Herbal teas are becoming more and more popular. According to the American Botanical Council, sales of herbal teas have grown by almost 20% over the last few years. It’s easy to see why. With delicious flavors and possible health benefits, herbal teas are a great choice for any tea enthusiast or rookie.
The term “herbal tea” is more of a colloquialism today, to mean, plant material steeped in hot water like “real” tea (Camellia sinensis). Herbal teas, for the most part, do not contain any Camellia sinensis tea. This category of tea, is sometimes referred to as or herbal infusions. Like tea, these infusions can be served hot or iced.
For decades, tea professionals have sworn that herbals are caffeine free. But, in the last few years, a group of caffeinated herbals have gained market share, these include the herbals Yerba Mate and Guayusa.
Nearly every part of a plant can be used for herbal teas: leaves, fruits, petals, herbs, bark, seeds, pollen, grass, peels, nuts, and roots.
We use several different herbal ingredients in our herbal teas. Here are some of the ones we use often.
Latin Name: Matricaria chamomilla, M. recutita
Origin: Egypt, Germany, Poland, Croatia, Argentina, Chile
Chamomile’s golden-colored flower, pollen, stalk are used in teas and tisanes. The plant is an annual plant, which is often sought after for its soothing and calming affects. Chamomile gives a sweet honey or apple-like aromas and flavors. It can have floral and slightly bitter notes, too. Individuals allergic to ragweed may also be allergic to chamomile due to cross-reactivity.
Latin Name: Cinnamomum verum, C. burmannii, C. loureiroi, C. cassia
Origin: Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, China
Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several trees from the genus Cinnamomum, but C. verum is often considered “true cinnamon.” The cinnamon most often sold commercially, however, comes from the species C. lourieroi, referred to as Saigon cinnamon. The pale brown bark of this species is most often used in blends, due to its spicy sweetness.
Latin Name: Zingiber officinale
Origin: South Asia, East Africa, Caribbean
Description: The subterranean stem of the ginger plant is gathered when the plant’s stalk wither. Then, it’s immediately scalded or washed and scraped to prevent the plant from sprouting. This perennial reed-like plant has annual leafy stems that grow to be three to four feet tall. Because the plant itself can be beautiful, it’s also used as a decorative plant and is grown around subtropical homes. Ginger root is pale yellow with spicy fragrances and flavors.
Latin Name: Ilex guayusa
Origin: Ecuador, Peru, Colombia
Description: An evergreen tree found in the Amazon Rainforest, Guayusa is part of the holly genus. Guayusa’s leaves contain caffeine and are traditionally consumed by the local Ecuadorian Kichwa people for its stimulating effects. Now, Guayusa is finding popularity with Hollywood celebrities like Channing Tatum and Leonardo DiCaprio. Guayusa, a golden brown plant, is called the first super-leaf because it is packed with a lot of antioxidants. It also has an earthy, woody taste with a touch of sweetness and an herbaceous, toasty aroma.
Latin Name: Hibiscus sabdariffa
Origin: China, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria
Hibiscus is an annual shrub that grows to about 15 feet tall and has lobed leaves. The flowers, which are used in teas and tisanes, have a five-lobed, red, fleshy calyx that is about 1 inch long. Hibiscus is often intercropped with peanuts, and though it is extremely rare, it is possible to get peanut shells mixed in with the hibiscus. Hibiscus has a faint fruity smell, but a more pronounced sour, fruity and berry-like taste.
Latin Name: Cyclopia (with various species)
Origin: South Africa
Discovered in the 18th Century, the honeybush shrub owes its name to its appearance. The blossoms are bright yellow and smell like honey, whereas the leaves are somewhat rough. It is sometimes called a vegetable bush, due to its pod-shaped fruits and knobby roots. Honeybush has many taste similarities to rooibos, with a sweet, gentle roasty flavor and earthy aroma.
Latin Name: Andropogon citratus
Origin: Egypt, Thailand
This plant is a sweetly scented grass, growing up to five feet tall. Its bulbous stems become leaf blades that are pointed and long. When sliced fresh, the stalks show concentric, sheathed leaves. The lower 4–6 inches of the leek-like stalk has the most succulent flavor. We use the lower part of the yellow-green stalk for its aromatic, lemon-like flavor and bouquet.
Latin Name: Mentha piperita
Origin: USA, Poland, Bulgaria, Egypt, Turkey, Germany, Yugoslavia
The peppermint plant is a strongly aromatic annual that grows up to 3 feet tall. The leaf edges are serrated and the leaf stem is short and square. Generally, the leaves, which are used in teas and tisanes, are 2 inches or more in length and about an inch wide with a smooth surface. Peppermint is known for it’s green color, and minty cool smell and flavor.
Latin Name: Aspalathus linearis
Origin: South Africa
The Rooibos plant is a shrub with many thin branches and thin, needle-like, green leaves. Red rooibos is bruised by a machine to ensure oxidation that develops the characteristic color and flavor of Rooibos. This process is similar to the oxidation process of black tea. Green rooibos is not bruised, so oxidation essentially does not occur, similar to green tea. Rooibos is made from the stalks and leaves of the plant and has a mild earthy, minerally taste with a sweet and spicy aroma.
Latin Name: Rosa (with various species)
Origin: Asia, Europe, North America, Africa, Australia, South America
Also known as rose haw or rose hep, rosehips is the fruit of the rose plant that is typically red-to-orange, but ranges from dark purple to black in some species. Rose hips begin to form after successful pollination of flowers in the spring or early summer, and ripen in late summer through autumn. They have a sweet, zesty, and slightly bitter floral flavor with a berry, floral bouquet.
Latin Name: Menta spicata
Origin: USA, Europe, Asia
The spearmint plant is an herbaceous perennial plant, with hairless to hairy stems and foliage. Spearmint produces flowers in slender spikes, each flower being pink or white. The name “spear” mint derives from the plant’s pointed leaf tips, which is what we use in teas and tisanes. Spearmint gives a sweet, aromatic, minty, and refreshing flavor and aroma.
Latin Name: Oryza sativa
Toasted rice is a pale brown ingredient used in Gen Mai Cha (brown rice tea) from Japan. This tea is sometimes colloquially referred to as popcorn tea, since a few grains of the rice pop during the roasting process to resemble popcorn. Toasted rice, predictably, gives a toasty, roasted grain flavor and smell.
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Latin Name: Ocimum sanctum, various other species
Origin: India and throughout Southeast Asia
Tulsi’s history goes back as far as tea’s does. Hindus view tulsi as a goddess in the form of a plant. In India, it is referred to as the Queen of Herbs due to its healing powers. A commonly used herb in Ayurveda, tulsi is golden brown in color. The most common varieties are Rama, Vana, and Krishna. Rama has an herbaceous scent and a cooling mellow flavor. Vana smells of forest herbs and tastes lemony and citrusy. Krishna tulsi has a peppery scent and slightly spicy, minty flavors.
Latin Name: Ilex paraguariensis
Origin: Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil
Yerba Mate begins as a shrub, but can grow into a tree over 50 feet tall. Yerba Mate is part of the holly genus and its leaves contain caffeine, making it an awesome replacement for coffee. A drink using the leaves of the plant is referred to as “mate.” Traditionally, Yerba Mate drinks are made in a gourd and consumed through a metal straw. This medium-bodied medicinal drink of the Guarani Indians of South America has notes of smoky, cooked vegetables.
Botanicals make a great addition to teas, contributing unique flavors and smells. However, we like botanicals on their own, too. You can taste even more botanicals and botanical blends by subscribing to our Caffeine Free Tea of the Month Program. You’ll receive three, six, or twelve different caffeine free tisanes that we adore!