Although it is most commonly referred to by the moniker “herbal tea blends”, the vast varieties of steeped herbal beverages that are enjoyed all over the world are not really teas at all. In fact, tisanes (the more accurate term for herbal teas) don’t even come from the same plant as true teas. Black, white, green, and oolong tea have the same source: the camellia sinensis plant. The distinctive appearance and taste of any type of true tea comes from how the leaves are prepared once they are harvested. Altering the amount of time camellia sinensis leaves are given to dry and oxidize determines the style of tea that will result; the more time tea leaves spend in the curing process, the stronger and bolder they will be.
While tisanes packaged, sold, and prepared in the same way as true teas, their origins could not be more different. True teas are made exclusively from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. Tisanes can have a variety of sources; the most common sources are the South American yerba mate plant, the South African rooibos bush, and any number of herb plants native to all parts of the world. They can be made by drying different parts of the plants from which they come. Tisanes are typically categorized by the part of the plant that is used to make them. Many tea drinkers would be surprised to learn that a large number of the most common “teas” on the market today are actually tisanes: mint and lemongrass (leaf tisanes), chamomile and lavender (flower tisanes), peach, raspberry and apple (fruit tisanes), ginger and Echinacea (root tisanes), cinnamon and black cherry (bark tisanes), and fennel and cardamom (seed or spice tisanes). Unlike camellia sinensis, the plant sources of tisanes are used for much more than their leaves. Because they come from such a wide range of plants and plant parts, tisanes offer many more options in flavor than true teas. The wide variety of tisane flavors is often used to create flavored tea blends; true teas are mixed with tisanes to create varieties such as Chai.
Tisanes of all kinds have been steeped for centuries. The ancient civilizations in Egypt and China left behind documented uses of tisanes for medicinal purposes as well as their general consumption for enjoyment. Either in pure form or blended from various plant sources, tisanes were thought to have had a wealth of healthy properties that could ease anxiety and help to restore health. Tisanes continue to be popular for both their delicious flavors and health benefits today. They are naturally caffeine free (even decaffeinated true teas still contain trace amounts of caffeine), rich in antioxidants and vitamins, and are available in a broad array of flavors and blends. No matter what your taste preferences are, you’re sure to find at least a few tisanes that satisfy your palate. Tisane varieties are just as readily available, easy to prepare, and maybe for some even more tasty than true teas.