The first thing to understand about herbal tea is that it’s not tea at all! At least not strictly speaking. The tea that we drink with our toast at breakfast is made from leaves of the tea bush, Camellia sinensis. It may be green or black, or flavoured – like Earl Grey, which gets its particular perfume from bergamot oil – but it’s still tea.
A better name for the infusion of herbs or flowers that is called herbal tea is tisane. Many different types of herbs and plants have been used for thousands of years for their medicinal properties, and tisanes today are often used in the same way to remedy, revive or relax. However many people drink them simply because they like the taste or as an alternative to caffeine-rich tea or coffee.
In the UK, herbal teas sold in shops are treated as a foodstuff not as a drug i.e. they need to be safe for consumption but the alleged benefits do not need to be medically proven.
- If you are on prescribed medication, check with your doctor before using any herbal teas. Also be wary if you are pregnant!
To Make a Tisane
If you’re using leaves or berries, you need to allow about 1 tablespoon per cup. (Chop or tear the leaves finely.) Fill the cup with boiling water and leave to infuse. About 10 minutes is the suggested time but, by experimenting, you’ll find out how strong a flavour a particular herb will give you and if you want to leave it to stand for longer.
If you’re using dried herbs, leave it to infuse for about 5 minutes.
For ginger and liquorice roots or cinnamon sticks, you’ll need to simmer them slightly – about 15 minutes – to extract the flavour. Similarly simmering will help the flavour if you’re using seeds such as caraway or aniseed.
Alternatively you can buy teabags in supermarkets, health food stores and some chemists.
Herbal teas are usually drunk without milk but you may like to add a little honey or sugar to taste.
Not just the preserve of elderly spinsters, chamomile tea is renowned for its sedative qualities. It’s said to relieve anxiety and promote sleep and it also has an anti-inflammatory action that seems to be particularly effective in the gut. Not recommended for pregnant women.
Take it before you go on a car ride and it may help prevent motion sickness. Ginger is known to relieve nausea, ease flatulence and aid digestion. It also freshens the breath and may even be an aphrodisiac!
Drunk in China for 5,000 years, ginseng tea has been considered in the past as a sort of miracle drink that cures everything. Its botanical name is Panax, a Greek word that means ‘all heal’. It has many supporters who still swear by it for its rejuvenating properties.
It’s not for nothing that peppermint is used to flavour many of the antacid tablets available on the market. It’s been known for centuries that peppermint relaxes muscles thus aiding digestion and relieving stomach cramps and flatulence. A pleasant-tasting tisane, it will, just like toothpaste, freshen your breath.
Some research has suggested that cinnamon can lower cholesterol and blood sugar. Even without that possible benefit, cinnamon tea is a warming and seasonal drink for winter. It can be drunk as a tisane or the cinnamon-flavoured water can be poured on top of a regular black teabag, which is then allowed to infuse for 2-3 minutes. Serve with sugar to taste.
Not a tisane but a true herbal tea, Jasmine tea is made from green tea leaves scented with jasmine flowers. Some research has suggested that jasmine tea can reduce cholesterol levels. There are many other health claims for it but most people drink it for its delicate fragrance.