The ongoing global pandemic opened our eyes to the importance of boosting our immunity. Yet the remedies include a wealth of sketchy promises that fog our well-intentioned minds. With a steam of nonsense, adaptogenic supplements and tisanes flooded into natural health shelves with a gale force resounding a cure-all manifestos on their pretty packaging. In powders, moulded into pills, in precisely portioned bags, sip at once pouches or more eco glass jars, in supermarkets, cafes and yoga studios, these dietary supplements and “power” brews do often skip a qualified herbalist oversight. Today, the health-conscious herbivore can easily consume potent drinks from countless globetrotting botanicals.
My open-minded experiences around the world introduced me to wonderful and healthful herbs. These, I share with you for a greater life balance. I want to broaden your knowledge for the sake of superb taste, not lofty claims, and in rather safe choices and doses. You will fall in love with those herbal tisanes, and thus more likely include them joyfully in your regular sipping repertoire. But first understand why these are NOT tea.
The Seeds of Confusion: Tea That Is NOT Tea
Plant brews have been used for millennia as natural remedies in most cultures. Tea is one of them, and Camellia Sinensis infusion in various degrees of hot water spread from its far eastern provenance throughout the world. Today tea is planted as far as Brazil and the UK islands.
The word steeping in its root contains the sound tea in English, in German as Tee. Language is a finicky play with meanings, so confusion has infused the world with it. Any plant, aside from mate and coffee, brewed in water is often called a “herbal tea”. It is as if you called an apricot all the fruits! Blue apricot anyone? I’d rather have a blueberry.
In China, tea’s birth country, most herbs (together with medicinal mushrooms and various parts of animals) are used in TCM with their purpose as tonics, vitality boosters, relaxants and other active remedies. Some medicinal blends further contain dried mushrooms and fruits such as the Chinese date, jujube and goji berry. Still, no other freshly-cut or dried leaf has such a breadth and depth in taste as the tea Camellia does. Therefore, the real tea leaf has more of a ceremonial, a cultural heritage and often served as the Chinese poets’ muse.
In India, Ayurveda, the mother of systemic herbal remedies, has preceded the introduction if tea on its soil and culture by the British.
Botanical Vitality bars rise to fame this millennium
Now, vitality bars and herbal super-potent mocktails are radiating their halos also in the West.
The Tonic Bar in West Hollywood does not shake G&T’s, but lures in entertainment executives for superfood shots, lattes and shakes. Now, the most expensive grocer in America, Erewhon, expanded its tonic bars across LA from Venice to Silver Lake.
Naturopathica‘s Vitality bar on Manhattan serves plant drinks in a contemporary apothecary setup.
In London Redemption is beyond a vegan restaurant focused on zero proof, often herbal cocktails.
In the fine dining realm, non-alcoholic beverage pairings have buzzed into creative hives for the sommeliers. A pregnant friend enjoyed a baby-to-be safe drinks at Noma with us. Almost any fine restaurant today offers some homemade shrubs, kombucha or infused sippings beyond caffeinated tea and water.
The trendiest bars and salons pride themselves in their non-alcoholic plant infusions. The Mixology Salon in Tokyo is one of my favorites also for tea-based concoctions. There also London’s Neal’s Yard Remedies expanded to a full herb-driven cafe offering great tisanes.
In the bottled form, from the UK hails th zero proof Seedlip and the memory-friendly Rosemary Water. Nor bad is a German WonderLeaf gin or the Danish sparkling rooibos as much as the made in California Optimist Botanicals seducing with a trio of herbal extracts to blend with bitters or tonics. They are as expensive as the average spirit, but they last shorter as you use more in one mix.
There are many more such health pits along the global roads of cosmopolitan cities.
Herbology expanded into a decadent taste adventure
It is unlikely that you down any of the green powders for their marvelous taste, unless you froth them into a latte. Cha Cha Matcha et company tease in long queues, adding herbal options (such as lavender, seaweed and even beets, plus collagen of course) to their powdered tea menu. While health and nutrition are close friends, countless plants can be savoured in brews without necessarily drinking them for a remedial purpose. Fennel seeds are marvelous after a heavy meal, yet the brew also swifts the Mediterranean meadow’s fragrance into your body tasting lovely. Liquorice, its sweet stem is delectable in hot water on its own. Toasted grains like buckwheat are wonderful treat on a cold day. In Brittany (the popular Parisian Breizh Cafe roasts them superbly) as much as in Japan, where it is known as soba cha. For a full account of my personal favorite herbal tisanes check my recent post.
Human imagination as wild as nature
Quirky blends spurred especially in Northern America, where marshmallows, chocolate, even cookies entered the liquid beverage nomenclature. In Canada, Jumpy Monkey by David’s Tea energises anyone’s exotic cravings. In it white chocolate meets almonds, vanilla, coffee, cocoa nibs, cloves and mate. More of a steeped caffeinated dessert than a tisane, for there are no herbs aside from the Argentinian mate. Popular candies also find their way into a blend with rooibos and liquorice.
I am definitely more up for simple, high quality blends such as Nettle and Mint by London-based My Cup of Tea ideal for spring detox energy and summer cooling off. Their Herbal Chai healthfully replaces sweet and caffeinated treats in late afternoon. In New York, the savvy Jewish owner of Physical Graffiti Tea advices on the perfect match for your immediate needs and cravings.
How to brew tisanes
Studying pharmacognosy revealed to me the various methods for obtaining a medicinal tisane. Not because of the taste but to extract the desirable chemical compounds. A decoction is used for thick roots, you boil them for 5-15 minutes on medium-low heat. Most floral parts like stems require steeping at least 7-10 minutes, seeds can stay in the water without straining, while anything leafy is better with less time under the hot water. Always follow the instructions on the package or search online for the perfectly timed tisane.
Anyone in the health circle knows that a dose makes a poison. In some potent plants one must beware how often and how much is being used, some medical contraindications and pregnancy disqualify most herbs, so do consider herbal tisanes as a cure all, the more the better.