The term “herbal tea” has become a very popular one. It refers to what is more accurately described as “herbal infusions.” I call them the un-teas! They are made from entirely different plants, not the tea plant species Camellia sinensis. They all evoke very different reactions when you drink them.
Herbals fall into several categories: various plants like Rooibos, honeybush, chamomile, lemongrass, yerba mate, and other plants; those mostly made of fruit; and those mostly made of flowers. Of course, there are also decoctions made from ginger root and other sources.
Chamomile is pleasantly aromatic with a fruity flavor, great with sugar or honey. It is often sipped for relief of health problems ranging from toothache to nervousness, has been noted for soothing headaches, and is naturally relaxing. It is also known to assist digestive disorders by settling the stomach and calming the nerves. The botanical name (Matricaria) is derived from the Latin term for womb because it was once used as an herb to treat female troubles. “Chamomile” comes from ancient Greek, translating as “Ground Apple” in reference to the fruity aroma.
Rooibos (Red Bush)
Rooibos (a Dutch word meaning “Red Bush”) comes from the Cedarberg region of South Africa. The locals first discovered that the fine, needle like leaves of the wild Aspalathus Linearis plant could be used to make an aromatic infusion. They chop the leaves with axes and bruise them with hammers before leaving them to ferment and dry in the sun. It is believed that Rooibos can have a soothing effect against headaches, digestive problems, and problems sleeping. This infusion is often mislabeled as “red tea.”
Yerba Mate (Paraguay Tea)
Yerba Mate is an herb prepared from the leaves of a South American evergreen shrub. The shrub, Illex paraguayensis, is related to the common holly; the leaves are oval and about 6 inches long, the flowers are small and white, and the fruit grows in tiny clusters of red berries that are close to the stems of the plant. Contains caffeine, comparable to the amount in Arabica coffee. First cultivated by Jesuit missionaries, the first mate plantations were founded in the mid 1600’s. The leaves are processed similarly to tea leaves – the tips of the branches are cut just before the leaves reach full growth, and are steamed and dried. The dried leaves are then sifted and allowed to age to enhance flavor.
Honeybush is one of the earliest herbs to be considered a substitute for tea. Caffeine free, high in antioxidants, and a sweet flavor with overtones of honey. The overall flavor is very unique and has been compared to hot apricot jam or a dried fruit mix. Traditionally served hot, but is also great when served iced.
Mint and Peppermint
Peppermint is an herb that comes from the northwestern United States. It is often consumed after meals as the oils stimulate the flow of bile to the stomach and helps relieve gas pains. Additionally, it has been reported and written that peppermint sweetens the breath and calms the digestive system, plus it helps heartburn, stomach ache and nausea. Place a handful of peppermint leaves in your bath water to lower your body temperature.
Strawberries, blueberries, apple bits, peaches, raspberries, mangoes, and blackcurrants are some of the common fruits used. There is a range for all tastes. Marigolds, hibiscus, lavender, lemongrass, and rose petals are common plants in tea blends, but many are also tasty by themselves. Other plants and material abound for infusions. Ginger root, bay leaves, cardamom seeds, true cinnamon (the kind from Sri Lanka), nutmeg, and a long list of other items are used.
© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text