Sunday, March 4, 2012

Drink your herbs - herbal tisanes and teas


Many years ago I stopped using in general conversation the real name for an herbal tea, a tisane.  Recently I was watching Masterpiece Mystery on PBS and they were showing a Hercule Poirot episode where he was constantly drinking healing tisanes.  It reminded me that when I was a teen reading Agatha Christie for the first time, I had no idea what that was, now I drink them every day, just like the great detective.

If regular tea is not your thing and you find coffee to be too strong and soda before lunch out of the question, then perhaps it is time to consider a tisane, otherwise known as herbal tea. We’re talking herbs, fruit, flowers, roots, grains and just about any other plant material you can get your hands on. Steep it in hot water and you’ll have a low-calorie, flavorful and healthful beverage.

Tisane drinkers fall into two categories: those who drink them for flavor and those who drink them for health benefits.

Half my customers don’t care what it does for you as long as it tastes good. The other half don’t care what it tastes like as long it’s beneficial.  I realized that although I blend my herbal teas for taste first, because I think medicine should go down well, it was still the medicinal properties of those teas that some people cared most for.  Recently I started rewriting my tea descriptions to include these medicinal pieces of information so tisane drinkers could make the best choices.  If you want to see the rewritten descriptions, check out our Herbal Tea Listings on Esty.

While I do not dispense medical advice, many customers are seeking specific herbs that have health-benefiting qualities, so I try to craft herbal teas that work in combination with certain medicinal properties. It is important, however, that customers use the same discretion with herbs as they would with products in a drugstore.  There are a world of plants to be explored in terms of flavor and benefits. 

When brewing a tisane you need to realize that unlike black tea a brewing time of 2 minutes is rarely long enough.  If you use a root, like Echinacea you may need to steep as long as 15 minutes to extract the medicinal properties and flavors.  I general recommend 5 to 7 minutes except when I have included certain long steep herbs. Different palates also demand different strengths so when trying a new herb, sample it after just a few minutes of steeping. It can always be diluted if it gets too strong. The standard formula is one teaspoon of herbs for each eight ounces of water.  

Some herbal remedies made as a tisane can bring almost instant relief, when they are taken to ease a headache for example, others take time to strengthen and stimulate the body systems which in turn promote healing.  So when hoping to effect rheumatism, patience will be required.

Tacoma Washington’s Mad Hat Tea Co has an herbal tea called “Pounding Headache”  that was designed by co-owner Maureen McHugh.  Made from white willow, lavender, rosehips, blue violet, lemon peel and chrysanthemum it is a good relaxer and has the essential components to work on headaches.  Willow bark is the original ingredient used in making aspirin.

Herbal Infusions of a single herb are not nearly as flavorful or as healthful as a blend. I make a popular blend called Dreamtime that I originally formulated as an alternative to Sleepy time from Celestial Seasonings which I found to be too strong in flavor to help me relax.  Dreamtime” tea blend helps to promote sleep, with a mixture of chamomile, catnip, lavender and when I have some, skullcap.  Many sleep blends contain mint which is a great herb for relaxation and settling the mind, but I dislike mint so this blend does not use it.  Unable to avoid making a mint relaxation blend to promote restful sleep I did make a minty flavored tisane called “Rest Easy.” Using lemon balm, chamomile, catnip, spearmint and lemon grass the blend is slightly mint-flavored and but sweet and citrusy.

Another item to consider when brewing herb tea is not only what will enhance the flavor, but also what will improve the look or aroma of the tea.  Natural Herb tisanes are general light in color. Sometimes colorless, so you need to add hints of color and touches of extra flavor with additional ingredients.  I use hibiscus to add a rich red color and cinnamon it lend a natural brownness.  When I want something sweeter fennel seed, anise seed or licorice root will work.  Strongly flavored medicinal herbs like valerian can be covered by adding other strongly flavored herbs like peppermint or lemon verbena.

The following is a varied list of herbs that are safe to drink on a daily basis (the only exception being the caffeine in yerba mate which should be treated similar to coffee and tea). Pregnant women should consult their doctors before using any new herb.  Many herbs are not advisable for those pregnant or breast feeding.

ROOIBOS (we give more details on this tea herb in the Herb of the Week Rooibos post)

This is the herbal drink for people who don’t like tea. It’s not bitter, grassy or even green. In fact, its nickname is red tea. The bushy shrub grows only in South Africa where it has long been a staple.

Some describe the flavor as citrus; others liken the taste to a grain like wild rice. Whatever people taste, the slightly sweet flavor is unique. It brews into a deep honey-colored liquid.

There are many health claims surrounding rooibos, but one thing is certain: it has high levels of antioxidants.


One might not think of holly when reaching for an herbal tea but that’s what yerba mate is. A South American holly to be exact. A popular drink in Argentina and other countries south of the equator the herbal infusion is traditionally drunk through a metal straw from a gourd.

The herb is sold dried in green and roasted forms. The green version has a grassy flavor, reminiscent of bamboo. The roasted replaces that grassy flavor with smoky and grain notes.
Because yerba mate has caffeine and other xanthines, However, the profile of those stimulants is different from that of coffee and tea and some studies have suggested it affects the body in a different way. It’s high in antioxidants and can give a morning lift.

Maureen McHugh, who believes in the curative properties of yerba mate and rooibos that she blended them together in a tea she calls “Remedy for death.”  I love that Idea and may be making a similar version myself.


I grow a black stem peppermint because the scent and flavor or both sweet and cooling and stronger and more singular than other mint varieties.  I drink it for the soothing qualities it has on my throat when I have to do a lot of speaking and lecturing.  The scent will help wake you up and I live using it in my bath as well as tea products.  The girl scouts always gravitated to Peppermint when we would use the herb in programs, so I always include it in a tea blend for children.

Since peppermint is a strong mint flavor I will also use Spearmint or Apple mint (which a spearmint cultivar) in my tea blends when a gentler hint of sweetness and mint are desired. 
Mints will be both cooling and warming as well as stimulating, but they are also good for relieving digestive problems and soothing fevers.  Peppermint is said to be good for migraines and headaches.


Lemon Balm is a great choice for growing in the garden as it has a pleasant lemon-scented leaf.  It is also good for attracting bees to the garden and the aroma is said to drive away insects.  In the Middle Ages it was one of the herbs strewn on the floor.  Lemon balm is a known anti-bacterial with anti-oxidant properties.  It is a calmative, anti-spasmodic, sedative, and nervine.  Its antidepressant qualities are gaining popularity. The tisane can relieve tension, restlessness, nervous sleep disorders, menstruation, digestive and gastrointestinal disorders.  It can rejuvenate the central nervous system. And most importantly, lemon balm leaves make a wonderful refreshing and calming summer iced tea. Recent research shows it may benefit "cognitive performance and mood and may therefore be a valuable adjunct in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease."

Good for feverish colds, nervousness and depression including post natal depression, the light flavor of lemon balm makes it good for children and it is a great remedy for childhood infections and chronic bronchitis.  The oil of lemon balm has been used on cold sores and a handful of the leaves are even good used in the bath to add relaxation.

As part of a new idea I thought I would share at least one herbal tea recipe a month and then use it as a spring board to discuss the herbs included and how to grow or use them during the rest of the month.  So here is an herbal tea (tisane) to try on your own:

Sweet Mint Remedy
This is a great cold remedy with anti-bacterial properties and stomach calming attributes.  It is also good fro women issues and cramps and upset form menstruation.  With the licorice it is sweet enough that no sugar or honey will be needed.

1 Tbls. plus 1 tsp. peppermint leaf
3 slices Chinese licorice root *
2 tsp. raspberry leaf
1 tsp. lemon grass
1 quart water, boiling

Steep the herbs in the boiling water covered fro 4 minutes.  Strain and discard herbs but save licorice root and return it to tea for some extra sweetness.  Enjoy the tea hot or chilled. (Makes 4 cups.)

*Licorice note – Chinese licorice is available at Chinese markets and herb shops.  Do not substitute American or European licorice, both are strong laxatives and will not give you exactly what you were expecting with this tea.


  1. It can rejuvenate the central nervous system. And most importantly, lemon balm leaves make a wonderful refreshing and calming summer Herbal Tea.

  2. Thank you for your post, I am looking for such article along time, finally i found it in your blog. smoking mix

  3. Does black stemmed peppermint go by another name?

  4. No it is just a variety of peppermint so it has not special name. Some places carry it and some do not. Those that know they are selling it will say so, if you are purchasing online.
    Hope that helps. Marcy

  5. I really got a lot out of this article, and appreciate the time and effort you made to research, write and publish this article. Thanks so much, ~Antonio Dominion


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