What is a herbal infusions?
Herbal infusions, teas or tisanes? The word tisane means an infusion of herbs and is the simplest and most perfect way to enjoy the refreshing, revitalising taste of herbs leaves, flowers and seeds.
The word “tea” has become confused and sometimes is interchanged with the word “infusion”. Strictly speaking, herbal infusions should not be called teas, and only the terms infusions or tisanes be used. All teas from herbal and traditional black tea to fruity mixes are technically infusions; this is where hot water is infused with flavours from the steeping leaves, fruits and herbs. Whereas a tea is a particular herbal infusion and solely refers to an infusion of the leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis.
Herbal infusions can be made from different plants, each one distinct in their flavour and properties as well as how and where they grow. This means herbal infusions exist in a kaleidoscope of distinctively different flavours, colours and aromas.
They can be enjoyed generally as a relaxing drink but also serve useful purposes providing a remedy for specific aliments or a helpful supplement to the daily diet. See Jekka’s Guide to Medicinal Herbs for some more information.
What are the benefits of herbal infusions?
The benefits of herbal infusions are extensive and range not only from the vitamins, minerals and other plant constituents that they release but also the short and long-term health benefits they provide, from being calmative and improving your well-being to aiding digestion. Herbal infusions are very good at combating the stress of everyday life and are a great alternative to your daily sugary and caffeinated drinks. This guide describes some of Jekka’s favourite herbs for making herbal infusions and also goes a little into the reasons why they are so good for us.
Jekka's Favourite Herbs for Herbal Infusions
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
From the family Zingiberaceae. An infusion made from the seeds has a complex flavour that can be described as being citrus, mint, spice, and herbal as well as being highly fragrant. It is used in Ayurvedic medicine as it has pain relieving, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic properties that are often used to treat urine retention and stomach disorders.
Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
From the family Asteraceae. An infusion made from the flowers helps ease anxiety, they also help if you have trouble falling asleep due to its calming properties. It has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties that helps relieve stomach pain and, as a gargle, mouth sores. The chamomile infusion is sweet and can be taken either hot or cold.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
From the family Apiaceae. An infusion made from the seeds is warmly aromatic. Coriander has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that are good for the digestive system, reducing flatulence, stimulating the appetite and aiding the secretion of gastric juices.
Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus)
From the family Asteraceae, Cornflower has petals that are considered a tonic and stimulant. Historically it is said that Chiron, an ancient Greek Centaur, taught mankind the healing value of this herb. The petals of Cornflowers have a mild taste and pleasing blue colour that add both depth and colour to herbal infusions.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
From the family Apiaceae. An infusion made from the seeds tastes of anise with a subtle flavour of liquorice. It has a relaxing scent and slightly bitter aftertaste. The herbal infusion aids digestion and helps prevent heartburn, bloating, stomach cramps and constipation.
Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)
From the family Zingiberaceae, Ginger is used by ancient Indian and Chinese herbalists for many aliments. An infusion made from the rhizomes both stimulates the heart and settles the stomach. Research suggests that ginger can relieve nausea caused by pregnancy or chemotherapy. In Ayurvedic medicine it is used as a cure for cholera, anorexia and ‘inflamed liver’.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
From the family Lamiaceae. An infusion made from the leaves has an excellent complex flavour that is slightly bitter with hints of mint and liquorice. It is almost an amalgamation of the flavours of Thyme, Mint and Oregano but with a more floral character. As an infusion it is good for treating coughs, asthma and bronchitis.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
From the family Lamiaceae. An infusion made from the leaves is said to relieve headaches and tension as well as restore the memory. It is also good after meals to aid digestion and prevent flatulence and colic. As the name suggest, Lemon Balm has a refreshing, bright and citrus flavour, that is like lemon with a hint of Mint or Lemon grass.
Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora)
From the family Verbenaceae, Lemon Verbena is the Rolls-Royce of bedtime herbal infusions. An infusion made from the highly fragrant leaves, that have a lemon sherbet flavour, has mild sedative properties which makes it a most relaxing and calming bedtime drink. It also helps to ease bronchial and nasal congestion.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus)
From the family Poaceae. An infusion made from the leaves has a wonderful lemon flavour and is both lovely hot or cold making a very refreshing summer herbal infusion or tonic. It is also a stomach and gut relaxant that is a good antidepressant and helps to lift the spirits.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
From the family Lamiaceae. A classic infusion made from the leaves is still one of the best, not only for flavour but it also helps to stimulate the digestive process as well as relaxing the digestive tract. It will ease bloating and painful cramps caused by indigestion.
Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
From the family Asteraceae, Pot Marigold's are a great source of antioxidants, flavonoids and vitamin C. Its bright orange flower petals contain antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties that promote healing. As the petals are flavour neutral, it provides medicinal and decorative benefits to herbal infusions.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
From the family Lamiaceae. The fine leaves are used to make a herbal infusion that is the ultimate pick-me-up: it’s a great stress reliever, alleviates headaches (and hangovers) and is even said to restore the memory. Its inimitable pure, clean scent comes from the oils in the leaves, which are antibacterial and antifungal, making it an effective remedy for halitosis.
Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
From the family Lamiaceae, Tulsi is the sacred herb of the Hindu. The leaves are used to make an infusion that has a delicate clove/ mint-like flavour. It is very beneficial for your health and well-being and is one of the key herbs in Ayurvedic medicine.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
From the family Zingiberaceae, Tumeric has been used medicinally for thousands of years. The rhizome are used to make an infusion that is mildly aromatic and has scents of orange or ginger. It has an earthy, mild taste that adds a depth to herbal infusions. It is an important Ayurveduc herb used to treat inflammation, coughs and gastric disorders.
Please make sure you only make infusions from herbs (or plants) that you know are edible. It is important to remember that some herbs can be harmful if you consume too much, such as if the infusions are allowed to steep too long. Combining the wrong herbs can also lead to problems. For this reason, please do your research before making any infusion you intend to drink. It's best to follow recipes from trusted sources and pay attention to any warnings given.
Consult your physician or herbalist before drinking infusions.
How do you make Herbal Infusions?
You can make herbal infusions from either fresh herbs picked from the garden or from dried herbs that you have brought or dried yourself.
They are incredibly simple to make and something we often take for granted. For the perfect brew, Jekka recommends using boiled, not boiling, water and steeping one bag or a few fresh leaves per cup for three to five minutes. You can sweeten with honey or sugar to taste. Best served without milk.
The example below is for the classic Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) herbal infusion, but you can substitute mint for other herbs or a combination of herbs to make your perfect blend.
- 5 fresh leaves or 2 small sprigs washed and patted dry. Or 1 teaspoon of dried leaves per person
- Boiled not boiling water
- A cup or a tea pot with lid to prevent the steam escaping, which contains many of the volatile oils (we use a cafetiere in our Master Classes)
- A tea strainer
- Honey to sweeten if required.
- Put the mint leaves into a cup or a teapot depending on how many you are serving.
- Pour over freshly boiled water. The water should be just off the boil, as vigorously boiling water disperses valuable volatile oils in the steam.
- Cover and infuse for 5-10 minutes, strain using a tea strainer or a bespoke herb tea mug which are now readily available on-line.
- Drink the tea while warm with sweetened honey if required.