Learn what separates regular tea from herbal tea, and why the distinction matters (hint: herbal tea is usually caffeine-free).
In many countries, the word “tea” is reserved for tea that comes from the camellia sinensis plant—green, black, white, yellow, oolong and puh'er teas being the most common.
This has led to confusion regarding what is actually "tea," which will vary depending on who you ask.
At Wild Foods, we consider herbal teas "tea," because it's easier and people in the west tend to associate most drinks brewed with hot water and ingredients as tea.
That said, any tea that does not come from the camellia sinensis plant is considered an herbal tea.
Ingredients for brewing herbal tea include herbs and spices as well as other plants like rooibos, mate and guayusa.
Aside from mate and guayusa, both of which include caffeine, one of the primary considerations when comparing regular tea to herbal tea is the lack of caffeine in herbal tea.
The popularity of herbal teas has led to an entire tea drinking subset of individuals that opt to drink only these caffeine-free, ingredient-infused concoctions.
Popular Herbal Teas
There are a variety of herbal options that people enjoy, each providing a different benefit and flavor profile.
Here are some of the most popular herbal teas:
This European plant is harvested and the flowers are used to create a brew that can prove incredibly relaxing and is known for its calming effects.
Chamomile tea has a mild and subtle flavor, which makes it the perfect candidate for added lemon and honey.
Chamomile is also used as an herbal remedy and alternative to medicine in many parts of the world. Chamomile is known to provide relaxation while reducing stress and can lead to better sleep.
It is also recommended as a herbal treatment for stomach pains and irritable bowel syndrome.
The earliest known use of human consumption of peppermint was recored in an ancient Roman text in 79 AD.
This makes peppermint one of the oldest flavors in Europe and continues widespread use to this day due to its invigorating flavor and aroma and its health benefit.
Today, peppermint is most commonly used as an essential oil, food flavoring, and as a loose leaf tea.
Peppermint tea is great for soothing an upset stomach and improving digestion. It is also known to ease a sore throat and helps prevent those nagging coughs.
Peppermint leaves are found most often as an added ingredient in tea blends to help add dimension and flavor to a tea. We have it in a few of our Wild Teas.
But as a stand-alone tea, peppermint is a rockstar that is often overlooked, which is why it earned a spot in the Wild Tea line as Wild Tea #16 Peppermint Soothe, one of the best peppermint teas we've found in the many we've tested.
Native to South Africa, the rooibos plant is able to survive some of the harshest conditions of the desert, which is why it is grown almost exclusively in certain parts of South Africa.
There are two different kinds of rooibos teas, the oxidized red version and the more expensive, and unoxidized, green rooibos.
Both rooibos options are filled with antioxidants and flavanols, which can help reduce inflammation. Rooibos also contains iron, calcium, and potassium.
Typically, rooibos is brewed and prepared similar to black tea; the leaves are steeped in hot water, then strained before adding milk and honey/sugar.
Lemon Balm Tea
A member of the mint family, this Mediterranean plant is a potent relaxant and stress-reliever.
Lemon balm is used as both a tea and an essential oil to help sedate anxious individuals and to improve sleep quality.
Many people who suffer from insomnia use lemon balm tea as an herbal remedy before getting prescription drugs.
The slight sweetness and tartness of lemon balm make it a perfect brew after a long day of work.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Holy basil (often called tulsi) is an Ayurvedic plant that has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal tea.
Brewed in a similar fashion as other herbal teas, holy basil is known for its brain enhancing properties. In fact, the plant is so revered for health benefits, it is called the “elixir of life."
A close cousin of rooibos, honeybush has a sweeter aroma and flavor than rooibos yet retains many of the same health benefits.
Honeybush is named for it's flowers that smell like honey.
This beautiful, flowering plant makes one of the most delicious and beneficial herbal teas.
Many studies show hibiscus can help improve cardiovascular health at the level of many prescription drugs! Hibiscus has been long revered in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for its health promoting properties.
Not bad for a naturally sweet red liquid.
Although ginseng contains zero caffeine, it can be a powerful stimulant for the brain, stimulating brain waves and helping you focus.
A root found in colder climates, ginseng has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for centuries.
The herb is so revered for stimulating properties, it is often an added ingredient in many energy drinks.
Ginger is incredibly potent and has a strong, some say "acquired" flavor. This is why you often see ginger as an added ingredient in tea blends.
Taking alone, ginger is known to help settle the stomach and aid in treating a cold. Instead of leaves, you take fresh ginger and dice or thin slice it before steeping in hot water for desired period of time—5-7 minutes should do the trick.
Native to southeast Asia, kratom tea is one of the less popular, but highly effective stimulant alternatives. It can lead to tolerance problems similar to over-consumption of caffeine.
The sensation when taking kratom is similar to morphine, which makes it effective for relieving pain but prone to abuse.
Kava is a root found on tropical islands in the south Pacific.
Islands in polynesia use kava as a relaxant and anti-anxiety compound, which has sedative and anesthetic properties.
The kava tea flavor is heavy and earthy and for some, difficult to consume. However, the health effects are considered well worth it.
Many drink kava to get a chilled-out relaxed feeling.
Herbal Tea Advantages and Disadvantages
For tea purists, herbal tea might seem like a "cute" step-child and lacking in any real tea consideration compared to a healthy green tea or a bold pu-erh.
Of course, this myopic view is unfounded as there are actually plenty of advantages of herbal tea you can't get with traditional tea from the camellia sinensis plant.
For starters, most herbal teas are filled with more antioxidants and micronutrients (like magnesium and potassium) than traditional tea.
Secondly, herbal teas allow you to drink with specific (sometimes contrasting) health goals in mind.
For example, on one hand, a chamomile or lemon balm tea can promote feelings of relaxation and anxiety reduction. On the other, a caffeine-free honeybush or red rooibos tea can provide the health benefits without interfering with your sleep—which you can't say about tea from camellia sinensis.
While subtle differences in green, white, oolong, and black tea are appreciated by traditional tea drinkers, herbal options provide a vast array of flavors, nutrition profiles and drink options.
Where to Start?
There are many options with herbal tea, so don't feel overwhelmed.
Feel free to pursue the Wild Shop and read about some of our Wild Teas. If you want to try a few before committing to a large supply, get any of our Wild Teas in "Mini" size for a fraction of the price.