For thousands of years, herbal teas or herbal tisanes have been the beverage of choice around the world. Herbal Tisanes, more commonly referred to as herbal teas, are not made from the leaves of the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, as other types of tea are. Instead, they are created from an infusion or decoction of a variety of herbs, fruits and spices. Unlike tea, herbal tisanes are typically caffeine-free.
Herbal Tisanes in Ancient China
Though documentation that defines the first appearance of tisanes is scarce, Chinese legend tells the story of Shennong, the Divine Farmer, who may have lived from 2737 BC to 2697 BC. Shennong was passionate about the use of herbs in pursuit of good health, and he used his own body to test the effects of various combinations. According to the legend, he was about to enjoy a cup of hot water while sitting outdoors, when a nearby tree blew leaves into his drink. Intrigued, he tasted the infusion and discovered a new way to prepare herbs for consumption.
In written form, the earliest surviving record describing teas and tisanes is a medical text written in the third century AD. Chinese physician and surgeon Hua T'o was a pioneer in the field of medicine, and it is thought that his calling was inspired by his work with the wounded soldiers fighting in the many wars during that period.
T’o is credited with creating one of the first anesthetics, mafeisan, prepared with wine and hemp. He is known for his skill in preparing herbal treatments, essentially tisanes, made through decoction of medicinal plants. The tradition continues in China today, with tisanes holding their place as a primary method for preventing and alleviating a variety of health conditions.
Herbal Tisanes in Ancient Egypt
Like the Chinese, ancient Egyptians were masters in the use of medicinal herbs. Egyptians have enjoyed various herbal remedies for thousands of years, and documents from 1550 BC make specific mention of using certain plants to treat particular ailments. For example, dill was named as an effective laxative, and basil was suggested as a treatment for heart issues.
Egyptians administered the herbs to patients through tisanes, in addition to having them eat the plants whole. However, it wasn’t until 1070 BC that tea became a standard beverage in Egyptian culture. Records show that Egyptians purchased tea in China as early as 1070 BC.
Herbal Tisanes in Japan
Given that tea is integral to Japanese culture, many believe that the Japanese began using teas and tisanes during the same period as their Chinese and Egyptian counterparts. However, records indicate that tea wasn’t truly introduced in Japan until the reign of Emperor Shōmu (724 through 749 AD). While some people may have relied on herbal tisanes for medicinal purposes before this period, Emperor Shōmu’s interest in the beverage precipitated Japan's production of teas and the creation of the traditional Tea Ceremony.
From China to Europe – and Beyond
Teas and tisanes are a significant part of European culture today, but this wasn’t always so. In fact, it wasn’t until the 16th century that Western Europe started to develop a taste for tea. Merchants from Portugal were some of the first to sample Chinese teas and tisanes, bringing the beverage with them upon returning home. By the 17th century, tea use was widespread in Europe, making a particular impact in Britain. The British saw an opportunity for profit in the extended kingdom – creating a market in India and selling tea to Indian consumers.
Tea came to the Americas with explorers of the New World, and today, use of herbal tisanes is gaining popularity as an alternative to expensive pharmaceuticals. Specialized shops produce high-quality herbal tisanes to support better overall health and wellness.