Edition #8: Kombucha’s Weird Name

Also in this week’s edition: Tie-dye origins, Ethnic blankets, Rage yoga and Magic Salamanders

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Kombucha’s weird name

Before Kombucha was popular with hippies (voted most liberal product of 2009), the beverage was consumed across Asia. The drink was thought to have originated in ancient China around 200 BCE, hence its other name “Manchurian tea.”

But Kombucha expert Hanna Crum says the origins are a game of telephone, starting from a Korean doctor “Komu-ha” who then became the “Dr. Kombu” who supposedly brought kombucha to Japan. 

It gets weirder. The word “konbu-cha” literally means kelp tea in Japanese, which is a real beverage. Academics speculate that English speakers misapplied “kombucha” to fermented tea because the gelatinous film (the beloved SCOBY) produced by kombucha was thought to resemble seaweed.

Kombucha’s fame as a health drink is owed to its probiotic content, which is often touted for its benefits to the gut microbiome. There’s several larger health claims such as kombucha’s anti-cancer properties, help with managing diabetes and even sufferers of HIV.  

But does the science hold up? A 2019 systematic literature review “found no articles on the empirical health benefits of kombucha as identified from human subjects research,” concluding that there’s little direct evidence for kombucha’s health benefits. So don’t go spending all your beverage funds on kombucha just yet. 

Tie-dye Origins

I made tie-dye shirts in elementary school once. I wasn’t paying attention to the method (mine turned out like shit), which involved tying parts of a cloth with rubber bands in order to color only portions of the cloth.

Although tie-dye rose to popularity in the 60s as a hippie fashion trend, the name literally refers to the tied-and-dyed technique documented as far back as 1909

But this practice shares roots in ancient cultures like the Bandhani (“to tie”) technique of India, Shibori technique of Japan and Adiri of Yoruba (Nigeria).

These days, tie-dye is making a modern comeback and was declared one of the top Instagram fashion trends of 2019. Why? 

From tie-dye fashion designer Sai Ta

“[Tie-dye is] as relevant to the times now as it was in the counter movement of the hippies…It’s a reflection of freedom and hope. The tie-dye process always creates unexpected results and its outcome is always uncertain, which I guess is the mood of the times now. The unknown is more present.”

Ethnic blankets

Staying on that fashion thread (heh), what types of blankets do you have in the home? I was on a camping trip with a diverse group of friends. When I brought out the thick, traditional blanket given to me by my mother, I said “check out my Chinese blanket.”

Later, my Vietnamese friend walked in and commented “Oooh! A Vietnamese blanket!” Then a Mexican friend saw it and said “Ooh, Mexican blanket!” 

We looked at each other laughing and said in unison: “Ethnic blankets!”

Related: I was wondering why Mexican blankets, especially serapes, were so popular in yoga studios. Turns out there’s a story about yogi BKS Iyengar, who traveled to Mexico to buy cotton blankets but discovered by chance the much cheaper and more durable serape. 

Yoga is all the rage…again

There’s a type of yoga that doesn’t involve the usual meditative setting. It allows you to curse, drink alcohol and release emotions. It’s called rage yoga

According to founder Lindsay Istace, Rage Yoga is…

“A practice involving breath work, positional exercises, and the expressing of raw emotions with the goal of attaining good health and to become zen as f*uck. Rage Yoga is an attitude and a method of connecting you to your most Badass Self.”

Here’s a CBS interview (Youtube) with the ladies behind Rage Yoga.

I dig irreverent takes on spiritual practices that can feel holier-than-thou. I also love derivative forms of innovation.

Maybe my next million-dollar idea will be a new take on yoga. How bout “Electric Yoga,” an EDM-infused yoga practice? Oh wait.

Random corner: Axolotls are magical salamanders

There’s a cute Pokemon-like salamander called the Axolotl that resides in bodies of water near Mexico City. 

Axolotl means “water servant” or “water dog” in Nahuatl, language of the Aztecs. The Aztecs named this creature after Xolotl, their god of fire and lightning. Xolotl was said to have transformed into a salamander to avoid being sacrificed so the sun and moon could move in the sky. 

These days, axolotls are known for their regenerative superpower. According to Live Science, axolotls have “the ability to regrow almost any body part — feet, legs, arms, tails, even bits of the heart and brain.” 

Perhaps most surprising, “organs, including eyes, can be transplanted between axolotls without rejection by the recipient body’s immune system. In 1968, researchers showed that they could even transplant the head of one axolotl to another axolotl, and it functioned normally.” 

I don’t want to know about the gruesome experiment in that last sentence, but hey – axolotls were eaten for food since Aztec times. 

Axolotls are now considered an endangered species, facing water pollution in Lake Xochimilco and new predators like tilapia and wasteful humans. Just last year, I was one of those tourists riding along the Xochimilco River, drinking beer in a rented trajinera.

These days, Mexico City’s “walking fish” are celebrated, adorning the walls as street art and sold as plush toys. The axolotl will even appear on the 50-peso bill in 2022.

Many people now keep them as pets – check out this video of – axolotls have the cutest yawn
Other quick facts I just have to throw in there: 

  • Axolotls is over 1,000 times more resistant to cancer than mammals 
  • Axolotls choose, depending on their environment, to be an “eternal teenager” and live underwater, or to lose their gills and become a land-dwelling salamander.
Oz Chen

Oz Chen

Oz is the host of Hippiecritical, a blog and podcast exploring new age trends with both skepticism and an open heart. He's a designer + writer by day, hippie whisperer by night.

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