12 Jul , 2019

Masquerading under the name of ‘herbal tea’, tisanes are nothing but herbal infusions made with fresh or dried leaves, flowers, roots, seeds, buds, bark, and other plant material. Pronounced ‘tee-zahn’, these drinks are predominantly used for their medicinal properties and have been in use since as early as 2000 BC. The origin of the word is not very clear until now. While some say it originated from the Greek word “ptisanē” which refers to barley-infused water, others say it is a blend of the French words – Ti (tea) and Sans (without), meaning “tea without tea”.

The history of tisane, according to Chinese folklore, begins with Shen Nong, a mythical legend also known as the “Divine Farmer”. Said to have lived between 2737-2697 BC, he once accidentally drank hot water into which a few leaves had fallen in. Liking the taste, he experimented with various plants and researched their medicinal properties. He is also credited with the discovery of hundreds of medicinal plants and herbs. Tisanes also have roots from the Egyptian culture, dating back to 1550 BC.

In India, the ancient science of Ayurveda has numerous recipes of herbal infusions embedded into its texts and scriptures. Plants have been the basis of medicinal treatments throughout our history on this planet. Modern medicines make use of these plants and their associated compounds for manufacturing environment-based pharmaceutical drugs. Ayurveda talks of three doshas – vata, pitta and kapha, forces that make up each individual’s body and mind. Based on the individual’s dosha or combination of doshas, Ayurveda prescribes tisanes that aim at balancing the negatives that come with each dosha.  

The term that many use to refer to tisanes is “herbal tea” which is a misnomer because a drink is called a tea only when it is made from the leaves of the plants that fall under the family Camellia sinensis. Infusions made from any other plant species come under the term tisane. Tisanes are made by allowing the leaves, flowers, roots, etc, to steep in hot water to get them to release their essential oils, the ingredient that makes the drink so potent. There is a marked difference in the boiling process of tea and tisane, where green tea requires water that has cooled down after the boil and a steeping time of 1-2 minutes, tisane, on the other hand, requires water that has been immediately boiled, and a steeping time that varies between 4-15 minutes, depending on the herb used. 

The drink can be prepared either as an infusion or a decoction. For an infusion, pour hot water over the tisane and let it steep for a while after which one can strain the same for consumption. For a decoction,  place the tisane in a pot and bring the water to a boil. Do it until all the water present is evaporated and strained. 

The purpose of drinking tisane is to provide the body with a high amount of vitamins and minerals like some leaves and herbs provide approximately 500 mg of calcium to the body daily, clearly showing that many infusions provide more times the amount of nutrition than regular tea. With the endless number of medicinal herbs that are known to mankind, tisanes can be made in so many different varieties and combinations with each having its own unique taste, aroma and health benefits. 

Though tisanes are caffeine-free, there are also risk factors associated with the consumption of tisane over a period of time as they can cause damage to parts like the liver and lungs, something similar to the aftereffects of consuming excessive nicotine. It is recommended to observe your first cup of tisane, and then in the coming days decide on the way one must consume the cups since the quantities of the ingredients matters differently to different individual health. Based on the ingredients, there are also tisanes that cool the body in summer, and those that warm the body in winter. Thus, it’s important to have varied and extensive knowledge of tisanes before committing towards anything healthy.

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