Your Guide to Herbal Teas

 
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For those of us who frequently look for caffeine-free drinks, herbal teas are often our go-to for a warm afternoon beverage. Although we frequently refer to chamomile and mint brews as teas, they’re actually not considered such.

Classic teas consist mainly of green, white, dark (such as black), oolong, and yellow. What do these substances all have in common? They all originate from a plant called Camellia sinensis, which also goes by the more common names, tea plant or tea shrub. Other plants that do not come from this tree are not considered to be authentic teas. So then where does this leave herbal teas?

Herbal teas are more accurately referred to as “tisanes” (pronounced “tee-zahns”) and they can be made of leaves, flowers, berries, fruit, bark, seeds, and/or spices. There are two main types of tisanes, categorized by how they are made:

  • Infusions are made by steeping herbs, or pouring boiling water over the ingredients. This way is best used for delicate ingredients, such as leaves, petals, and lightly crushed seeds.

  • Decoctions are made by boiling the ingredients in water before straining out the herbs. Decoctions are best used on rougher ingredients, such as bark or berries.

Many tisanes are made from herbs, as their colloquial name suggests, as well as medicinal spices. As such, almost all tisanes are naturally decaffeinated. Here are some of the most popular “herbal teas” as well as the health benefits to each:

  • Peppermint. Peppermint is one of the most widely used herbs for tisanes. It’s been utilized historically and across cultures to treat a number of ailments, mainly headaches, nausea, congestion, toothaches, and minor colds. In studies, it’s been found to contain some anti-allergic properties and a gastrointestinal “relaxing effect,” meaning it can help sooth the stomach and calm IBS symptoms. Just inhaling the steam from peppermint tisanes can settle the stomach.

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  • Sage. Sage is used as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, stimulant, and has antimicrobial properties. Sage has historically been used to treat headaches, fevers, sore throats, and indigestion.

  • Chamomile. Chamomile tea has had a long history as a healing substance. This herb is good for treating hay fever, inflammation, muscle spasms, menstrual disorders, insomnia, ulcers, wounds, gastrointestinal disorders, rheumatic pain, and hemorrhoids.

  • Rosehips. Rosehips, or hip berries, are best consumed fresh, as that’s when they will have the highest concentration of vitamin C. Vitamin C reduces inflammation and the flavonoid content supports the immune system while calming the stress response.

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  • Thyme. Thyme contains a substance called thymol, which is a biocide. This means, as you may deduce from the word, that it kills harmful microorganisms, such as bacteria. In this way, it can act as a cleansing substance.

  • Lemon Verbena. This shrub is originally native to South Africa and it’s leaves and flowers have been historically used to treat a plethora of health complications. It’s extremely fragrant, smells and tastes of lemon, and is good for treating indigestion, joint pain, insomnia, colds, and even some skin conditions.

  • Edible flowers. Flowers, such as pansies, can add a fresh, light, floral taste to your brews while offering a beautiful aesthetic touch! You can remove the stems, stamen, and pistols, and only use the petals, as the other parts of the flower don’t add flavor (unless it’s saffron). However, if you want to leave some whole flowers on top for presentation, there’s no harm in including the entire structure of the flower.

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When growing and brewing your own tisanes, remember that the more ingredients you include, the more health benefits you will see. In fact, this study found that “the most potent antioxidant activity was found in combinations of different herbs, suggesting synergistic effects.” Essentially the same research found health benefits in Aloysia citrodora (lemon verbena), Foeniculum vulgare (fennel), and Mentha spicata (spearmint), but the richest health benefits were produced when these herbs were combined. So don’t be afraid to get creative with your spice and herb concoctions.

Pro tips:

  • When brewing herbal teas, never use an aluminum pot. It will infuse your drink with a metallic taste and at worst, it can interact with the herbs to create a toxic substance.

  • If you’re using dried herbs, only use about half as much as the recipe calls for.

  • You can serve tisanes chilled, but don’t save them in the fridge for more than 24 hours. Particularly if you’re using fresh ingredients without preservatives, these teas are very susceptible to harmful bacteria.

Here are some delicious and easy tisane recipes to get you started:

Spiced lemon decoction:

  • Lemon

  • Geranium leaf (optional)

  • Rosemary, thyme, or lavender

  • Fresh mint

  • Boil for 3-5 minutes

Coriander infusion:

  • ½ teaspoon whole coriander seeds, lightly crushed

  • 8-10 thyme sprigs

  • ½ teaspoon whole fennel seeds, lightly crushed

  • Steep for 10 minutes

Honied ginger decoction:

  • Ginger root

  • Fresh lemon juice

  • Honey

  • Boil for 10-15 minutes (add lemon and honey after removing from heat)

Cooling sage infusion:

  • Sage

  • Lemon rind

  • Fresh lemon juice

  • Honey or sugar to taste

  • Steep 5-10 minutes

Sweet lemon infusion:

  • Lemon verbena

  • Mint

  • Sugar or honey to taste

  • Steep 3-5 minutes

Happy brewing!