Herbal tea

Herbal teas—less commonly[1] called tisanes (UK and US /tɪˈzæn/, US also /tɪˈzɑːn/)[2]—are beverages made from the infusion or decoction of herbs, spices, or other plant material in hot water. Perhaps some of the most known tisanes are actual, true teas (e.g., black, green, white, yellow, oolong), which are prepared from the cured leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Besides coffee and true teas (they are also available decaffeinated), most other tisanes do not contain caffeine.[3]


Camellia Sinesis, the tea plant, has been grown for around 5000 years. The plant is a member of the family Theaceae, its origins dating back to China and Southeast Asia. According to ancient Chinese legend, the drink was made accidentally by King Shen Nong (around 2700 b.c.e). Despite the legend, it is documented that the Chinese have been using herbal tea as a medicine dating back to around 2000 years ago. The habitual consumption of tea grew in Asia and eventually European explorers brought it home to Europe in the 17th century. Herbal tea then became a staple in British and Irish culture during that time. Tea is widely consumed all over the world today.[4]


Some feel that the term tisane is more correct than herbal tea or that the latter is even misleading, but most dictionaries record that the word tea is also used to refer to other plants beside the tea plant and to beverages made from these other plants.[5][6] In any case, the term herbal tea is very well established and much more common than tisane.[1]

The word tisane was rare in its modern sense before the 20th century, when it was borrowed in the modern sense from French. (This is why some people feel it should be pronounced /tɪˈzɑːn/ as in French, but the original English pronunciation /tɪˈzæn/ continues to be more common in US English and especially in UK English).[2]

The word had already existed in late Middle English in the sense of "medicinal drink" and had already been borrowed from French (Old French). The Old French word came from the Latin word ptisana, which came from the Ancient Greek word πτισάνη (ptisánē), which meant "peeled" barley, in other words pearl barley, and a drink made from this that is similar to modern barley water.[7]

Health risks

While most herbal teas are safe for regular consumption, some herbs have toxic or allergenic effects. Among the greatest causes of concern are:

  • Comfrey, which contains alkaloids which may be harmful to the liver from chronic use, and particularly is not recommended during pregnancy or when prescription drugs are used; comfrey is not recommended for oral use.[8]
  • Lobelia, which contains alkaloids and has traditional medicine uses for smoking cessation, may cause nausea, vomiting, or dizziness at high doses.[9]

Herbal teas can also have different effects from person to person, and this is further compounded by the problem of potential misidentification. The deadly foxglove, for example, can be mistaken for the much more benign (but still relatively toxic to the liver) comfrey.

The US does not require herbal teas to have any evidence concerning their efficacy, but does treat them technically as food products and require that they be safe for consumption.

Fruit or fruit-flavored tea is usually acidic and thus may contribute to erosion of tooth enamel.[10]


Depending on the source of the herbal ingredients, herbal teas, like any crop, may be contaminated with pesticides or heavy metals.[11][12] According to Naithani & Kakkar (2004), "all herbal preparations should be checked for toxic chemical residues to allay consumer fears of exposure to known neuro-toxicant pesticides and to aid in promoting global acceptance of these products".[11]

During pregnancy

In addition to the issues mentioned above which are toxic to all people, several medicinal herbs are considered abortifacients, and if consumed by a pregnant woman could cause miscarriage. These include common ingredients like nutmeg, mace, papaya, bitter melon, verbena, saffron, slippery elm, and possibly pomegranate. It also includes more obscure herbs, like mugwort, rue, pennyroyal, wild carrot, blue cohosh, tansy, and savin.


Herbal teas can be made with fresh or dried flowers, fruit, leaves, seeds or roots. They are made by pouring boiling water over the plant parts and letting them steep for a few minutes. The herbal tea is then strained, sweetened if desired, and served. Many companies produce herbal tea bags for such infusions.

Major varieties

While varieties of tisanes can be made from any edible plant material, below is a list of those commonly used for such:

See also


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  • Learning materials related to infusion maker at Wikiversity
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