European Tisane Herbal Tea



Have you heard of tisane ("tee-zan")?  If you're a fan of Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective who inhabits many of Agatha Christie's mysteries, then you might've been intrigued by the repeated references to tisane.  What is it? It's a sort of herbal mixture used to improve health. Herbal tea can seem very old fashioned but it has some cozy benefits.  Not only is life generally getting more hectic and stressful, but Celiac disease can cause anxiety.  Relaxing with a soothing cup of herbal tea is one way to overcome stress.

Herbal tea is naturally gluten free, and shouldn't contain any "natural flavor" that could be made from barley or other gluten grains.  However, the popular brand "Celestial Seasonings" does sometimes contain gluten as a "natural flavor" so always read labels.

Tisane is a bit more special than just tea or even just herbal tea.  I have my own rules for how to define the elusive "Tisane" but I think the word means much more than just "tea." I think it's more properly "health tea" because of the "-sane" part.  I would also like the spelling Tisano, which is closer to the Latin verb. Or Teasano.  There have been some exciting things happening in herbal tea and if you're a fan of soothing and beautiful herbal tea,this is a great time to explore them.


Crafting Your Own Heavenly Herbal Tea


Traditional usage of the word tisane seems to be that it is an herbal tea which may have a bit of black tea in it, but it's mostly herbal, and contains at least one flower.  This makes it similar to chai which is a delicious blend of spices, milk and black tea from Southern Asia. However, chai is based more on spices than herbs and for me, a true "tisane" must have flowers in it. Ingredients may be fresh or dried.  Some ingredients are commonly used fresh such as mint.  Others are often used dried because the flavors are concentrated, such as berries. 

About Black Tea in Tisane: Recently I've seen people claim that tisane is only herbal, and never mixed with black tea.  I think that, historically, that's unlikely.  But culturally, it might be true that some people in Europe consider it gauche to add black tea to tisane.  Not to be too American about it, but this is a case where your individualism and creativity can play a part.  I like the way a touch of black tea anchors tisane flavors, but you might not, or your tummy might not appreciate the tannins in black tea.  So it's your choice.

Definition

Tisane is a pleasing combination of:
  • herbal flowers (chamomile, hibiscus, rose hips, rock rose (cistus), lavender...)
  • a bitter herb with minerals (nettle, dandelion, basil, mint, sage, melissa...)
and at least one option:
  • optionally, real fruit(not flavors, citrus zest, juniper berry, cranberry, apple...)
  • optionally, seeds and bark that provide flavor and body (slippery elm, cinnamon...)
  • optionally,  roots  (roasted chicory, dandelion, licorice, burdock...)
  • optionally, a small amount of black tea
plus one or more sweeteners:
  •  delicately flavored organic honey 
  • coconut sugar
  • sugar syrup (great for iced tisane)
  • Turbinado
  • Stevia (for reducing or eliminating sugar in the tea while keeping it sweet)
  • Or nothing -- the most meditative and restoring herbal tea is the 'dry' one
The overall goal is to provide nutrition in the form of small amounts of oils and minerals found in plants that aren't normally part of the diet.  Of course there are also the polyphenols (antioxidants) that all plants have to offer. But the most important point is to find a combination you like that soothes your spirit while you drink it.  Otherwise it's just another health chore and loses its beauty.

Be careful of the tisane category of "berry/fruit" which you might see in some places online.  It's not that those aren't ingredients, it's that when you seek out tisanes in a store, they nearly always have "natural flavors" if they are a berry or fruit tisane.  Since herbal tea is assumed to be naturally gluten free, but it can include gluten if it has flavors added, I don't consider that category safe for Celiacs unless you add the ingredients yourself. If you really want to try a premade tisane and you see flavors in it, you should call the manufacturer and make sure it's safe.

You can seek out these ingredients in a Whole Foods Market, Earthfare, Trader Joe's, Sprouts, or well stocked conventional supermarket.  However, you can find a better selection of authentic European herbals at ethnic food stores.  I have a hard time finding a "Spanish" or "French" specialty market in the US, but it's very easy to find an Eastern European store everywhere you go.  Locally, there are several Polish markets.  Each has a unique selection of tisane-worthy herbal tea, with an eye toward the yummy.

Some of the tea will come in tea bags and others will be loose. Regardless, I boil water separately and pour the hot water over the dried tea mixture, then strain the steeped tea into a mug.
Then, what you do is, you get under a fuzzy blanket and a purring kitty cat, put on some Strauss, and watch your stress melt away! Or if it's summer, you go sit outside in the twilight and listen to the cicadas sing while you sip your fragrant tea! 
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I found these in Polonez Polish Market in Raleigh.  Three brands for you to look for.  I recommend their store very highly.  The Rose hip really smells like roses and could be used to make rose water. 
 

Rose-Hibiscus-Nettle Tisane


Equal parts Nettle, Hibiscus and Rose,
plus a bag of Assam tea (such as Irish Breakfast) per quart of water.

Recipe:

1 Tbsp Nettle Herb (not roots)
1 Tbsp Hibiscus flower
1 Tbsp Rose Hips
1 bag Assam Tea (Irish Breakfast)
1.2 Liters water, boiled
Honey to taste
  • Boil water in a tea kettle or electric tea kettle.
  • Prepare a saucepan with the tea mixture.
  • Pour boiling water over the tea and cover the saucepan.
  • Steep 10 minutes. If you are concerned about the Assam, remove it after 3 minutes, but I don't notice any bitterness after 10 min. 
  • Strain into a mug and add honey to taste, about 1tsp to start with. 
Enjoy!
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Many health teas that you find will give you ideas for making new recipes of tisane such as these two "Monk tea" varieties which I found at Halgo Market. They're conveniently in tea bags.
When creating a new tisane, I tend to think in triads:
  • Chamomile - Sage - Juniper Berrry
  • Rock Rose - Mint - Willow Bark
  • Hibiscus - Dandelion - Cinnamon Bark 
  • Dandelion -  Melissa - Slippery Elm
  • Rose hip -Thyme - Kukicha (a Japanese twig tea)
Try to come up with a triad you can imagine would taste good, including flavors you like.  There is a world of possibilities and some excellent suppliers of bulk herbals, such as Starwest, if you're looking for something specific.
You've no doubt noticed that, beyond anxiety reduction, I've made no reference to healing uses of herbs.  It's deliberate, because I think we get so hung up on whether we're supposed to be using "alternative medicine" or not that we forget that herbal tea is a pleasure and a way to relax.  It's soothing first of all.  Let others debate the medical value of herbs.  I'm going to drink it because it's delicious!
 

Other Popular Herbal Teas

I have no experience with rooibos or mate tea, so I hope that if you're interested you will seek them out.  I didn't mean to snub them, or Chai for that matter, it's just that I think Tisane is less well known and could use a bump. Mate is very popular as an alternative to coffee in several places around the world, including Europe. Here are some exotic tea making methods you might like to try.  Only Tulsi and Rooibos are caffeine free, Chai has black tea, and Mate is the source for the caffeine ingredient "guarana" which you may have seen in ingredient lists of energy drinks.



Tulsi Homemade

Rooibos

Chai

Mate (mah-tay rhymes with okay) 

Labeling clarity in the EU


Many of the items pictured in this article come from EU member countries. What do we know about labeling in the EU? Claims have been made that "tea" can't be used on labels for herbal tea in the EU.  I haven't been able to verify that anywhere though. So it's probably a rumor.

I do believe, that the European Union has many common sense safeguards for health in the food system and in labeling laws.  This is an advantage when buying Polish or many Eastern European herbal teas. 

If you're interested in more about labeling in the EU, you can check out this article.  I like that they  say that people shouldn't have to rely only on the ingredients to identify the true nature of the product.   That's truth in advertising. Whenever you buy herbal tea or products, trust is everything since some are sourced from wildcrafted specialists and some are farmed. 

Taking Tisane with Flowers to a New Level:  Blooming Tea

 

To end on a wonderful relaxing note, watch this video showcasing blooming tea.  This is one company that makes them, there are several others though.  And there are videos for how to make it yourself if you're the crafty sort.  To paraphrase from Loving Kindness meditation...

May you blossom, may you be soothed by tisane!

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