Osmanthus is a type of shrub that is native to China. Its flowers are aromatic, and are considered quite suitable for adding to tea infusions. Some tea purveyors claim that the tea promotes healthy skin, and improves digestion and immune responses.
Although several species of Osmanthus plant exist, the sweet olive, or Osmanthus fragrans, is the type that tea drinkers use. It is a shrub that keeps its leaves all year round, and can survive both in pots and in outdoor conditions. The word "Osmanthus" actually stems from the Greek words osma and anthos which translate as "fragrant" and "flower" respectively. The family of plants are closely related to olives and to jasmines.
Typically, the shrub smells like apricots, which makes it a desirable shrub for gardeners who like scented plants. Raisin and plum notes can also be present. About 20 different varieties of Osmanthus fragrans exist, and flower coloration varies with each variety. White, yellow and red are possible colors.
It is the scent that is the main feature of osmanthus tea, and so commercially prepared teas contain the flower only. Generally, the tea drinker needs to pour water of a temperature that is below boiling onto some of the osmanthus tea flowers, and then has to let the scent and flavor infuse into the water for several minutes.
As well as osmanthus tea, the flowers find uses in many aspects of Chinese food culture. Examples include soup flavoring, addition to jam as a scenting agent, and as a flavoring agent for alcohol. The essential oil of the flowers can also form the base of perfumes.
Traditional Chinese medicine uses various parts of Osmanthus plants, and sometimes the flowers act as flavorings in strong tasting preparations. As the Chinese think the flowers are good for the skin and for the hair, they can also be an ingredient in cosmetics. As well as a perfume, the essential flower oil can repel insects. Some producers also claim that osmanthus tea helps digestion and aids the immune system.
Those who like the scent and flavor of the flowers can also add them to a cup of black tea or green tea. If a tea drinker mixes in some dried flowers into the tea itself, and stores the mixture in an airtight container, the flowers impart the scent and flavor to the rest of the tea. In Chinese, the flowers are called Kwei Hwa.