top of page

Herbal Tea: Comfort Without the Caffeine

Many times, we want a hot beverage that doesn’t pack a caffeine punch, and that’s when herbal teas come to the rescue. Herbal tea is technically referred to as a tisane (pronounced tea-zahn) and are categorized by what part of the plant they come from. The most familiar are leaf tisanes (lemon balm, lemon verbena and mints), flower tisanes (chamomile, hibiscus, lavender, and rose) and fruit tisanes (blueberry, mango, peach and raspberry). Other categories include root tisanes (Echinacea, garlic and ginger), spice tisanes (cardamom, dill and fennel) and bark tisanes (black cherry and cinnamon). Most people think of tisanes as being medicinal, and sometimes they are, but they are simply a beverage made with plants other than Camelia sinensis.

Herbs are one of the easiest of plants to grow, bring pollinators into the garden, and many offer health benefits. One of the greatest rewards of growing your own herbs is the ability to create custom tea mixes - blended to your taste – that are fresh and grown without pesticides. Herbs also dry well, so they can be stored away for use in the cold winter days.

Herbs that are appropriate for the tea pot include:

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Catmint and Catnip (Nepeta spp.)

Chamomile (Matriaria recutia)

Echinacea (Echinacea purpura)

Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus)

Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla)

Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia ‘Lemon Gem’ and ‘Orange Gem’)

Mints (Mentha spp.)

Monarda (Mondara didyma)

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans)

Rose hips (Rosa spp.)

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Scented Geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) – all except ‘Citrosum’

When an herb is brewed by itself, it’s known as a “simple”, or a self-drinker. My favorite herbs for use as simples are basil, lemon balm, lemon verbena and mint; simply bruise the leaves and place them in the pot.

When two or more herbs are combined, it is known as a “blend”. In making a blend, a good place to start is with one herb that you like, then experiment by combining equal parts of two herbs – making adjustments to suit your taste. You’ll quickly learn that you like. Some of my favorite blends include:

1 part lavender flowers with 2 parts mint leaves

1 part lemon balm leaves and 1 part mint leaves

1 part lemon thyme and 1 part lemon verbena

Once you’ve found a two herb blend you like, try adding a third element, such as a spice, citrus rind, or black tea. Try these combinations:

1 part lavender flowers with 2 parts mint leaves and a pinch of rosemary

1 part lemon thyme and 1 part lemon verbena, and 1 teaspoon lime rind

1 part lemon balm leaves, 1 part lemon verbena leaves, and 1 teaspoon lemon rind

By the way, a “part” is simply a consistent measure and can be any size as long as it is consistent.

Herbal teas brew differently from traditional teas. They take longer and when brewed have little color. There are two methods: infusion and decoction.

Fresh or dried herbs leaves, petals and flowers are brewed by infusion, and the brewing time is generally brewed for 4-6 minutes. A handful of fresh herbs is sufficient for the average sized pot. Dried herbs are best measured, one teaspoon per cup, plus one for the pot. I find that leaving the herbs loose in the pot allows for the best brewing so the leaves can fully expand. You can use strainers or other interesting gadgets to avoid floating leaves in the cup, or adopt my favorite “teapot”: a coffee press that is dedicated to tea. It allows sufficient room for the leaves to expand and keeps the leaves securely on the bottom.

Whole flowers, spices, roots, seeds, citrus peel or rose hips are tough and woody and take longer to release their essential oils. Crushing before steeping helps, but they still need to be brewed using the decoction method. A general measure is one tablespoon of herbs for every two cups of water. The herbs and the water are combined, brought to a boil and then simmered. Taste the tea after 5 minutes and continue simmering and tasting until the tea is to your liking.

The best place to store herbs is in a container made of non-porous material kept in a cool, dark place. Keep herbs as whole as possible when storing so that their essential oils remain intact.

Herbal teas are generally considered safe as long as you choose the specific varieties named. If you have allergies, research the herb for interactions. Seek out current research as new information continues to emerge, which may contradict old studies and beliefs.

When making iced tea, follow the directions for making tea, but make the tea stronger. Use two handfuls of fresh leaves and two heaping teaspoons dried herbs per cup to allow for the dilution caused when you add water and ice cubes. It’s better to make the tea too strong and dilute it to your taste, rather than brewing it too weak. If you are adding a sweetener to the iced tea, do it while the brew is still warm.

Here are a couple of recipes for you to try:

Iced Herb and Fruit Tea

1 cup chopped basil leaves

1/2 cup chopped lemongrass stalks

1/2 cup chopped mint leaves

1/2 cup chopped strawberries lightly crushed

2 quarts almost boiling water

4 tablespoons agave syrup

Place the first four ingredients in a large saucepan. Add the boiling water, cover and steep for several hours or until cool. Strain into a large pitcher. Add the agave syrup and stir. Serve in tall glasses filled with ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint. Serves 8

There are many cultures that add milk to their tea, and many coffee houses offer a version of chai tea made with steamed milk, but these pale in comparison with authentic chai tea. In countries where chai tea prevails as a daily drink, every household has their own blend and process for preparation. Most use the decoction method, actively simmering a mixture of milk, tea, sweetener and spices and then straining before serving. It’s interesting to note that most authentic Chai Masala mixtures, known as Karha, have been derived from Ayurvedic medical texts and were prescribed for medicinal purposes. Here is one that I love:

Chai Tea

2 cups water

4 green cardamom pods

4 whole black peppercorns

3 whole cloves

1 1/2” thick slice ginger root

1 teaspoon (or two tea bags) of your favorite black tea

1/2 cup milk

Bring the water to a boil and add the spices; simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the black tea and steep for an additional 3-5 minutes. Strain, then add the milk and bring back to an almost boil. Makes 3 cups.

Another method of making chai tea is to pre-prepare the ingredients and then make individual cups as desired.

Instant Chai Tea

1 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Toast and then grind whole spices in a pepper mill. Place milk in a jar with a tight fighting lid and then add the spices. Stir to combine and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you desire a cup of chai tea, brew a cup of very strong, black tea. Stir in two tablespoons (or to your taste) and enjoy.

When making iced tea with black tea (loose or bags), brewing time is important. Any more than five minutes and the tea will become bitter. If you like a stronger tea, use an extra bag, or reduce the cold water added at the end.

Raspberry Iced Tea

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup chopped mint leaves

Zest of 1/2 an orange

1/2 cup raspberries

2 cups water

2 black tea bags

2 cups cold water

In a saucepan, bring the water, sugar, mint and orange zest to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, add the raspberries, cover and steep 30-40 minutes, or until completely cool.

Strain the mixture into a pitcher, taking care not to over-mash the raspberries (which will make the tea cloudy).

In a saucepan, bring the water to almost a boil; add the tea bags and steep for no more than five minutes.

Remove the tea bags and add the tea to the pitcher.

Stir in one quart of cold water.

Tropical Tea

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup chopped mint leaves

2 cups water

2 black tea bags

8 ounces pineapple juice

2 cups cold water

In a saucepan, bring the water, sugar, and mint to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and steep 30-40 minutes, or until completely cool.

Strain the mixture into a pitcher.

In a saucepan, bring the water to almost a boil, add the tea bags and steep no more than five minutes.

Remove the tea bags and add the tea to the pitcher.

Stir in the pineapple juice and cold water.

Setting aside a time each day to sit down with a cup or glass of tea is a habit that I look forward to. It’s a chance to reflect, recharge and prepare to tackle the rest of the day. I hope that you will find time to add tea to your daily routine too.

bottom of page