Herbal tea is a generic term used for any beverage made by steeping flowers, roots, leaves, and bark from plants other than Camellia sinensis, the tea plant. Sometimes, herbal teas are referred to as tisanes, especially when they have perceived medicinal value. Many cultures make their own special varieties of herb tea, and a wide assortment of herbal teas are available in most markets and natural food stores. It is also possible to make your own herbal tea blends, if you are familiar with botanical ingredients.
When Camellia sinensis is mixed with herbs and flowers, it is still referred to as “tea,” since the primary ingredient is the tea leaves. Many classic blends of tea include floral or botanical ingredients such as orange, bergamot, lavender, jasmine, or toasted rice. The caffeine level and flavor of true tea can be altered through different handling and curing techniques for the tea leaves, which leads to a wide assortment of teas including green, white, and black.
When an herbal tea is made, true tea is not included in the ingredients, and the ingredients may be combined in a blend which is targeted to create a specific flavor or medicinal effect. Herbal teas can be calming and relaxing, energizing, or soothing, and they may be targeted at skin conditions, stomach complaints, breathing difficulties, cold symptoms, and many other medical issues. In some cultures, herbal tea is an important part of medical practice. Many people enjoy herbal tea as an alternative to regular tea, since it is caffeine free and it does not usually have the tannins which make true tea bitter.
Some common ingredients in herb tea include lemon, mint, chamomile, lavender, orange, fennel, hibiscus, roses, rose hips, jasmine, licorice, nettles, rosemary, vetiver, valerian, willow, citrus blossoms, thyme, and horehound. Regional “teas” such as mate and rooibos are also technically herb tea, since they are made with plants other than Camellia sinensis. Since herbal tea is usually low in tannins, it can be steeped for longer periods of time to make an intense, strong infusion.
There are a number of ways to prepare herbal tea. When ingredients like roots and bark are used, the tea is often boiled on the stovetop in a heavy pan to release the maximum amount of flavor. When dried flowers and leaves are blended to make an herbal tea, the tea may be brewed by pouring boiling or almost boiling water over the ingredients and then steeping them. Some cooks also make sun tea, by placing a large glass pot of water and ingredients in the sun and allowing it to slowly steep over the course of a sunny day.