First published in The Truth Campaign
Kombucha is made from the Medusomyces Gisevii Lindau fungus. It has various names in various countries – e.g. Kvass (Russia), Champignon de longue vie (France), Karagasok Tea, Manchurian Elixir, Russian Mother, etc.
Kombucha, while not a panacea, costs only tea and sugar, and the culture reproduces itself. Properly made, the tea – by working on the body as a whole – is said to help with:
It is also said to have surprising effects on the scalp, reducing balding, and sometimes eliminating grey hair (3-6 months). Nail and hair growth increases. The tea has natural antibiotic effects after the 7th/8th day of fermentation.
The first recorded use of Kombucha, a fermented yeast enzyme tea, was during the Chinese Tsin dynasty in 212BC. It was referred to as the Remedy for Immortality or The Divine Tsche. In 414BC (sic) a Dr Kombu is said to have brought it to Japan to treat the ailing Emperor Inkyo. It later spread to India and Russia through travellers and traders and is now known throughout the world.
For the sorts of reasons listed above, Kombucha resurfaced in Japan between the Wars after a Japanese visitor to Kargasok (Russia) found many people there to be not only unusually healthy but over a hundred years old. The women were virtually unwrinkled, with few other signs of ageing. She was told that Kargasoks, young and old, drank a yeast enzyme tea daily and had done so for generations. It was claimed the tea was (along with stress free lives) responsible for their health and longevity. She was given a culture, with instructions, to take home. She shared its use with friends who reported after some weeks astonishing differences in physical wellbeing. Reports included pronounced lowering of high blood pressure, fading of wrinkles and gradual beginnings of hair restoration. Today the tea – once routinely used by Samurai – is widely used again in Japan.
Kombucha was a popular health drink in Europe between the Wars until the World War II sugar shortages. Summing up then current medical opinion, a Dr. E. Arauna (1929) said it had proved itself to be an excellent prophylactic for diabetes, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, gout, haemorrhoids, was a pleasant laxative; that it had been used for hundreds of years as a natural folk remedy, also for fatigue, lassitude, nervous tension, rheumatism and incipient signs of old age. Kombucha was used with striking success for senility and arteriosclerosis at Prof. Jakschs Clinic for Internal Medicine in Prague between the Wars. Irion (a leading German pharmacologist) wrote in 1944 of striking improvement in the whole glandular system and the stimulation of the metabolism by Kombucha and of it being highly recommend for gout, high blood pressure, nervous tension, furunculosis (boils), constipation and signs of age; also for those involved in sport or strenuous mental activity. Harmful deposits (e.g. uric acid and cholesterin) were transferred to soluble form and excreted; dysenteric bacteria were suppressed.
A Russian doctor wrote of detailed epidemiological studies in the USSR (1951-53) and accidental findings by twenty scientists in two areas of the Perm region in the Urals where the population drank Kombucha – which were in marked contrast to the rest of the USSR. The Perm region was highly polluted (trees and fish dying) from asbestos, lead, mercury, etc. Nicotine and alcohol use was higher but cancer almost non-existent. Measurements of illness, alcohol offences, work attendance and morals of the people were far better than the rest of the nation. This led to research by Prof. Vinogradov (Stalins personal physician) into the Kombucha culture and tea. Research stopped with the 1953 Trial of the Moscow Doctors and jailing of Stalins team of 12 doctors over their decision to give him Kombucha to allay his terror of cancer. The doctors were later released as victims of a political plot to undermine the KGBs Beria for sanctioning a mere nature cure and thus diminishing the scientific status of Soviet Medicine. The tea was said (by the same doctor) to have been given to Ronald Reagan (at 1 litre a day) for cancer after American doctors recalled Alexander Solzenitzyns description of his own Kombucha cure for cancer while in Soviet labour camps (see Cancer Ward, The Right Hand autobiographies). Living in the USA at the time, he was interviewed and culture then flown from Japan to the US.
The tea was tested by the German Army (1967) and found to increase stamina and reduce muscle pain and fatigue (200mls 3 daily). Its DR. G. Simon found it a purely biological strengthening product & increases high performance sporting achievements. A Dr. R. Weisner (1987) reported a trial of 246 patients with various conditions, comparing Kombucha with Interferon. Asthmatics did better on Kombucha, and other diseases responded only marginally less than to the Interferon product.
The base for 29 herbs in the American-Chinese tonic Dragons Brew, Kombucha is said to aid assimilation and promote circulation of blood and Chi (energy) in the body.
The fungus is a jelly-like membrane form of a symbiosis of yeasts and bacteria. The principal yeast is Schizosaccharomyces Pombe; others varyingly include Saccharomyces Ludwigii, torula and apiculatus types, Pichia fermentans and Mycoderma. Principal bacteria are Acetobacteria xylinum, Gluconobacter bluconicum and Acetobacter xylinioides; others varyingly include Acetobacter aceti/ketogenum/ pasteurianum.
The Kombucha fungus needs to live in a solution of tea and sugar exposed to oxygen. Its Pombe yeasts dont build spores as most yeasts do to reproduce but divide (like bacteria) then multiply by sprouting. The metabolic by-products of the process, via tea and sugar, include Gluconic and Glucuronic acids, the L-lactic acid (+) (dextrogyral), Acetic acid, Carbonic acid and Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, Folic acid and various enzymes. Usinic acid produced (a dibenzofurane derivative) is antibacterial and partially antiviral. Acetic acid bacteria produced are strongly antagonistic to streptococci, diplococci, flexner and shigella rods. 0.5% to 1% alcohol is produced as well. (Glucuronic acid, apart from its detoxifying ability, builds important polysaccharides such as: hyaluronic acid for the connective tissues; chondroitinsulfat acid, the basic substance in cartilage; mukoitinsulfat acid for the vitreous of the eye and heparin and lactic acid which benefit the colon).
After several days the culture will float to the surface towards the air and start to form a clear or translucent thin skin of jelly across all the available surface. This is the new baby beginning as a new layer above the mother. The tea will start to smell fermented and a few gas bubbles appear from the carbonic acid forming. The mother will remain the same size as it went in and stay under the baby. The baby will slowly thicken. It may look like bubble wrap for a while. It will turn a creamy beige colour finally and look like a pancake or piece of rubbery cheese. Cultures can vary greatly in thickness and transparency and vary in colour as well cream, beige, whitish grey, peach coloured. Brownish yeast sediment forms in the tea and drifts to the bottom. The tea will slowly change from sweet to sweet/sour like shandy, cider, sherry, etc. when ready. The longer it is left the sourer the tea will become. (At its most acidic it can be used as table vinegar). Not only is each yeast cell in each culture different, but the amounts and types of tea and sugar, the temperature, water softness, etc. will cause variations. Much used cultures will be stained darker by tannins from the tea. Some tea has more carbonic acid and more fizz than others for no clear reason even in laboratories when all other factors are kept the same. Strong tannins in some teas can give cultures a wrinkled rather than smooth surface. (Antibiotic properties form best over 23ºC).
Wash hands and lift mother and baby out of brew onto a plate to separate. Cover them with another plate if bottling up first. Leave a cup of the brewing tea in your brewing container to start your next batch. The yeast sediment can stay there too.
Pour the brewed tea (that you have just removed the culture from) over a strainer into a jug and then into clean glass or plastic soft drink or milk bottles. This is the tea you drink. You do not have to strain it but most people prefer to remove the bits of stray jelly tails. The yeasts are beneficial to drink so dont strain too finely. Put your bottle(s) of tea in the fridge if you wish. The bottle you are going to drink over the next week can stay out of the fridge. If you wish you can add a few raisins or pieces of dried fruit to flavour. A ¼ teaspoon of powdered Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) per litre can be added to aid long term storage. Glass bottles can explode if left for a long time, so use corks. Stored tea will lose its value slowly but at 5 months still has considerable activity left.
You can usually peel them apart as layers with your (clean) hands. Otherwise cut with (clean) scissors or a (clean) knife. It doesnt matter if they tear. (A small new batch of tea can be made from a 10% piece). Rinse off the mother under cool running water to get rid of any jelly-like tails or brown bits. Cut out any (dead) dark brown spots. (The mother loses cells in the process and will be thinner and scrappier but is fine to use again). Large cultures can be cut or torn into pieces for several to give away, but remember each will need a cup of starter tea or 1.5 tbs of cider vinegar.
Put either mother or baby in a glass jar with brewed tea and lid (or cling film and rubber band) with plenty of air, and put in the fridge as a spare or to give away. Once the still remaining tea and sugar nutrients in the cup of tea in the jar are used up (or eaten) the culture will starve. It will last about 4-6 weeks in a jar in the fridge. You can tip out some of the tea in the jar and add a little fresh tea/sugar to extend nutrients and life in the jar further still. More fermented tea (for diabetes, weight loss) has less nutrients left add a little fresh tea/sugar for longer storage. You can store a few cultures in one large container (with their cups of tea) if short of jars. Cultures can also be frozen (up to 3 months) but this is best done quickly (snap frozen) to avoid large ice crystals damaging the structure of the fungus. Frozen cultures should be defrosted in the fresh tea and sugar solution made for the next batch, and may take 2 weeks to rise up to the surface and get going again. Otherwise excess cultures can be frozen (with a little tea in plastic bags) for blending later into face packs or skin creams. (Once made up, keep these in a pot in the fridge with a cover that allows air to the still living yeasts).
Make up fresh cooled sugared tea as before. Take the remaining culture, either mother or baby, and add to the pot as you did before. Your starter tea was left in the pot along with yeast sediment. (If you forgot and poured it all out, take it from the bottled tea). If you are using the new baby for this brew it now becomes the mother. Cover as before and repeat the whole process. (Yeast sediments help fermentation proceed more quickly next time but after 4-5 batches of tea should be washed out of the pot).
It should not be too acidic unless you are using it for diabetes or weight loss (with up to doubled fermentation time and so more like dry white wine). It should approximate cider or shandy. It is healthier on the sharp side (as more sugar has been broken down and more of the beneficial by-products have formed) but should still be pleasant. Taste the tea every couple of days to make sure it doesnt become over-acid if you need to. (Antibiotic properties dont appear until the 7th or 8th day between 20 and 30 degrees centigrade.) Advice to leave for 7-10-12-14 days etc. is a guideline only. Temperatures and conditions vary too much between households to be exact. If the tea is too strong, try less tea next time (if you used 2 tea bags or more per litre last time), or more or less sugar until you work out how you like it. Try a milder or different tea. Experiment. If the tea is too strong to drink, dilute it with water, apple juice, etc. (It is less effective diluted but still beneficial).
A ¼-½ full glass a day (and sometimes more) ideally for the rest of your life. You need to work out your own level and what works for you. In countries where Kombucha has been known longest, about a third of a litre a day is drunk not necessarily all at once. (Cancer patients usually follow Dr. Sklenars prescription of the tea at 1 litre per day ½ to ¾ litre for pre-cancer). Up to 2 litres + per day has been drunk for several weeks for specific reasons. Amounts can be temporarily increased during illness, radiation, infection or exposure to environmental toxins. (2-3 glasses at the onset of a cold will fight the cold). Many Westerners drink more than they need to for maintaining health. The tea has slight blood thinning qualities over time if you prick your finger and bleed too freely you are drinking too much. (Not useful during surgery or accidents).
The tea is fine for children in amounts adjusted to age or weight. It can be mixed with juices if really necessary e.g. apple. Kombucha given undiluted in the evening may keep a child wide awake (and some adults). The usual 0.5% alcohol in an average brew is not a problem. (Some bread and juices have small amounts too).
- Detoxification too rapidly can cause discomfort if too much tea is drunk too soon in some people. Work up slowly week by week from a quarter of a glass (60ml) in divided doses. At 20ml 3 daily any discomfort can be avoided. This can include headaches, stomach aches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, mild diarrhoea, pimples, rashes and wind. These are temporary cleansing effects lasting from a day to a week or so in basically healthy people. Drink extra water to counteract them. People with disease conditions may experience a healing crisis if they drink too much too soon which not everyone can cope with. Kombucha effects appear to begin in the weakest part of the body, then the second weakest, and so on.
- Pregnancy and lactation. In Germany the tea is not drunk during pregnancy because of the alcohol it contains up to 1%. In Brazil it appears to be recommended in pregnancy to avoid poisons forming in the cells. Best avoided in the first trimester, especially if prone to miscarriage, due to anticoagulant effects. Seek professional advice for 2nd and 3rd trimesters. With lactation it would be sensible to take small amounts only and monitor the baby for colic.
- Diabetes. In Europe, diabetics who can afford them use Kombucha drops pressed from the fungus directly. Otherwise the tea should be drunk more fermented (i.e. sourer) when the residual sugar is fructose. Saccharose splits to glucose and fructose at onset of fermentation, glucose fermenting quickly to glucuronic acid. Making the tea with less sugar (less than 50 grams per litre) will reduce the nutrients/energy needed for the formation of beneficial metabolic products and makes it not worth making the tea at all. (Tea made with fructose alone produces almost only acetic acid, no glucuronic acid or antibacterial products).
- Haemophilia. Kombucha has some anticoagulant qualities.
- Candida. The teas yeast will over-run other yeasts but need time to do so. Do not drink too much too soon, or too much thereafter. Dont overstrain yeast sediments out while bottling tea this also applies to non-candida use.
- Kombucha contains lactic acid. Excess lactic acid over very long periods can cause joint pain, dizziness and sinus problems.
When it suits you, but best during the day. Antibiotic properties during infections are probably more effective when the tea is drunk away from meals, but other properties in the tea benefit digestion when drunk with or after meals. The committed take some first thing in the morning. For weight loss, drink it ½ 1 hour before meals.
Most people feel better after 4-6 weeks of daily use, some much sooner. Increased energy and better skin colour are commonly first noticed. Some disease conditions may take 4-6 months. Some dramatic differences in disease conditions are occasionally only seen after 1-2 years. Great variation is to be expected due to individual differences. Weight loss is usually slow and gradual after 1-3 months.
Some people prefer to have breaks of 3 weeks on, 1 week off, or 6 days on, 1 day off. Some drink tea daily. Do what is best for you in relation to why you are drinking the tea. Breaks occur naturally with going away, forgetting or running out between batches.
A culture can last up to 6 months with active brewing if carefully treated, but the average is 2-4 months. Many prefer the appearance of fresh vigorous new cultures and, food grade acid resistant containers can be used if available, e.g. polypropylene. (German Kombucha is brewed commercially in such.) Polyvinyls, polystyrenes and cheap plastics can also cause chemical reactions in the brew. If in doubt stick to ceramic, etc. 3 litre glass storage jars from kitchen shops, etc. can be used. Much bigger jars of that shape have too much volume of tea beneath the culture and not enough surface area for it to grow to a size able to quickly ferment tea. Fermentation is quicker in a wider shallower pot and bacterial growth better. Mixing bowls, crock pots, casserole dishes, glass fish bowls, jardinieres, etc. are fine. Continuous fermentation pots are easier large (18-20 litre) squat ceramic pots with a tap like a wine cask. Tea is drawn directly from it, a few litres of freshly sugared tea is added every now and then and the cultures fished out. Unfermented sugar mixed in with the rest deters some people, but you can draw off 2-3 days supply before topping up. The tap needs to be 5 cm up to avoid clogging by yeast. Once a year drain to clear out excess yeast sediment. Try specialist water suppliers or local potters.
Feeds the culture, not you, and is converted to other things during fermentation, e.g. glucuronic acid. White sugar is more purely saccharose than raw sugar and also gives a better acid/alkali ratio (pH). While earlier ages would have used raw sugar products, these give more unpredictable and unsatisfactory results in laboratory analysis than white sugar. Reducing sugar does not make the drink healthier, but starves the culture of energy (see also Diabetes). Longer fermentation = greater conversion of sugar to beneficial by-products. This and enough initial sugar gives the healthiest tea. Too much sugar gives more alcohol and a quickly souring drink. Honey (up to 40% fructose) has antiseptic (bactericidal) qualities which will affect the long-term structure of the fungus and its own necessary bacteria, although it will work in the short term.
Provides nitrogen, purine and minerals as necessary nutrients. Black tea has more nitrogen and purine than green (unfermented) tea and gives a smoother flavour. Extra tannins in green tea give the tea a slightly bitter taste. Epigallocatechin gallates in green tea have documented anti-tumour effects.
Either green or black tea can be used or a mixture of both preferably mild, low caffeine brands. Ordinary tea is fine but makes a fairly strong tasting drink. Herbal tea can be used for flavouring or therapeutic reasons mixed in lesser (10-30%) proportions to ordinary tea. Those with strong volatile oils, like camomile, sage, rosemary, mints, thyme, yarrow and St. Johns wort, can alter the structure of the fungus (and its babies). Elder flowers and rosehips are popular additions. Use 2 teaspoons of herbs per litre. (Grated ginger or dried apple rings can be soaked for a day, the liquid then boiled and added). Some herbs have long term side effects and knowledge is advisable. (Dr. Sklenar spent decade experimenting with ingredients and ended up using just ordinary teas and white sugar as best).
Warming plates can be used under a pot in the winter. Some pots sit in water with a fish tank heater. Constant temperatures are best. Little happens below 18C.
&vitamin tablets or capsules fillers and binders can kill or damage the culture; other yeasts; real mushrooms; artificial sweeteners in place of sugar; more than minimal oxygen drops for water purification beneficial bacteria are affected (leave water in glass jars in the sun for a day in preference); fresh fruit with its contaminating bacteria; coffee; anything outside the basic guidelines if you expect good effects.
Normal household. Hot water and soap. (The fungus sometimes dies for no obvious reason but is generally very hardy).
Lots can be grown in jam jars. Please do not give away without notes. Ask for photocopying costs if necessary. Label jars. Put in fridge with a use-by date for busy people.
School fetes (out of sun); health food shops; creams; face packs (see Storage); blend and eat if very keen; feed to plants; add tea to bath; foot baths; bottle for skin use; add to stir fries or trifle; horses seem to run faster with tea in their diet, etc.
NB. Should mould (hairy black, green or orange growth) develop in your culture, discard it immediately and begin again using a fresh culture and ensuring that great care is taken with regards to cleanliness.
How to make Kombucha Tea
Kombucha Brewing Instructions
YOU NEED a Kombucha culture in its cup of starter tea, water and tea bags (preferably Green China Tea), white sugar and a good sized china, glass enamelled (unchipped) glazed terracotta pot, jar or dish, with a wide mouth (see section on Brewing pots).
- Measure your pot for how many litres it holds. Do not fill it right up if it is deep or right up to a narrow neck. You will also be adding the culture and a cup of starter tea later on, so allow for them.
- Pour the measured quantity of water into a pan (preferably stainless steel).
- Add 60-70 grams of sugar (6-7 tablespoons) for EACH litre of water, I.e. 12-14 tbs for 2 litres, 18-21 for 3 litres, etc. 7tbs = approx. 1 average tea cup. (50 grams min. 100 grams max. can be used see section on Sugar).
- Boil water for several minutes to sterilise it and disolve the sugar. Keep the lid on to stop evaporation.
- Turn off the stove and add 1-2 tea bags for each litre in the pot (Approx. 3 grams). Use one tea bag per litre if sensitive to caffeine in tea, or a low caffeine, low tannin brand (see section on Tea).
- Leave tea bags in for 10-15 minutes to infuse.
- Remove tea bags and leave to cool until luke warm. This is the slowest part. Hot tea will kill the culture.
- When cool, poor the sugared tea into your brewing pot.
- Add the culture and its cup of starter tea to the brewing pot. The culture will usually sink to the bottom in the beginning. It is called the “mother”
- Cover with a cloth to allow air in. IT MUST BREATHE. If necessary, put a stick across a large bowl under the cloth to stop the cover sinking into the tea, and weight down. (I find a piece of clean J-cloth works well and can be boiled or machine washed and re-used).
- Tie down with elastic, rubber band, cord, etc. to keep flies and other insects out.
- Put in a warm, quiet spot for 7-14 days to ferment, out of direct sunlight, away from cigarette and other smoke, pot plants (mould spores) or mildew. Leave up to twice as long for diabetes and weight loss. If cold, put in warmest spot, e.g. top of fridge or near hot water system, and where temperature is as even as possible (optimum temperatures are between 23 and 30 degrees centigrade).
- Remove cultures (now two) and bottle the tea (see later).
N.B. KOMBUCHA does not need to be fed like ginger beer does. Dont be put off by the occasional taste of starter tea it can be much sourer than the drink should be because of having been stored. Starter tea is just already fermented tea. The Culture is ready to use when you receive it.
N.B. If one does not have the starter tea from a previous batch, to the first brew ADD 1.5 TBS OF CIDER VINEGAR PER LITRE OF TEA before placing the culture into the sugared tea at room temperature. Subsequent brews are activated by 1/8th of a litre of already brewed Kombucha tea per litre of sugared tea
For a healthy piece of Kombucha culture send £9.50 (plus £1.59 for postage) payable to Harmonik Ireland, 9 Kilmacrannell, Castle Balfour, Lisnaskea, Fermanagh, BT92 0HH, N. Ireland. Overseas add £1.50.