Regarded as the key to good health, happiness and wisdom in the east for thousands of years, herbal teas vary in both chemical composition and benefits. Bursting with antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and multiple medicinal properties, indulging in a herbal a day may deliver your ideal immunity supplement this spring.
The history of tea is long, complex and steeped in tradition. According to legend, it was the fabled Chinese herbalist and emperor, Shennong, who first discovered tea in 2737 BC.
It is reputed the Emperor preferred to drink his water boiled, so it would be clean. One day, on a journey to a distant region, Shennong and his army paused to rest. A lowly servant was boiling the emperor’s water when a dead leaf from the wild tea bush blew into the cup. Ignoring the brownish brew colour, Shennong drank – and found the beverage to be very refreshing indeed.
Variants of the tale suggest the emperor tested the medicinal properties of multiple herbal ingredients on himself. Though some were poisonous, he consistently found tea leaves to work as an antidote. Similar Chinese myths replace Shennong with the God of Agriculture – who gnawed leaves, stems and roots of plants to determine their health benefits, and who frequently utilised tea as a cure for toxins.
Historically, tea’s origin dates back to the first millennium BCE. During the Han Dynasty, it was primarily used as medicine, only developing into a drink of pleasure during the Tang Dynasty. According to Cha Jing writing, tea drinking in China became widespread around CE 760.
When considering this history, it’s integral to note the difference in the beverage and style of tea preparation we experience today. Leaves were processed into compressed cakes called bricks, and ground in a stone mortar. The brick would either have water added to it or be boiled in an earthenware kettle. Some tea bricks were mixed with binding agents, including flour, manure and blood, to better preserve their form and improve resilience as physical currency. Newly formed tea bricks were left to cure, dry and age prior to being sold.
In ancient China, consumption of tea bricks involved three separate steps – toasting, grinding and whisking. Today our pu-erh teas are flaked, chipped or broken, then steeped directly into tea, and pulverisation of bricks into fine powder has become uncommon.
It was in 1753 that Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist, described the tea plant as a single species. Later, he identified two separate species – as cultivated in China. It has long been thought that this ‘discovery’ formed the beginnings of black and green tea as we know them.
But if herbal refreshments aren’t technically classified as tea, where do they sit within the lineage of history? At the very beginning, in fact.
Ancient Egyptian and Chinese remedies consisted of a number of cultivated herbs and plants, which were utilised as simple recipes for medications, and commonly added to beverages. These included raspberries for absorption, hibiscus for coughs, ginseng for strength, liquorice for flu, and cardamom for indigestion – common ingredients in many contemporary herbals, including our own.
Proof of this ancient medicine is taken from multiple burial sites, tombs and underground temples, where archaeologists have uncovered extensive sets of medical documents and scrolls. Health and wellbeing were one of the most prized arts of the pharaohs, and much modern herbal advancement has been adapted from their medical papyri.
To this day, hibiscus tea remains incredibly popular in Egypt, while traditional Chinese medicine formulates natural, herbal teas to enhance health and address core issues within the body. Sri Lankan herbal teas have a long history within the indigenous tradition of medicine, and their many plant species are used to concoct herbal teas for a broad span of ailments. Ayurvedic teas – teas with medicinal benefits – are comprised of multiple herbs, and have been found to contain many nutrients, including potassium, iron and calcium.
Though classified as tea, herbals aren’t strictly made from the tea plant – and should not be confused with true teas. The French engage the term ‘tisane’ to describe the beneficial beverage, which some find to be more ‘correct’, as herbals are actually an infusion of leaves, seeds, roots and/or bark in hot water.
As with beverages made from true teas, herbals may be served hot or cold. While varieties are defined by ‘any plant material’ appropriate for infusion, a common inventory of ingredients include anise, caraway, chrysanthemum, cinnamon, dandelion, echinacea, fennel, goji, ginger, moringa, turmeric and vetiver.
Tisanes may be made with fresh or dried ingredients by pouring boiling water directly over the plant parts, and allowing them to steep, or boiling them on a stovetop. The beverage is then strained and served for health and enjoyment.
In many ways, more supplementary benefits may come from drinking quality, herbal tea than from vitamin pills. In addition to medicinal properties, herbal tea offers hydration, a degree of sociality, and aromatherapy.
When selecting a herbal tea, it’s essential to choose a well-sourced product crafted from high-quality ingredients. We recommend allowing herbals proper time to infuse, in order to release as many benefits into the beverage as possible. Steep your herbal for 10 to 15 minutes in a covered vessel to ensure the protection of essential oils.
Noticeable benefits of herbal consumption include improved digestion, build-up of immunity, relaxation, anti-aging, clearer skin, and faster healing.
To isolate the ideal herbal blend for your body, we’ve prepared an expedient guide of The Tea Centre’s preferred tisanes.
This spring tea is particularly practical as a preventative beverage for allergy sufferers. Sweeten it with a dash of honey.
One cup of this infusion will restore tranquillity and harmony to your day. Chinese and Ayurvedic herbal traditions strengthen adrenal glands and promote a restful mindset.
This speciality herbal is formulated to gently encourage digestive movement, delivering a refreshing aftertaste of peppermint, liquorice and rhubarb.
Created by a qualified naturopath, this organic herbal is designed to restore stamina and improve energy levels
Properties of these expertly combined herbs facilitate circulation, encourage energy flow and eliminate toxins post-exercise.
Traditional Chinese herbs and jasmine aid in harmonising mental and emotional functions – honing focus and regulating sleep.
An invigorating caffeine and sugar-free tea developed for safe enjoyment during and after pregnancy. Particularly helpful for nausea and heartburn.
Regarded as a multivitamin in a teacup, this blend combines traditional tonic herbs to maintain and improve the function of all body systems.
At The Tea Centre, we strive to deliver a diverse range of the highest quality teas, to an equally diverse collective of tea connoisseurs.
If you frequently incorporate tisanes into your daily life, we’d love to hear about it. Share your herbal preferences with us in the comments.