Teas and Tisanes

Herbal teas are technically not teas at all because they do not include “true teas” such as green, black, white or oolong. The term “tisane” refers to decoctions or infusions made from herbs, spices, bark, roots, fruit or seeds. Infusions are used for herbs that are steeped in hot water as we normally do with tea. Decoctions are reserved for woody, tougher spices, seeds, roots and barks that require a start in cold water and a 15 – 25 minutes simmer. For example, mint is prepared as an infusion whereas ginger or turmeric would be prepared as a decoction. Either way, they are both tisanes.

Tisanes have a very long history dating back to 2700 BC in China and 1550 BC in Egypt where herbal teas were enjoyed for pleasure but also used for medicinal purposes. For instance, chamomile was used centuries ago to support relaxation and sleep. In America, following the Boston Tea Party ordeal, drinking tea was considered unpatriotic so people turned to herbal teas as a pleasant substitute. In recent years, our attention to natural, unprocessed foods and drinks has brought a resurgence in the consumption of tisanes.

Although I have always dried some herbs for the purposes of tisanes, this past year I started a “tea garden” to intentionally expand my tea-making. I planted lemon and orange balm, bergamot, various mints varieties, and German chamomile to complement my other herbs and flowers. Along with these, I dry lavender, oregano, rosemary, rose hips, as well as orange and lemon slices to augment flavour. I sometimes use my dehydrator for herbs and flowers, but I mostly air dry the old-fashioned way. I find the oven, dehydrator and microwave can be a touch too hot for drying herbs.

There are an endless number of possible tisanes from simple chamomile, mint, lavender, or lemon balm to combinations that are delicious. This combination of herbs and spice is one of my favorite recipes that comes from an older book by C. Costenbader.

½ cup dried rosemary
½ cup dried lavender flowers
½ cup dried mint leaves
¼ cup dried chamomile flowers
¼ cup dried cloves

Combine and store in air-tight container. Use 1 tsp. of the mix to 6 oz. of boiling water. Steep for 6-8 minutes.

As our gardens head for their winter sleep, the herbs, flowers, bark, roots, fruit, and seeds along with spices can add to our comfort in the chilly months ahead

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