Making a pot of herbal tea makes me feel like a witch brewing a potion, and for that reason you can find me consuming it frequently. The magical alchemy of brewing a bunch of harvested flowers and plants has been celebrated for countless centuries; it has become so popular that my local grocery store has rows and rows of the stuff. How did we get to this point with herbal tea and how is it different from “normal” tea? And will it help me turn into a cat?
What is herbal tea?
The word “tea” is in reference to the tea plant—scientific name Camellia sinensis—whose leaves are the basis for true teas like black tea, yellow tea, green tea, white tea, or oolong. So, the name “herbal tea” is a bit misleading, because herbal teas are not actually made with tea leaves.
Herbal teas, also called tisanes, are made from any number of different plants’ leaves, roots, flowers, and seeds. They are often classified as teas because they are subject to the same steeping process that true teas go through. But there is a far greater range of flavors in the herbal tea world; while true teas can have complex flavor combinations, there is no mistaking their taste.
Herbal teas play an essential role in many cultures’ traditional herbal medicines that have been in existence for millennia. They have been used as remedies for illness, treatment of wounds, sleep aids, energy boosters, digestive aids, and many other maladies.
What kinds of teas are herbal tea?
The wide classification of herbal teas can be broken into several subcategories. First, there are teas that are made from flowers: chamomile, clover, hibiscus, rose hip, lavender, and chrysanthemum are common varieties. There are also other non-flowering plants like mint, lemongrass, and rooibos.
Roots and bark can also be used to make tea, including cinnamon, dandelion, ginger, licorice, and sassafras. And then there are fruit teas: lemon, bergamot and other citruses, elderberry, and raspberry. There are even teas made from herbs used traditionally for cooking: oregano, anise, fennel, rosemary, sage, and caraway.
Often, herbal teas will be a combination or blend of several of these ingredients.
Do herbal teas have caffeine?
Most of the time they do not. Caffeine is naturally occurring in tea leaves and since herbal teas don’t include those leaves, they often are caffeine-free. However, there are other plants that contain caffeine or other stimulants; for example, yerba mate is not a tea plant, yet it does have caffeine. You’re mostly in the clear though, just double check the box.
There’s an important distinction that needs to be made between herbal teas and tea blends. Herbal teas are made strictly from non-tea plant material. Tea blends have a tea leaf base and are enhanced by the addition of other herb flavors. For example, Early Gray tea is a blend of black tea and bergamot oil. Rose black tea is a combination of its two ingredients; by comparison, there can be herbal tea that is made just from rose.
This further gets confusing when you consider herbal blends. Rooibos can exist as a tea on its own, but it can also be blended with something like vanilla bean. It still doesn’t have caffeine, but it is technically a blend.
Are herbal teas hydrating?
Yes! Caffeine is the source of dehydration in teas. Since herbal tea has none, it is practically the equivalent of drinking a cup of water. I encourage you to drink it liberally and, maybe, you’ll start to grow whiskers. Meow!