Linnaeus’ Difficulties with Tea

Carl von Linné or Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) is probably one of the best-known Swedes in the world. With his system of classifying plants he gained a world-wide reputation as a scientist and many of the plants he named still bear the same Latin names today even though many of his theories are outdated by modern knowledge.

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Råshult – the birthplace of Carl Linneaus

Linnaeus was born in Råshult Småland, Sweden. He studied in Lund, then at Uppsala University and in Holland. He became a founding member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Carl Linnaeus drank tea daily, three cups before noon, and also coffee, two cups in the afternoon (information from Linnaeus Musem, Uppsala). According to the dissertation Potus Theae, 1765 by Pehr Cornelius Tillaeus and approved by Linnaeus (published in translation by Swedish Linnaeus Society), tea was at that time regarded to have several medicinal properties. The dissertation also commented that tea-leaves were grown only in China and that it was rather amusing that Europeans spent P1020728huge resources to conquer countries in the Americas and with great effort mined its precious silver, then transported it under great danger around the world in order to buy – tea-leaves! It further reasoned, considering the amount of silved used for buying tea, that every household item in China could have been made of silver unless China had used silver to pay the Mongols for food and labour at silk-production. And it goes on to say that the Mongols in their turn buried the silver in the ground in order to use them in the afterlife. That section of the dissertation concludes that maybe a time will come when someone will dig up the silver in Mongolia and send it back to Peru, as the ‘destiny of things are ever changing‘.

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Linnaeus Museum and Garden in Uppsala

Linnaues had for 20 years tried to find a growing tea plant, probably with the intention to start a tea production in Sweden, as he was well aware of the huge financial possiblities of tea production and he was eager to limit the growing profit for China from the trade. However, after 20 attempts the seeds did not grow in Sweden. He had approached a Professor Gmelin and asked him to seek seeds from a Russian caravan, but the Chinese were observant and suspisious of foreigners travelling in China and guarded them all the time, so the mission failed. Pehr Osbeck had once brought a tea plant on a Swedish East India ship, but while rounding the Cape of Good Hope it was lost at sea in a sudden storm. Council of Commerce Lagerstrom did successfully obtain a plant that grew in the garden in Uppsala for two years, but it turned out to be of another Camellia species. And one plant was brought successfully all the way from Chine to the harbour of Gothenburg, but then the sailors put the plant in the galley, where it was eaten by rats by night.

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Uppsala University

Linnaeus claims that, eventually, the first growing tea plant in Europe arrived Uppsala on 3 October 1763 and that it successfully grew in his botanical garden. However, no tea-production was ever started by Linnaeus in Sweden as the climate was considered too cold.

 

 

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