'Tis a Good Time To Try Tisanes

Tea has been around for at least 5,000 years, and since the practice of dropping leaves and other parts of plants into hot water probably wasn't exclusive to tea, it's likely tisanes have been around for at least as long.

What Are Tisanes?

Tisanes (pronounced "tih-ZANS") are often colloquially referred to as herbal teas. Strictly speaking, though, a tisane is anything but tea. Tea, whether green or oolong or simply black, comes from the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis. Tisanes are made from pretty much everything else. It can be made from a wide variety of plant parts—seeds, stems, and leaves—and often consumed as an alternative to tea, as it is almost always caffeine-free.

Varieties of Tisanes

  • Leaf tisanes – peppermint, yerba mate, and rooibos are examples of leaf tisanes. Leaf tisanes are sometimes called herbal tisanes.

  • Flower – chamomile, rose, hibiscus, and chrysanthemum

  • Bark – cinnamon and wild cherry bark

  • Seed and spice – caraway, anise, cardamom, and fennel

  • Fruit, berry, and vegetable – Lemon, apple, strawberry, cucumber

  • Root – Ginger, turmeric, kava, licorice

It's not uncommon to see one or more of these types of tisanes mixed together too.

Tisane Preparation

While tea is primarily prepared by an infusion process, tisanes are prepared either through infusion or decoction.

Infusion:

Infusion is the process of steeping the ingredients of the tisane in hot water for a few minutes, or in cold water for longer periods. Over time, the plant’s flavors infuse the water. Usually the more delicate parts of a plant—flowers, leaves, or berries, for instance—are used for infusions. Chamomile “tea,” possibly the world's most popular tisane, is brewed by infusion.

Decoction:

The process of simmering, not steeping, the materials of the tisane in boiling water for extended periods of time. Decoction is sometimes preceded by mashing the materials of the tisane, breaking down the tougher parts of a plant—roots and bark. Dandelion root tea is an example of decoction.

Enjoying Tisanes

Tisanes come in a wide variety of tastes and aromas, and they can be a nice alternative to tea or coffee. They can also be enjoyed chilled as a hydrating alternative to water.

If you're curious about tisanes and want to try them, the sheer volume of choices can feel overwhelming. Sampling some of the more popular tisanes is a good way to start:

Rooibos – Rooibos (pronounced "ROY-bos") is one of the most popular tisanes in the world. It is also referred to as red tea or red bush tea because it is made from the leaves and stems of the rooibos bush, a plant indigenous to South Africa. Rooibos comes in two varieties: red and green. Red rooibos is made from fermented leaves; the green version is made from unfermented leaves.

Rooibos is caffeine-free and has antioxidant benefits. It has a mellow, malty taste with a naturally occurring touch of sweetness.

Mint – Mint is one of the world's most popular flavors and is used either on its own or combined with other tisanes. Fruits tisanes, in particular, make for a nice combination with mint, but one of the most popular combinations is mint with lemon verbena, an herb.

There are many types of mints, but spearmint and peppermint are the most prevalent choices for tisane. Mint is grown throughout the world, and as with nearly all tisanes, mint ones are caffeine-free.

You can make your own mint tisane simply by infusing mint leaves in hot water. It is a refreshing beverage that can be enjoyed hot as well as iced. 

Ginger – Ginger is a popular tisane made from the ginger root. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, India and China produce over half of the world's ginger.

Ginger tisane is made using either infusion or decoction. It is sometimes mixed with other tisanes—lemon being a popular choice. It has a powerful flowery taste with a dash of astringency as a finish.

Tisanes offer a wide variety of flavors. They are almost always caffeine-free, offering a tasteful alternative to tea and coffee, but they are wonderful drinks in their own right. If you've never tried a tisane, start with one of the ones mentioned above and continue building your palate by slowly venturing into new tastes and aromas.