant women should limit caffeine intake. Also remember that green tea is not a substitute for medical treatment or a cure-all. But incorporated into a healthy lifestyle, this ancient beverage certainly has much to offer for better health.