~ October 1997 No.16 ~
It is believed that kombucha tea originated in the far East and that over the centuries it found its way first into Russia and then into Europe. Like many traditional medicinal foods it is difficult to trace its origins exactly or to verify where its healing powers first gained its reputation.
Kombucha tea has many devotees who consume it because they believe it is good for the health, but like so many other traditional foods/ drinks there is not a lot of scientific literature to support the claims made for kombucha tea. There have, however, been a number of books written about kombucha tea and it powers. Whether it is a probiotic in the truest sense of the term is also not clear.
Kombucha tea is produced by the fermentation of sweetened black tea that is carried out by a kombucha mushroom or tea-fungus. The mushroom can be purchased from a number of commercial vendors, but, traditionally, is more often a gift from a friend or neighbour. When the mushroom is placed in the sweetened tea, the bacteria and yeast of the mushroom transform the solution in about two weeks to an acidic, sharp tasting beverage that is pleasant to the taste when consumed after being refrigerated. Under proper conditions the mushroom duplicates itself during the fermentation and the result is a second mushroom that can be split off and used to start a new brew, or can be given to a friend.
A close reading of the literature that describes the production and use of kombucha tea often reveals statements that imply, but do not directly state, the health benefits of the tea. The list of properties is a long one and includes : beneficial effects on the digestive system including a laxative effect, general cleansing of the intestines and colon, improved digestion; relief of respiratory problems including bronchitis and asthma; treatment for skin conditions including acne and psoriasis; improved general health and well being by reducing stress and combating insomnia; regulating metabolic / hormonal imbalances such as slowing the aging process, improved digestion and reduced the effects of menopause. Testimonials from suffers of AIDS, colitis, PMS, arteriosclerosis, kidney stones and cancer can also found.
At the present time all of the effects that have been claimed by those who drink kombucha are attributed to a general cleansing effect of the brew. There has been some speculation about the production of unique metabolites by the kombucha tea fungus that may prove to be the active ingredient(s). Until sound scientific evidence is produced, people will continue to drink kombucha tea and will continue to believe that it works for them.
C. Dufresne, E. Farnworth Tea, Kombucha, and health: a review