Sunday, June 27, 2010

Camellia oleifera - a Cousin of the Tea Plant - and Tea Seed Oil

I think context is important in learning about any subject, and, having a divergent mind, I like to explore tangentially related topics. The tea plant, Camellia sinsensis, is part of a diverse and well-known genus, Camellia, many species and varieties of which are well-known as garden plants for their beautiful blooms. This genus is an important genus for humans for many reasons beyond tea. Some of these plants have important uses and properties that overlap somewhat with that of the tea plant.

One particular species caught my attention recently, and reading about it illuminated some facts about the tea plant that I did not know--that its seeds can be used to make oil.

Camellia oleifera - The Oil-seed or Tea Oil Camellia:

Camellia oleifera is also known as the Oil-seed Camellia, Tea Oil Camellia, or Lu Shan Snow Camellia. It is native to China, and is one of several Camellias, including Camellia sinensis, Camellia Japonica, and Camellia sasanqua, used to produce Tea Seed Oil. The name "oleifera" comes from the Latin "oleum", for oil.

This plant is a small tree, to 20 feet tall, resembling Camellia sasanqua, but has larger leaves. It is slow growing, and tolerant of some shade as well as full sun. It can be pruned to grow well with multiple trunks or with a single trunk. Significantly more cold-hardy than Camellia sinensis, it can be grown fairly extensively in the U.S., through USDA Hardiness Zone 6. It can be used in bonzai, and is also used in landscaping, where it is a robust plant, suitable for exposed uses such as parking islands and as a street tree. [ Source (PDF) ]

Health Benefits of Camellia oleifera:

I find it interesting that Camellia oleifera has been found to have some health benefits, including many that overlap with those of the tea plant. These benefits include antioxidant activity, and "bad" cholesterol (LDL) lowering properties. [Study]

Tea Seed Oil:

Tea Seed Oil or Tea oil, not to be confused with Tea Tree Oil (from an unrelated plant, not a Camellia), is used as a cooking oil in some regions of China. It is made from the seed of the tea plant, the Camellia oleifera plant, and a number of other camellias. The oil is also used, like many other vegetables oil, for other purposes, such as the production of soaps. Perhaps more on this in a later post!


  1. It would be interesting to taste a tea processed from a camellia plant other than the sinensis variety. Do you know of anyone trying this?

  2. No, I have searched a lot but not found any source. I wrote an earlier blog post about other camellias for tea.

    There's a little discussion on that page.

    There are Camellias that grow here in Delaware; maybe I could find one in someone's garden and give it a go...but since I haven't ever grown my own tea, I wouldn't have anything to compare it to.