Who Invented Tea?
It seems like the deeper you dig into the history of tea, the farther you are from knowing the whole story. Starting out as a medicine, it is truly one of the oldest useful plants about whose history we have a lot of detail on record. In China that starts with an emperor.
Chinese legend tells us that the Emperor Shen Nong first discovered tea around 2737 B.C. The quirky detail of the story is that it was a mistake. The leaves from a tea bush fell into water that his servants were boiling in order to purify it – the leaves having come from the plant being used in the fire.
It was at first considered as a tonic, however, and used for medicinal purposes only. With time (a long time, perhaps two thousand years!) tea became used as a recreational drink.
Shen Nong is remembered as the Emperor of Agriculture – one translation of his name could be 'Divine Farmer.' In traditional Chinese herbal medicine he is seen as a godlike figure. His catalog of 365 medicinal herbs was the basis for herbalism in China down through the centuries.
The catalog is certainly a real text, but descriptions of his birth describe how his mother was a princess and his father a dragon, how he could speak at three days old, walk within a week and plough a field aged three. In some versions he even had the head of a bull.
Whether there was a real emperor of this description is debatable, but Chinese herbal knowledge does have a very long history.