The term “herbal tea” is commonly used to refer to any hot water infusion of herbs. The most popular “herbal teas” are chamomile, mint, lemon balm, Yogis, Traditional Medicinals, etc; any infusion of various leaves or flowers are typically thought of as ‘herbal tea.”
However, “herbal tea” is actually an oxymoron, in that the only true tea is Camellia sinensis, tea made from the tea plant, which would simply be called “tea.” By contrast, the hot water steeping of herbs should technically be called an “infusion“ or “tisane“ (pr. ti-zan).
This is the source of much confusion.
Of course, it is much easier for consumers and food/beverage staff to refer to all hot beverages as tea, or to simply distinguish between a caffeinated tea with Camellia sinensis and a caffeine-free herbal tisane by the simple addition of the word “herbal.” It is, however, a misnomer to use the phrase “herbal tea.” I think the misuse of the term and confusion is perpetuated by mislabeling, oversimplification, and poor shelving by the industry of herbal infusion.
By using the term tea to refer to any infusion of tea or herbs, we are downgrading the unique and important beverage that is true tea.
The term “herbal tea” could potentially be accurately applied to a mixture of Camellia sinensis tea and herbs steeped into a hot water infusion. In this case, the term “herbal tea” seems to precisely describe the infusion because it contains both tea and herbs. Some examples would be rosebud white tea, peppermint green (mint and green tea), or Belight Tea with its pu-erh and 5 herbs.
When herbs and tea are purposely combined for a health-promoting infusion, as in Belight Tea, Yogis’ Green Tea Muscle Recovery, or Zhena’s Slim Me, those fall into a more specific category known as Wellness Teas. Wellness Teas combine herbs and tea for specific, health-promoting uses and functions.
There is no clear cut definition of what constitutes an “herbal tea.” There is tea from the Camellia sinensis plant; there are herbal tisanes; and there are infusions of tea-herb combinations that could be called herbal tea, though rarely is the term applied in that case.
If you want to help set everything straight, when your cup contains tea leaves, please refer to it as tea; when your cup contains only herbs, please call it a tisane or infusion; and when your cup contains both tea and herbs, feel free to call it herbal tea or wellness tea.
The tea industry, xoxo