Western Tea Culture

History of Herbal Teas

Herbal teas are made by infusing natural herbs into alcohols, beverage and coffee etc. They are becoming increasingly popular due to their numerous health benefits.

According to the scientific definition, herbs are seed-bearing plants that do not have a woody stem. As an everyday term, however, herbs include all fragrant plants used for culinary, medicinal or cosmetic purposes.

Herbal tea has been used for medicinal purposes for many centuries. After chewing on the leaves, flowers and stems to check that the herb was edible, doctors would infuse the herb in hot water and research its medicinal properties. In Europe, these herbal infusions were called tea until the tea plant Camellia sinensis was introduced from Asia, after which they became known as ‘herbal teas’. Despite a long history of being used for medicinal purposes, herbal tea did not become a popular beverage until two to three hundred years ago. After gaining popularity in France, it quickly spread to the rest of Europe as well as Japan, the US and China. Herbal teas are made using the same herbs as medicinal teas, but feature a number of additional ingredients to enhance the colour and flavour.

What is Herbal Tea?

Records of herbal tea date back to the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians, who lived along the Euphrates. Herbal teas are made by infusing the dried stems, leaves, flowers and other parts of edible plants.  Followings are some popular herbal teas:

Peppermint Tea

Peppermint tea is made from dried peppermint leaves, which have been cultivated in Europe for over 1000 years. The leaves develop a dark green colour when dried. Peppermint tea is one of the most popular herbal teas and is known for its breath-freshening properties. It also aids digestion and boosts mental alertness.

Rose Tea

Rose tea is made from dried rose petals. It produces a sweet, refreshing aroma – properties which were noted by the famous Ming dynasty physician Lu He. Rose petals have been used for numerous purposes throughout history – the Ottoman Turks used the plant to make desserts, and the Persians used it to make rose water.

Linden Tea 

Linden tea helps to relieve anxiety and prevent insomnia. European children used to play under linden leave, which is a place means for relaxation and finding happiness. It is typically served after dinner and helps to promote digestion and boost metabolism. It also has numerous other health benefits.

Rosemary Tea

Rosemary is one of the most commonly used herbs. In Western culture it symbolizes fidelity and is often worn by the bride at weddings. The Romans regarded it as sacred, and it was used to make a scented perfume for Saint Elisabeth of Hungary. In addition to making tea, rosemary is also used for culinary purposes, essential oils and decorating gardens. The herb derives its name from a legend in which Mary sheltered the baby Jesus under a rosemary bush, a smell of morning forest.

Lavender Tea

One of the world’s most beloved herbs, lavender is known for its fragrant aroma and upright purple flowers that resemble wheat. It is native to the Mediterranean and thrives in dry climates such as Provence in the south of France. Lavender derives its name from the Latin ‘lavare’, meaning ‘to wash’ – the Romans used the herb to scent bath water.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile was often prescribed by doctors in Ancient Greece. It was also revered by the ancient Egyptians, who dedicated the herb to the sun god Ra. Today, chamomile tea is one of Europe’s most popular herbal teas, and the herb is often used to flavour beer.

Lemon Balm/Melissa Tea

The great 11th-century Arab physician Avicenna once wrote than lemon balm tea ‘makes the heart merry’. The herb derives its name from the Greek word for honeybee (melissa) due its lemon-like fragrance that attracts swarms of honeybees. In addition to its use as a herbal tea, lemon balm is also used to flavour beer and make aperitifs. It helps to promote digestion and prevent digestive disorders.

Verbena Tea

Native to South America, verbena was introduced to Europe in the 17th Century by the Spanish. It has a refreshing, lemon-scented aroma and was first used to make essential oils. The leaves can be chopped and added to cakes, fruit puddings and apple jelly. Verbena increases alertness, aids digestion and helps to alleviate nausea.