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Tisane / Herbal Infusion Basics

What are Herbal Teas / Tisanes / Herbal Infusions?

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Fresh mint tea
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Herbal teas are a major part of the tea world, even though they're not technically teas. Learn about the difference between a "tisane" (or herbal tea) and a "true tea," how tisanes are categorized, and how to make tisanes at home.

Tea vs. "Herbal Tea"

With a title like "herbal tea," you'd think that chamomile, mint, rooibos and the like would be tea. However, all "true teas" (green tea, black tea, etc.) are from the same plant, Camellia sinensis.

What is commonly referred to as an "herbal tea" is actually an infusion or decoction made from a plant other than Camellia sinensis. For this reason, there is a trend toward the use of terms like "tisane" (pronounced tea-zahn), "botanical" or "infusion."

Types of Tisanes

Tisanes are usually categorized by what part of the plant they come from. Here are some examples of each of the major categories of tisanes:

* Leaf tisanes: lemon balm, mint, lemongrass and French verbena
* Flower tisanes: rose, chamomile, hibiscus and lavender
* Bark tisanes: cinnamon, slippery elm and black cherry bark
* Root tisanes: ginger, echinacea and chicory
* Fruit/berry tisane: raspberry, blueberry, peach and apple
* Seed/spice tisanes: cardamom, caraway and fennel

Sometimes, tisanes are made from a blend of plant types or from multiple parts of the same plant. Occasionally, tisanes are made from moss, stems or other plant matter. Kombucha is often classified as a tisane, but it is technically a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria (or "SCOBY").

Tisanes may also be classified as medicinal or not. While many tisanes are high in antioxidants and nutrients, some have long histories of medicinal use, while others are typically consumed for simple enjoyment. "Detox teas" are a popular category of medicinal tisanes.

How to Make Tisanes

Most tisanes should be prepared as an infusion or a decoction.

Decoctions release more essential oils and flavor from plant matter and are often used for plant matter with tough surfaces or smaller surface areas. For this reason, leaf, flower and seed tisanes are generally steeped, whereas bark, root and berry tisanes are generally prepared as decoctions.

Brewing times and proportions for tisanes vary widely. They may be as short as two minutes or as long as 15 minutes, and may require as little as a pinch of plant material per cup of water or as much as several tablespoons per cup. Luckily, most vendors will supply you with instructions for each type they offer.

If your tisane comes with brewing instructions, use them and then adjust the quantities/time to your tastes. If not, ask your supplier or search online for instructions for that particular tisane.

Warning: Never use an aluminum pot to prepare a tisane. Aluminum is a reactive metal, so it can react with the herb and, depending on the plant type, it may produce a very toxic beverage.

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