Herbal teas (referred to “herbal infusions” or “tisanes” by tea enthusiasts and masters) are beverages made from herbs, fruits, spices and/or other plant material infused in water. Some people believe they shouldn’t be referred to as “teas” at all in order to avoid confusion with true tea made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. However, “herbal tea” seems to be the most widely recognized name in the U.S.
Herbal teas generally do not contain caffeine – they're referred to as “caffeine-free” instead of “decaf” (since decaf signifies that there once was caffeine and it’s been removed).
There are many different herbs, spices, flowers and other plant material in the world that can be infused into water, creating a huge spectrum of flavors, colors, and health benefits!
Left: Sweet Desert Delight Rooibos Blend | Middle: Egyptian Chamomile | Right: Sweet Texas Dreams Lemongrass Blend (Photo Credit: Zhi Tea)
HERBAL TEA ORIGINS
Herbal infusions have been consumed for thousands of years by many cultures. The first historical record of the use of herbs is the Chinese Pharmacopoeia, attributed to the ancient Chinese emperor Shen Nong, known as the father of agriculture, around 3,000 BC. Herbs are still central to Chinese medicine, and they are used around the world both for medicinal purposes and as enjoyable beverages.
TYPES OF HERBAL TEAS
Here are a few of the many popular herbs that may be used to make tea, along with the health benefits they are most often associated with, and some examples of teas that contain those herbs as main ingredients:
Traditional Medicinals - Roasted Dandelion Root
Choice Organic Teas - Reishi Detox
Camellia Tea - Just Lovely
Traditional Medicinals - Raspberry Leaf
Rose (right) and Lavender (left)
BUYING AND STORING HERBAL TEA
When buying herbs or tisanes, you should always try to buy organic, from a trusted vendor. Make sure you feel comfortable with your vendor and always do your research before trying new herbs you’re not familiar with - taking risks with herbs can be dangerous, since sometimes they can have adverse affects in combination with certain drugs, or health conditions.
If you’re buying loose herbs, it’s best to buy fully dried herbs that have not been cut or broken up. This is because the whole herb is better able to retain its flavor, aroma and potency during storage. As with any tea, store your herbs in a cool, dark, dry place – many herb shops sell tinted airtight containers for optimal storage. It’s generally best to consume your herbs within a year (but check on the package as the expiration date could vary). PRO TIP: Put a label on your dry herbs with the date you bought them!
PREPARING HERBAL TEA
Herbs can be prepared in a number of different ways, depending on the type of herb and the amount of medicinal potency you are seeking. They can be steeped similarly to true teas (as outlined below), but it is usually recommended to use maximum water temperature and a higher steep time, in order to extract more of the medicinal benefits.
For some types of tougher herbs in the form of bark, roots, mushrooms and seeds, decoction is the recommended method of preparation, which involves simmering the herb on the stovetop for about a half hour and then straining it (for example, this is how you’d make elderberry syrup – a cold/flu remedy commonly made from dried elderberries, ginger, cinnamon and cloves).
Another popular preparation method is a longer infusion, which basically involves steeping the herbs in boiled water for several hours or overnight. This is done to extract as much nutritional benefit is as possible – for example, nettles prepared as tea (steeped for several minutes) contain about 5-10 mg/cup of calcium, while nettles infused for several hours contains up to 500 mg/cup!
Can you cold brew herbal tea? The answer is sometimes – some herbs, especially flowers (like hibiscus!), dried fruits and leaves, or rooibos, make excellent cold infusions. However, some herbs need hot water to bring out their benefits, and some just taste straight up gross when they’re cold. As a general rule of thumb, you should rinse your herbs with boiling water before cold brewing to be safe, since some herbs may not have been heat-processed like true teas.
So which preparation method should you use? It’s really up to you – steeping herbal tissanes like a tea is probably the most common for everyday enjoyment, but if you want to venture into more of the healing properties of herbs, you might want to consider using the stovetop decoction or infusing for a longer time! Here are some general tips on steeping herbal teas:
HOW TO BREW HERBAL TEA
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- Water Kettle or Pot to Heat Water
- Tea Leaves / Sachets / Bags
- Teapot with Filter / Teacup / Personal Mug and Filter
STEP ONE: HEAT THE WATER
- 212℉ // Boiling
Pro Tip: Use filtered water for the best tasting cup!
STEP TWO: MEASURE THE TEA
- About 2 grams (1-2 tsp) per 8 oz. (1 cup) of water
Pro Tip: Add tea leaves to an infuser that lets them open fully, or you can put them straight into the teapot and use a strainer when you're pouring a cup!
STEP THREE: STEEP THE TEA
- 5+ minutes
Herbal teas should generally be steeped longer than true teas – more than 5 minutes. You’ll find that 10+ min is ideal for most herbs to bring out maximum benefits – it’s always best to check on the package or look up the specific herb you’re making!
Pro Tip: Cover your tea while it steeps to keep all the heat and aroma in the steeping vessel.
Additions: It's up to you! Some herbal infusions go well with milk (such as chai spice blends) and some are great with honey (such as chamomile for a nice throat-soothing tonic while you're sick)
STEP FOUR: ENJOY :)
Note: Cold brewing is another way to enjoy herbal tea, but in general you should rinse the tea with boiling water before cold steeping to avoid bacteria (since many herbs have not been heat-processed like true tea). Learn how to cold brew tea here.
Check out this short video on how to prepare herbal tea:
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Written By: Melanie Mock
The content of this post represents information from various individuals, organizations and studies, and should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your healthcare provider about specific health needs.