The Herbal Non-Tea Tea
Great love affairs start with Champagne and end with tisane. -- Honore de Balzac
“Here in Georgia, people dismiss honeysuckle as a weed,” quips innkeeper Crystal Johnson, of Madison. “In my native country China, it’s called Jin Yin Hua, meaning ‘gold silver flower’ and is valued as a healing herb to fight bacteria and inflammation.” Every year, Crystal forages honeysuckle blossoms on her 100-acre farm as well as delicate blooms on the Osmanthus tree, better known to Southerners as the “fragrant tea olive,” to brew herbal beverage for the pleasure of her guests at The Farmhouse Inn.
“Honeysuckle may be forgotten today,” notes Noreen Parker, owner of Pinch of the Past antiques in Greensboro. “Yet when I was young, my grandmother and her Southern friends frequently served honeysuckle tea, and it was delicious!” They also blended the blossom nectar with honey to spread on tea biscuits. “That was divine,” Noreen recalls. These days, she sips herbal infusions hand-harvested from her garden in temperate seasons. In cooler weather, she treats herself to a pick-me-up tonic blend of dried hibiscus, pomegranate seeds, ginger, and dried apple.
Marilyn and Dan Wright, of Eatonton, also savor herbal teas gathered in their three-tiered medicinal garden on their 11-acre homestead. After managing Agee Nursery for years, the couple obtained nursing degrees and now work in the medical field. One of their favorite herbal teas is holy basil. It’s been revered since ancient times for its potent health properties. Distinct from sweet basil and Thai basil, the spicy-sweet herb emits a clove-like perfume. Inspired cooks call the versatile herb “hot basil.” Hindus call the sacred botanical Tulsi, “the incomparable one.” Its blossoms, leaves, roots, stems, and seeds are variously used in Ayurvedic medicine as adaptogens to counter life stresses.
The growing popularity among Westerners of sipping herbal beverages- hot and cold- is not lost on Ivy Sullivan, manager of Pike Nursery Lake Oconee in Greensboro. On a cheerful note, she reports, “I’ve noticed increased interest across all age groups in homegrown herbs for teas and medicinal purposes. Our herb classes are attracting many new and developed gardeners intrigued to learn about the wonders of tea, both the new and old-fashioned methods. Herbal tea is an old tradition that has turned into a wonderful new tradition appealing to all generations.”
In many countries, the word "tea" legally and uniquely denotes the infusion of leaves and fragrant white blossoms from the evergreen Camellia sinensis, typically sipped in black, green, or white tea forms. A beverage steeped from any other edible botanical is called tisane (pronounced tea-zahn), French for "herbal infusion.” These non-tea teas are caffeine-free, tannin-free nuanced brews of herbs, flowers, spices, fruit, and other flavorful plants.
Virtually all edible botanicals can be sipped as tisanes, offering diverse flavors and aroma therapy personalities: Imagine the leaves of lemon balm, mint, or rosemary. Blossoms of rose, hibiscus, or jasmine. Bark of cinnamon or black cherry. Roots of ginger or chicory. Fruits like raspberry, peach, and apple. Spices like cardamom or fennel. The naturally sweet leaves of the stevia plant offer a calorie-free option to sugar and honey.
Traditionally consumed for pharmacological purposes, tisanes mitigate ailments such as lethargy, sore throat, head cold, cough, headache, stomach disorder, allergies, or infection. Some brews additionally gain recreational popularity for their heady fragrance or pleasurable taste. Think refreshing peppermint tea, also known for its decongestant and digestive properties. Or the light flowery apple-like aroma and sweetness of chamomile tea, often sipped for a calming sleepy-time effect.
For the adventurous sipper, Biron Teas, Inc. in Macon produces specialty blends of Western, Chinese, and Ayurvedic healing herbs in palate-pleasing combinations. Its boutique recipes feature adaptogenic herbs aimed to balance metabolism, immune and endocrine systems. Co-founder Andi Biron leverages her Masters degree in alternative health to concoct soothing herbal recipes such as Biron’s proprietary ‘Worryfree’ blend that won the Flavor of Georgia Beverage Award. Reports Andi, “I enjoy mixing the herbs and playing with flavoring. Sometimes, I know which herbs will mix well and, other times, I am totally surprised.” She adds, “Many of the herbs that work, don’t taste great. I love trying to make a bitter herb taste good through a blend.” All Biron packaging is earth-friendly. Biron teas can be purchased online, at Farmview Market in Madison, or at Kroger in Milledgeville and Athens.
Joycelyn Menard, owner of Wild Berry Health Food shop in Madison, has served herbal devotees for over twenty years. She notes, “Ginger tea and turmeric tea, alone or in combination, are popular for inflammation.” During the winter season, she reports “many people choose echinacea, also known as purple cone flower, to enhance their immune system. Other popular herbal teas include elderberry for antiviral and burdock root tea to cleanse the bloodstream and liver.”
Offering one of the newest forms of herbal tea, California-based Sashee Chandran of Sri Lankan and Chinese heritage invented dissolvable organic pressed tea tablets called Tea Drops. They differ from traditional instant tea typically produced by extracting liquid from processed leaves then freeze-dried into powder concentrate. Rather, Tea Drops are finely ground botanicals pressed into charming shapes that promptly dissolve in hot water for sipping pleasure and drinkable, nutrient-rich sediment as part of the refreshing experience. Popular herbal sips include Citrus Ginger, Turmeric, and Sweet Peppermint, and are all vegan, gluten-free, and Kosher. Since 2015, Tea Drops, Inc. has donated a year's supply of clean water to over 10,000 people through the global Thirst Project by dedicating proceeds from every sale.
So, next time you reach to toss a nondescript retail tea bag into hot water, lift your day with a tasty alternative herbal treat – hot or iced. Infuse your life with health benefits, one cup at a time. Forage for fresh local botanicals like honeysuckle or sweet tea olive. Plant a fragrant herbal tea garden with holy basil and other flavorful botanicals in a patio pot, window box, or cottage garden. Or, select an herbal blend from your favorite boutique vendor. Brew your tisane, sit back, inhale, sip … then sip again, to enjoy a tranquil respite from life’s seeming complexities. You may be making the most blissful decision of your day.
--Article by Michele Bechtell
TISANE BREW TIPS
- Use a non-reactive vessel. Aluminum may adversely react with botanicals.
- One tsp. of dried herbs equals one Tbsp. of fresh herbs.
- Avoid chemical pesticides and insect repellents.
HOW TO AIR-DRY HERBS
- Gather herbs mid-morning to avoid dew and sun-baked loss of essential oils.
- Cut branches and suspend them loosely wrapped with cheesecloth, stems-up, in a dry place until they crumble easily.
- Strip leaves and store the dried herbs in an airtight container.
HOW TO PREPARE A TISANE
- Edible leaves, flowers, and seeds are typically sipped as an infusion. To infuse herbs, pour boiling water over the botanicals, steep for a few minutes, and strain.
- Small bits of tough edibles like fresh bark, roots, and berries are sipped as a decoction. To release their flavor and essential oils, crush and combine with cold water, bring to boil, simmer, and strain.
POPULAR WELLNESS ASSOCIATIONS
Always consult a health care professional as some edible plants may produce side effects or interact with medications.
Insomnia or stress: German chamomile, lavender, basil
Sore throat or head cold: elderberries, rosehips, peppermint
Cough: thyme, rose petals, basil, honeysuckle
Stomach discomfort: ginger, peppermint, chamomile
Headache: rosemary, peppermint, lavender
Lethargy: St. John’s Wort, thyme
Cognitive Health: Rosemary
Antibacterial: Ginger, Honeysuckle
BAYLEAF TEA recipe
Bay leaves flavor more than soup!
3 fresh Sweet bay leaves
2 c water
Sugar, milk (optional)
PLACE bay leaves and water in pot, cover. Boil for 3 minutes.
REMOVE from heat and steep 4 minutes.
STRAIN and sweeten to taste.
Note: When using milk, a mere splash will maximize flavor.
ICED LEMON BALM AND LAVENDER TEA
6 sprigs fresh lavender leaves (no buds)
6 sprigs lemon balm, plus more for garnish if desired
4 c boiling water
POUR boiling water over the herbs, and steep for 15 minutes.
STRAIN and discard solids. Cool to room temperature then chill.
SERVE over ice. Garnish with sprig of lemon balm or lavender.
LEMONGRASS GINGER MINT
2 stalks fresh lemongrass (about 12 in.), rinsed
2 thyme or lemon thyme sprigs (3 to 4 in.)
24 mint sprigs (6 to 8 in)
4 slices (size of a quarter) fresh ginger, crushed
5 thin lemon or lime slices
4 c water
BRING water to a boil in a 2- or 3-quart pan.
TRIM and discard tough ends of lemongrass and remove outer leaves. Thinly slice stalks.
ADD lemongrass, thyme, mint, ginger, and lemon to boiling water. REMOVE from flame, cover, and steep 5 to 10 minutes to taste.
STRAIN and discard solids. Serve hot or chilled.
2 c fresh honeysuckle blossoms (or 1-2 T dried flowers)
2 c water
Sweetener to taste
Ice for serving, optional
PLACE gently bruised flowers in pitcher.
COVER with water and stir. Seal.
CHILL 6 -15 hours, set pitcher in sun for 3-4 hours, or use boiling water
STRAIN and pour over ice.