It is an evergreen shrub growing to 5 m tall. The leaves are broad elliptic, 3–7 cm long and 1.2–3 cm broad, with a finely serrated margin. The flowers are 5–7 cm diameter, with 5–8 white to dark pink petals.
It has a long history of cultivation in Japan for practical rather than decorative reasons. The leaves are used to make tea while the seeds or nuts are used to make tea seed oil, which is used for lighting, lubrication, cooking and cosmetic purposes. Tea oil has a higher calorific content than any other edible oil available naturally in Japan.
Camellia sasanqua is valued in gardens for its handsome glossy green foliage, and fragrant single flowers that can range in color from white to deep pink and are produced extremely early in the season. Various cultivars have been selected, of which ‘Crimson King’, ‘Hugh Evans’ and ‘Jean May’ have gained the Royal Horticultural Society‘s Award of Garden Merit.