Herbal tea. What's in a name?
Herbal tea or tisane, which isn't actually made from the tea bush Camilla Sinensis, has been consumed for at least as long as the genuine article - over 5,000 years.
Made from a variety of plants, and prepared in a similar way (infusing hot water through the substance), herbal teas provide many of the same values. They're relaxing, enjoyable, tasty and have many health benefits.
Chamomile, for example, is one of the most popular of herbal teas. A plant known to have medicinal qualities at least as far back as ancient Egypt, it makes a pleasant brew. It can help relieve anxiety and act as a mild soporific (sleeping brew). It is naturally caffeine free and has a delightful floral aroma and taste.
Dried lemon grass is another very common base used to make herbal tea. Not surprisingly, it has a slightly lemony flavor and its spicy aftertaste brings a pleasant zing to the palate. Studies strongly suggest it has antibacterial properties, too, and it's known to aid digestion.
Sage, though often used as an herb in cooking, makes for a superb tisane. The calming effect of sage herbal tea is well known, but it also has a very light taste. Slightly peppery, it goes well with a variety of dishes or stands well all on its own.
But bushy plants are not the only source of herbal teas. Rose Hips, for example, have long been used to make a fine brew. Produced from the fruit of the rose plant, this reddish drink has a delicate taste and provides ample vitamin C. A dried 100g sample will contain almost 2g of vitamin C.
During WWII, when imports of oranges were restricted by the war, the locals turned to Rose Hips to help supplement their need for that important vitamin.
While the alleged aphrodisiac effect of ginseng is still up for debate, both the delightful taste and the health benefits have been well established. It should be consumed in moderation, since drinking herbal ginseng tea can lead to excess nervousness.
Produced from the fleshy root of the Panax plant, ginseng has a very distinctive taste. Some find it bitter, others liken it to a mild soda pop. As with any herbal, you either like it or you don't.
Rooibos, an African word for 'red bush', while not a true tea, is closer to black tea than many herbals. It is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. and elsewhere, thanks to its distinctive taste and red color.