What is tea? The term tea is used to describe just about any beverage that is an infusion of water and some of kind plant material. While true tea is brewed from the Camellia sinenis plant this story is about tisanes or herbal teas.
Tisanes are made with fresh or dried flowers, leaves, seeds, roots or bark. And the blends for these infusions are innumerable. Probably one of the most familiar tisane is the tiny daisy like Chamomile plant that is commonly used to help with sleep.
Another popular herbal infusion is Rooibos. It is often called “red tea” and is made from is a broom-like member of the legume family of plants. The needle like leaves are oxidized to produce the distinctive reddish-brown color of rooibos and enhance the flavor. A drink most people might not think of as an herbal tea is the coffee substitute Postum which is made from roasted wheat.
One of my favorite foggy morning drinks is a spiced orange and ginger tisane. To make it I simple add orange zest (if I have it – orange juice concentrate if I don’t), dried ginger and cinnamon sticks to a cup or two of water and bring it to a low simmer for a couple of minutes. The aroma released from this blend is very warming and the flavor will stir the fog from your brain no matter the weather.
Many people drink herbal teas because they do not contain caffeine and can appease any palate by blending flavors. Most herbal teas sold commercially are safe for children and you can drink them as often and as much as you want. Or you can blend your own special brew.
Any plant can be used to make an infusion – dandelions (a gardener’s bane) make a wonderful tea that is reported to have more beta-carotene than carrots. The leaves contain iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc, as well as vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, D, E, and P. Who knew your lawn supported such a pharmacy?
Catnip, a member of the mint family, can be used as a relaxant much like chamomile. The chrysanthemum flower will decoct into a light refreshing tea that is slightly sweet without the need for sugar.
There are a few things to watch out for if you are blending your own. You should make sure your herbs are grown organically and have not been treated with pesticides. And there are a few herbs that can have toxic or allergenic effects.
For instance if you have an allergy to ragweed (or suffer from hay fever) you should not drink chamomile tea as it will exacerbate your symptoms. The comfrey plant contains alkaloids that can cause permanent liver damage if over used and lobelia contains toxins similar to nicotine. A good rule to remember is anything that causes your sinuses to act up will cause more problems if you ingest it.
Otherwise let your nose and palate be your guide to developing your own tisanes.