Beginner’s Guide To Herbal Tea (Brewing, Ingredients, Variations)

Drinking herbal tea is a long-standing practice of humans across the planet for thousands of years. It’s such a common practice that we don’t really bother explaining the details of this tea, so many of us end up confused.

This is why a beginner’s guide to herbal tea is one of the best things to read if you’re just getting into tea and tea culture, since you’ll find the distinction between teas very often.

So let’s get down to the first main chapter, the basics of herbal tea.

herbal tea

The basics of herbal tea

Knowing the basics of herbal tea will help you understand the nature of this tea. It’s a very wide and varied palette of flavors and effects, and depending on where you’re from, herbal tea ends up as being common practice, or something you’ve maybe heard of.

Where I’m from (East Europe) herbal tea is what people mean when they ask if you want tea. Black or green tea are only recent introductions, from somewhere in the 90s.

Consequently, not many people are okay with plain black or green, and instead prefer heavily flavored versions of those.

In some other parts of the world, the situation might be different. Like in the Far East, where tea originally came from, the basic tea is the varieties we’ve all come to love (the black, green, white, Pu’erh and oolong).

What is herbal tea ?

Herbal tea is pretty much any tea that is not made from the Camellia sinensis or Assamica plants. Examples include lemon tea, rooibos, mint tea, linden tea, rosebud tea, chamomile, lavender tea, ginger tea, and even yerba mate.

Herbal tea is very common, so common it’s easy to not even notice it. In most cases it’s only names after the ingredient (like mine tea, made from just mint and water).

It’s a type of tea that’s very common for older generations, when black and green tea weren’t as common as they are now in the Western world.

It’s also the only tea type that was widely available back when human civilization started, since teas from the Camellia sinensis plant only became available to the wide public in the past few hundred years. Humans have been around for longer than that.

What leaves are used for herbal tea ?

Herbal tea does use leaves, but also stems, twigs, peels, sometimes even fruits. There is no specific part of a plant that is sued for herbal tea. As long as it offers either a pleasant taste, or has the desired health benefits, it doesn’t matter.

For example when making ginger tea you’d use the tuber itself, after peeling it. This is because the flavor and nutrients are found in the root of the plant. The leaves are pretty much useless for tea.

As for mint tea, the whole plant (except the root) is used. With emphasis on the leaves since those provide the most flavor and mint oil, but my family used the dried stems as well.

For herbal teas made of flowers, often only the flower itself is used, without the stem. So the petals and the very middle where the pollen would be are used as well. Clear examples include rosebud tea, rosehip tea, and lavender tea.

And as for fruit teas, I’ve included them in this herbal tea list. Sometimes the peel is used, sometimes not. Sometimes the pulp is preferred, sometimes they’re both used. For example for citrus tea it’s the dried peels that are used.

What’s the difference between herbal tea and regular tea ?

The main difference between herbal and regular tea is the actual ingredients. As in, regular tea, at least in the sense that the U.S. and U.K. population knows of it, is always made from Camellia sinensis leaves or the Assamica variety.

This means black tea, green tea, white tea, Pu’erh, and oolong tea are all made from the Camellia plant. Any other tea is a herbal tea, including those made from fruits and flowers.

The whole true tea vs tisane distinction

There’s also a distinction between regular tea and herbal tea. In formal or official mentions, regular tea (the Camellia ones) are the named ‘true teas’ or simply ‘teas’, while herbal teas are named ’tisanes’, or ‘infusions’.

This is because when Camellia teas came around, they were regarded as just tea. Any other tea became an infusion or was named differently, to easily distinguish between the two.

In fact, the whole origin of the word ‘tea’ is an adaptation to English of the word ‘cha’, which is the original Chinese word for the brew resulting from tea leaves.

Further examples include the ‘chai’ from India, which is usually heavily spiced but still based on black tea (most of the time), and the Japanese version of ‘cha’ which again means tea.

So in short, true teas are the real teas, though they’re often explained in such a way as to sound condescending. As you’ve noticed, herbal teas have been around since the dawn of time, since we learned as simple humans that boiling or scalding the leaves of a plant has some benefits for us.

Where does herbal tea come from ?

Herbal tea does not come from a specific country or region, since it’s a universal thing. Meaning you’ll find records of herbal teas from ancient Rome, Egypt, Britain, Africa (especially with rooibos), and pretty much anywhere you look.

Some herbal teas have a specific country or region they hail from.

For example rooibos tea comes from South Africa, and is the only place it grows. Or yerba mate, hailing from South America as a continent, since that’s where its naturally from.

Mint is native to Morocco, though it can be found in other parts of the world as well. Though with the blisterig heat usually found there, it’s no wonder mint tea became their staple.

Herbal tea origin story

A clear origin story for herbal tea has never been properly compiled, but instead you may find accounts of how one person or another discovered the benefits pr properties of this one plant, boiled it, and drank the resulting brew.

So you’ll find that herbal tea is as old as time and humans, because we’ve been drinking it in one form or another for the past few thousand years, we just didn’t have a specific name for it.

Whichever country you’re from, if you ask the older generations you’re bound to find several grannies nodding sagely about this or that herbal brew or infusion they used to treat colds, or sore throats, or their mothers used to help them go to sleep when they were young.

The original form of herbal tea was as medicine, in that the properties of whatever plant was used were meant to help us with different health problems, like a combination of honey and chamomile used to soothe sore throats and ease nasal congestion.

Or mint tea, used to ease stomach pains, bloating and very mild IBS symptoms, though back then it was only known as an ‘upset stomach’.

The benefits of herbal tea were the main reasons people came to know each plant and its properties, in order to brew teas or infusions appropriate for this or that problem, which then evolved into making salves and potions from certain plants.

In time, and through a very long process of trying to perfect the art, pharmacology came to be a definite study. It rests solely on what each ingredient does, and how it can help the human body.

In time we became smart enough to know which parts of a plant to isolate so we get that particular effect from it, and thus create a sort of medicine by mixing several plants.

Herbal tea brewing and flavor discussion

Herbal tea is the most varied tea type when it comes to flavor. I mean, there’s as many teas as there are plants, and then there’s the combination between two or more such plants.

As for brewing, if you’ve never brewed herbal tea before, you’re in luck because this is the easiest tea type to brew.

How to brew herbal tea

Herbal tea, since it comes in so many variations, might sound like is hard to brew. To be honest, this one is easier than any of the true teas out there, since there are no tannins or bitterness involved.

So there is no such thing as oversteeping. But, there’s no point in letting the tea steep for 15 minutes if you’ve already got what you were looking for in the first 5 minutes.

Alright, let’s see what you would need for a cup of herbal tea:

  • 3 teaspoons of your preferred herb
  • 8 oz/236 ml water, at 90 C/194 F
  • a strainer or filter of some sort

Notice that I said 3 teaspoons. Normally for true teas you’d use 2 teaspoons for this amount of water. But do keep in mind that tisanes (herbal teas) are weaker in strength than true teas, meaning you’d need to add more to get the same strength.

A timer won’t be necessary, since there is no big difference between brewing for 4 minutes and brewing for 6. Of course, you can track the time and decide which steeping time is best for you.

Remember that ginger root tea can brew as long as you let it, and the more you let it brew the spicier and stronger it becomes (to a point). And if you’re planning on brewing several plants together, know that some may take longer.

It’s usually a good idea to go by the thickness of the plant. If you’re using root, which has lots of fibers, it will take longer to steep than a simple leaf of petal.

If you’re using stems (like for mint tea) you’re also going to need to let it brew for longer.

One of my favorite herbal teas is sage, and it usually contains the whole plant (flowers, leaves, stem) , leading to a total brewing time of about 7 minutes in most cases.

If I were to only use the flowers, I think 4 minutes would be enough to get a good brew.

Back to actually brewing your tea, make sure you heat your water via kettle, not in the microwave. This makes sure you get no pockets of colder water, and is much easier to control which temperature you want to be at.

Once your water is hot enough, pour it into a cup that will fit the whole tea and:

  • use a paper filter to hold your herbal tea and remove it after you’re done brewing
  • or you can use a tea ball or any sort of removable filter or strainer
  • or brew the tea in a separate pot, and strain into your empty cup

One of the best ways to brew your tea is in the cup. This way you get no spilled tea, and no wasted liquid because you had to transfer from a pot to your cup.

This tea mug from Sweese is going to help you brew your herbal tea just right, since it can hold both the tea and the strainer full of tea leaves. It’s a large mug, can hold up to 15 oz of liquid.

Do allow some extra room for the strainer when it’s full, meaning you won’t be able to brew exactly 15 oz of actual tea with the strainer in.

It comes in many color options, and the lid (ceramic) can double as a coaster or trivet to hold the infuser.

You can check the listing on Amazon here, and read the reviews as well.

Now that you’ve got your tea in the cup or mug, there’s nothing else you need to do to it. Herbal tea can be sweetened, of course. Aside from rooibos, no herbal tea will take milk.

What does herbal tea taste like ?

The actual taste of herbal tea varies from tea to tea. Meaning one herbal tea will not taste like the other, since it all depends on what you’re using.

For example a mint tea will taste very different from chamomile, and lavender will not be anything like rosebud tea.

However there is a comparison that could help you.

Unlike true teas, herbal teas will almost never end up astringent or bitter (except for sage, which is meant to do that). Often you’ll find that herbal teas can be rather balmy, soothing, and take sugar very well.

It’s also the main reason bedtime teas are herbal teas, and most often contain rooibos.

Here’s an example of a good selection of herbal teas you’ll like, especially if you’re looking for a nice, relaxing cup of tea to enjoy on a break at work, or to just sip while reading or watching a movie.

This is a sampler box from Chinese Tea Culture, meaning your get a few servings of many tea types, and you can easily pick your favorite this way.

This box comes with a Red Rose – Lemon Grass – Mint – Chrysanthemum – Chamomile – Hibiscus – Saffron – Jasmine – Peach Flower – Lavender – Linden Flower pack.

They’re all loose leaf, meaning you’ll get full flavor and as such will be able to taste the tea in its true form. Each tea type comes in its own little tin, and each tin holds about 1 oz/28 gr of herbal tea, good for 3-4 servings.

And you can mix and match them as you please.

You can check the listing on Amazon here, and read the reviews as well.

How many herbal teas are there ?

The total number of herbal teas is not really known, and it wouldn’t really be feasible to actually count them all. After all, each plant is its own tea, and then you have to count the teas where 2 ingredients are used, and then 3, and then 4 and so on.

It’s much easier to just go with whatever says on the box, for example ‘lemon tea with sage’.

However you’re bound to find a tea that’s great for you, given just how much variety there is. You can get fruity, flowery, balmy teas, you can get mint-based teas, soothing teas, bedtime teas, you name it, it’s somewhere out there.

Are fruit teas herbal teas ?

Yes, fruit-based teas are also placed as herbal teas. This is just to make everything easier, otherwise there would need to be another tea type, a fruit tea.

Do remember that most herbal teas are ma mixture of several plants, flowers, fruits, roots, and whatever else is needed to achieve the taste or health benefits necessary.

So even if your fruit tea says ‘mango tea’, check the label and you’ll often find filler. Like for example hibiscus tea, or rosehip, or apple, along with a couple of other flavor enhancers like vanilla pod or lemon rind.

Can I make my own herbal tea ?

Yes, you can make your own herbal tea, right in the comfort of your own home. As long as you have a safe place to pick the ingredients from, you can make your own.

The best example I can give you is mint tea. Mint grows easily in many parts of the word, so should be easy to find. If you know of a place where you’re sure the plants are safe, and if you know someone who can take a look at those plants and deem them safe, then go ahead.

Wild plants and flowers will always be more flavorful, and the whole experience of going into the woods or on a nice field to pick your ingredients is refreshing.

Remember that pretty much every herbal tea out there uses dried plants. So this means that when you’ve come back from your expedition, you’re going to have to lay the plants out to dry for several days.

If you’ve got something like a barn, or part of the porch that you don’t use and doesn’t get a terrible amount of wind, use that. My mother used a simple linen cloth, and laid it on a table on the hallway in the house.

Then she laid the plants in a thin layer, and left the windows open as often as possible. As this was a summer event, the window was open pretty much all the time, even at night.

Keep in mind that if you do this, your home will smell like that plant for as long as you keep it out to dry. for example when we made elderflower juice we needed dried elderflowers. That was a long, heavily perfumed week.

Can I mix herbal tea with regular tea ?

Yes, you an mix regular tea with herbal tea. Just remember that herbal tea takes longer to brew than regular tea, so I recommend you brew the herbal tea before.

So for example let’s say you’d make green tea with ginger and lemon.

Ginger takes the longest to brew, then mint, then green tea. So what I recommend is that you bring you water to a boil, take it off the heat, and add the grated ginger first.

Let it sit for about 6 minutes, then add the dried mint leaves. After 4 minutes (so 10 total now), add the green tea leaves. After 2 minutes, strain everything.

This results in 12 total minutes for the ginger, enough to get its flavor and spice into the drink. Then there’s 6 total minutes for the mint, resulting in a good minty kick, and just 2 total minutes for the green tea, which is enough to release its flavor but not make it bitter.

Another thing to remember, when combining regular tea with herbal tea, is to only use enough for one cup.

Meaning that f you were to use 3 full teaspoons of mint for this tea, and 2 full teaspoons for just green tea, things will be different in such a mixture.

I suggest using a mixture of 2:1:1, resulting in 1 teaspoon green tea, a half a teaspoon of mint leaves, and half a teaspoon of ginger.

You can adjust the ratio according to which taste you’d like to feel the most. So if you’d want a very minty tea, go heavy on the mint and easy on the other two.

Health effects of herbal tea

There’s health benefits for everything, including herbal tea, as well as some possible side effects if you ingest more than 5 cups per day of some of them. So let’s see the effects of some of these herbal teas.

What are some herbal tea benefits and side effects ?

As there are many herbal teas, there are also many health benefits and side effects, and not all of them help in the same way.

So for example you’re looking for something to soothe an upset stomach and reduce IBS symptoms ? Then you’ll want mint tea, and possibly chamomile, an definitely fennel seed tea.

Do you want something relaxing, soothing, calming and also good for children ? Then go ahead and drink linden tea, or chamomile, since both help the nervous system relax and help your mind disconnect from the day’s past activities.

Would you like to go a step further and get to bed faster with something that relaxes your muscles even more ? Try valerian root tea, though I warn you it’s going to smell a bit bad. Melissa tea will help too, but does not smell.

Most herbal teas contain a very, very low amount of antioxidants, so if you were planning on drinking them for the health benefits like you would green or black tea, you’re not in luck.

As for the side effects, most of them are mild, depend on each ingredient because they vary from tea to tea.

Is herbal tea safe during pregnancy ?

Almost any herbal tea is safe during pregnancy, because they contain very small amounts of antioxidants, and no caffeine.

And it’s really the caffeine in tea that you’re meant to avoid while pregnant, since it can influence the baby.

Do keep in mind that yerba mate does contain caffeine, and should be avoided like green tea, black tea, white tea, Pu’erh and oolong tea while pregnant.

Is herbal tea safe for kids and elderly ?

Yes, most herbal teas are alright for children and elderly people. As long as there are no severe health issues, everyone should be okay.

But if granny has a stomach ulcer, then 3 cups of mint tea per day might harm her, and might actually discouraged by her doctor.

Always check with your GP before taking a new tea if you know your elder or child has an illness and aren’t sure how they would react to that tea.

Chamomile and linden tea is a very common tea to give to young children in Europe, especially if the baby is going through that period of transition from breast milk to more solid food. Of course, the tea is always prepared in a diluted fashion, so as to not overwhelm them.

Does herbal tea contain caffeine ?

Only yerba mate contains caffeine from among the herbal teas. Aside from that, no herbal tea contains caffeine. So you will always find it as the main ingredient in a bedtime tea, like rooibos or chamomile or linden.

Conclusion

Herbal ta is a very wide and varied type of tea, and it’s been in use since any of use can remember. This means that herbal tea has been treasured for what is can do for the human body, and its flavor as well.

You’ll find herbal tea in pretty much any shop, since it’s such a common item and you’re going to find at least one that you actively like.

If you want to know more about coffee or tea, feel free to check the related articles below. Who knows what else you might find ?

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