In Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, sipping a cup of tea transports Proust to the happy memories and years of his childhood. His aching heart feels soothed and he is filled with a sense of hope. This sequence has been immortalised as the ‘Proustian memory’ – a moment of sudden, involuntary and intense remembrance, when a smell, a taste, texture, or, as in this case, a cup of tea, transports you to another place, another time. Literary sleuths have postulated, based on Proust’s description, that it was a cup of Tisane and not what we today understand as Tea that was the origin of the ‘Proustian memory’.
So, what is a tisane? And how is tea different from it?
Tea as we understand it today is the term used to refer to a brew that uses the leaves of the Camellis sinensis plant. Green tea, black tea, connoisseur blends such as Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchou all use the leaves of the Camellis sinensis plant. Hence, the use of the term Herbal Tea or Tisane to refer to a brew, which is either an infusion or a decoction, that uses the leaves of other plants or spices. Traditionally these tisanes have always had curative and therapeutic benefits. Tisanes or Herbal Tea is the term used today to refer to caffeine-free herb and spice infusion or brews of any kind barring Tea, which is used when using leaves of the Camellis sinensis plant.
Tisanes have been a huge part of the traditional system of medicine in China for centuries and are still recommended for physical and mental healing by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Ayurveda, the ancient medicine system of India, also suggests Tisanes for aligning our body and mind to seasonal changes and balancing our three doshas. As we enter the month of Sharad rtu or Autumn our Vata dosha is more prominent. So, a good Ayurvedic tisane for the season is a Cumin-Coriander-Fennel (in equal proportions). A Ginger-Cinnamon-Clove tea is also recommended after dinner instead of black tea or coffee to balance Vata. Chamomile, Comfrey, Brahmi or Jatamansi tea can also be drunk to reduce stress and balance emotions.
There are two ways to brew Herbal Tea: infusion and decoction. In the process of infusion, the herbs, spices and other materials are steeped in hot water. An infusion is the preferred way of brewing when leaves, flowers, crushed berries or seeds are being used as most of them easily release valuable nutrients. “The basic rule of thumb is to pour boiling water over the herbs, cover the pot and allow to steep anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes. The longer a tea steeps, the stronger it will taste,” writes Kathleen Brown in her book Herbal Teas for Lifelong Health.
A decoction is when the ingredients are allowed to simmer in boiling water for about 20-60 minutes in order to release their nutrients. This method is preferred when brewing Herbal Teas from roots, barks or more woody parts of a plant. When using a combination of ingredients such as flowers and roots, it is advised to use both the methods. First let the roots or bark simmer in boiling water. Then remove the pot from the heat and add the leaves, herbs or spices and allow them to steep for 10-20 minutes.
In an earlier age the ritual of teatime was one that gathered into it a certain kind of grace and elegance. The finest of Porcelain, the daintiest of sandwiches and the beguiling aroma of a steaming cup of fragrant tea… In our rushed and busy lives, we all could benefit from the peace and relaxation of a ritual teatime.
The therapeutic impact of Tisanes has been acknowledged by research. The aroma can in some cases offer relief from stress and help calm the mind. The taste of Tisanes can vary, depending upon the ingredients. But it is the potent power of the natural ingredients that make Tisanes very powerful. For example, Ginger tea can help relieve nausea; Cardamom tea can help aid indigestion; Peppermint tea has antibacterial and antioxidant properties, etc. Also, because Tisanes are caffeine-free, they also contribute to our daily water intake. Given the recent surge of popularity that Tisanes have enjoyed, you may already have figured out your favourite blends but here is a small selection of Tisanes that you might enjoy discovering.
Chamomile Tea: Women can benefit from this tea as it reduces cramps and helps temper mood swings during pre-menstrual syndrome due to its anti-inflammatory properties. However, Chamomile is probably best known for its calming impact. Which makes a great Tisane to help you wind down after a long day and gently nudge you towards a night of peaceful sleep.
Himalayan Nettle Tea: Looking for ways to make your skin radiant? Try the Himalayan Nettle tea with its anti-inflammatory properties which also helps detoxify the body and leads to glowing skin from within. Nettle tea also boosts our energy level and is a good choice as a morning drink.
Bergamot Tea: Popularly known as the ingredient that gives Earl Grey Tea its tangy freshness, Bergamot in itself makes for a powerful tea. It reduces stress and helps increase energy. And for those on a weight loss journey, this tea helps improve metabolism and hence facilitates weight loss. Bergamot is also an excellent source of fluoride which makes it ideal for dental health.
Hibiscus Tea: The bright and bold flower of Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) makes for a refreshingly tart cup of tea. It has antiviral properties and is believed to be highly effective in reducing high blood pressure. Rich in calcium and iron, Hibiscus helps relieve stomach issues. In some parts of the world it is also used to treat bad breath. Hibiscus tea can be consumed either hot or cold for a refreshing impact on our senses.
Rose Hip Tea: The delicate floral fragrance and taste of Rose Hip tea is both enticing and pleasing to the mind. And it is also a valuable source of vitamin C and vitamins A, B, E and K which help boost the body’s immunity. Its anti-inflammatory properties also help aid digestion and this in turn can help facilitate weight loss.
Muriel Barbery writes in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, “When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things.” In an earlier age the ritual of Teatime was one that gathered into it a certain kind of grace and elegance. The finest of Porcelain, the daintiest of sandwiches and the beguiling aroma of a steaming cup of fragrant tea… In our rushed and busy lives, we all could benefit from the peace and relaxation of a ritual teatime. But if that remains a distant dream then we can at the very least enjoy the benefits of a Tisane. Who knows when that fragrant cup of tea becomes a ‘Proustian memory’ and takes you to your very own happy place.
Caution: The ingredients used in Herbal Teas should be sourced from a reliable and trustworthy source. Some natural ingredients might not suit your body’s requirements. It is advisable to consult a doctor before using any herb, spice or other plant materials on a daily basis.