Tea aficionados use the word “tisane” to describe what most people refer to as “herbal tea.” Tisane is the French word for “herbal infusion,” and it’s a beverage that can be made from multiple parts of a plant—except of course, the tea plant, Camellia sinensis—including leaves, flowers, fruit, roots and bark.
Tisanes have long been thought to have healing and medicinal properties. Chamomile, for example, was first mentioned in an Egyptian papyrus dated 1550 BCE. Peppermint dates back to the Greeks, who rubbed their dining tables with the leaf to ward off potential stomach problems.
Whether you drink herbal teas for natural health or you simply want to add flavor to your beverage repertoire, your tisane options are almost limitless so long as you’re using safe-to-ingest plants.
How to Prepare Tisanes
Tisane preparation differs according to the part of the plant from which the herbal tea is made. Tisanes made from leaves, flowers and delicate fruits, for example, are prepared differently from tisanes made with woody bark or tough seeds. In general, tisane preparation consists of five distinct elements: appropriate equipment, water temperature, plant proportions, ideal temperature and time.
You’ll need equipment for boiling water, whether it’s a saucepan or a tea kettle, and you’ll need something to hold your tea leaves while they’re steeping or simmering. Ideally, you should use an infusion basket that is as wide and deep as possible so that your leaves have room to unfurl. Commercial bags are fine, too, but look for bleach-free bags that won’t leach harmful chemicals like dioxin and epichlorohydrin into your water.
Although this point seems obvious, it’s worth mentioning: Water that tastes unpleasant will make tisane that tastes unpleasant. Beyond basic water quality, however, is the importance of water temperature. For tisanes made from leaves, roots, flowers and other delicate plant parts, heat water to boiling and then remove it from the heat before adding the herbs. Alternatively, tisanes made from more hardy plant parts should be left simmering so that the bark or seeds can release their properties.
A general rule of thumb is to blend one cup of boiling water for every single ounce of herb. If you’re using powdered herbs or herbs from a capsule, then make sure not to mix more than 240 milligrams with your water.
For tisanes made from delicate plant parts, set the herbs, whether they’re in an infuser or in a tea bag, inside of a cup or container. Then, pour the heated water over the herbs; avoid boiling the infuser or tea bags. For bark and seed teas, place the infuser or tea bag inside the saucepan or kettle and simmer before steeping.
Steep herbal teas for 30 to 60 minutes. You’ll have to experiment because different herbs will have different optimal steeping times. Bark and seed teas should be simmered for 10 to 15 minutes before being transferred to a container for steeping.
You can brew large quantities of herbal teas at a time. They can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days without losing their quality.
Popular Tisanes and Their Health Benefits
Many people associate tisanes with medicinal properties. Researchers from Tufts University, for example, found that drinking three cups of hibiscus tea daily for six weeks lowered systolic blood pressure by as much as 7.2 points. The same researchers also discovered that peppermint tea has strong antibacterial and antiviral properties in addition to strong antioxidant and anti-tumor actions.
Additionally, chamomile tea displayed antioxidant, antimicrobial and antiplatelet-clumping effects along with anti-inflammatory action and some cholesterol-lowering properties. Their findings were published in the Journal of Nutrition.
Other tisanes have also displayed positive health effects. Willow bark tea contains a compound called salicin, which is similar to the effective ingredient in aspirin, and patients can use it to treat discomfort from headache, low back pain and osteoarthritis. In addition, nursing mothers often drink tea made from fenugreek seeds to increase their breast milk production.
Some of the properties of tisanes, such as chamomile’s association with relaxation, haven’t been replicated by scientific studies. However, science can’t always compete with centuries of accumulated wisdom. Expand your tea horizons and improve your well-being by exploring the wide world of tisanes.
About the Author: Mary Castille studies natural healing and advises patients regarding a variety of alternative medicine options. She recommends Buddha Teas for its extensive collection of teas and tisanes.