Herbal tea is any drink made from infusion of plant or herb other than Camellia sinensis (the actual tea shrub). Almost any plant or its parts that is generally safe for human consumption can be made into herbal tea; which may contain roots, leaves, seed and flowers, or a combination of these. For most, herbal teas must not contain leaves from the actual tea plant.
Use of herbs as tea has been by humans thousands of years ago and today, each culture or region has its own herbal tea recipes or traditions.
In many cases, a bag of herbal tea contains mixture of flowers, leaves or other parts of the plant. Often, they are dried to prolong storage life. Each kind of herbal tea has its own flavor unique to the plant. Some brands or preparations combine several herbs as well.
Plants with medicinal and other properties are often consumed as herbal tea. Many herbs, notably Echinacea, Ginger and Rose hips, have therapeutic benefits when taken in the body. Heat can help activate therapeutic compounds in the herb, and infusion into water helps for better absorption in the body.
Some herbs, like chamomile, kava and yerba mate, are drunk as herbal tea because of their various relaxing or stimulating properties.
Popular kinds of herbal tea
Each region around the world has its own collection of herbal tea. Here are some herbs that are used as herbal tea:
- Anise – from seeds and leaves
- Asiatic Penny-wort – found and used as tea in Southeast Asia
- Barley – Japanese drink made from roasted barley that is boiled and drunk cold on hot days
- Bee palm
- Boldo – from South America
- Cannabis or Marijuana – leaves and flowers are used, popular in India and Pakistan
- Chinese herb – actually a mix of several medicinal herbs in Chinese traditional medicine
- Caraway seeds
- Catnip – used for its relaxing and calming effect
- Chamomile – known for calming and sedative effect
- Chrysanthemum – made from dried flowers
- Coffee – leaves from the plant and whole fruits (compared to coffee beans) are used
- Cerrasse – used in Jamaica
- Citrus – lemon, orange and lime peels are used
- Dandelion – made by infusing roasted, pulverized roots of the plant
- Echinacea – used as remedy for colds and flu
- European mistletoe – one of the few herbal teas prepared by steeping in cold water for 2 to 6 hours
- Ginger – boiled roots are popular in the Philippines
- Ginseng – roots are dried and made into tea. First used in China and Korea, now popular around the world
- Goji – fruits, leaves and shoots are made into herbal tea
- Hibiscus – often drunk as herbal tea in Middle East with Rose Hips
- Ho Yan Hor – another mix of herbs consumed as tea found in Malaysia
- Honeybush – closely related to Rooibos but slightly sweeter, found in South Africa
- Hydrangea – made from dried leaves. Must be prepared carefully because it’s toxic
- Jiaogulan – considered as poor man’s ‘ginseng’
- Fireweed – dried leaves made into tea is known as Kapor
- Kava – roots are made into tea and very popular in Southern Pacific regions and islands. Relaxing and promotes talkativeness
- Kratom – made from dried leaves. Drunk due to medicinal and stimulating effects
- Ku Ding – herbal tea in Chinese traditional medicine
- Kuzuyu – Japanese tea made by mixing arrowroot powder in hot water
- Labrador – used as tea in North America
- Lapacho – also known as Taheebo and drunk due to medicinal benefits
- Lemon Balm
- Lemon – juice often added to ginger tea
- Lemon grass – grassy leaves have surprising lemon scent
- Licorice – roots are used to make tea
- Mate – also known as Yerba mate, a stimulating drink popular in South America
- Mate de coca – tea made from leaves of coca plant. Herbal tea may contain small amounts of cocaine
- Mint – leaves are used as tea, or as flavoring to green tea
- Mountain tea – a flowering shrub found in mountains in the Balkans. Stems, leaves and flowers are boiled as tea
- Neem – leaves are used
- Nettle – leaves are used
- Oksusu cha – Korean tea made from boiling roasted corn kernels
- Pennyroyal – leaves are boiled as tea and used as abortifacient
- Pine – leaves (or needles) are used as tea
- Qishr – made from coffee husks and ginger, popular in Yemen
- Red Clover
- Red raspberry – leaves are used
- Roasted wheat – tea taste somewhat like coffee
- Rose hip – often combined with hibiscus
- Sakurayu – Japanese tea made from pickled cherry blossom petals
- Sassafras – roots are used for tea
- Scorched rice – made into tea in many Asian countries
- Spicebush – used as tea by Native Americans
- Spruce – needles are used as tea
- Stevia – yields a sweet herbal tea
- St. John’s Wort – herbal tea is remedy for depression
- Thyme – known for its antiseptic effect
- Cat’s claw
- Valerian – known for its sedative effect
- Wong Lo Kat – another Chinese herbal tea mix
This is not a complete list, because many herbs around the world are used as herbal tea.
Making herbal tea drink
Preparations of herbal tea differ according to the herb and accompanying traditions, but making herbal tea drink is much similar to ordinary tea. First, the herbs, which maybe loose or packed into tea bags, are soaked in hot water for one to five minutes.
With few exceptions, herbs are not subjected to boiling temperatures because it may activate the tannins that can make the brew bitter. Again with few exceptions, many traditions also limit prolonged steeping of herbal tea because of similar reason.
Some important reminders
Some seemingly safe herbs or plants are not safe when taken as herbal tea. Notable examples are mandrake, eggplant, potato and tomato teas, which may be made from poisonous leaves.
When purchasing herbal tea, always check the ingredients and directions of use. Always check dried herbal tea for presence of molds or other foreign matter.
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