If You’re Drinking Tisane, You’re Drinking?
Answer: Herbal Tea
If you’re drinking tea—that is, a beverage brewed from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant—be it green, black, white, yellow, or oolong, then you’re drinking the only thing truly classified as true “tea”. What we commonly call “herbal tea”, an infusion prepared like tea, but with the leaves or other plant parts of any other plant except Camellia sinensis, is formally known as a “tisane”. The word, in American English, is pronounced “tɪˈzæn”.
The word comes to us, by winding trip, from Ancient Greek (πτισάνη or ptisánē, which meant “peeled barley, barley-water”), where it was absorbed into Latin as tisana, then into Anglo-Norman as “tysanne” and Middle French as “ptisane/tisane”. In both instances, it translated to “barley water, medicinal drink”. Both Anglo-Norman and Middle French had strong influences on English, and we took the word in its Middle French form of “tisane”.
Today, tisane refers to any non-tea tea-like drink made from steeped leaves, fresh or dried flowers, fruit or fruit peels, seeds, and/or roots. There are many tisane variations served around the world, but some tisanes enjoy enduring popularity like chamomile, hibiscus, ginger, and mint/peppermint.
Image by 예향/Wikimedia.