The history and etymology of the word tisane (pronounced tee-zahn), varies. Some say tisane comes from the Greek word, ptisanē, which refers to a medicinal drink made from barley-soaked water. While others believe the French invented the word, saying Ti (tea) and Sans (French for without) creates the meaning, “tea without tea.”
Documentation about the genesis of herbal tisane is very limited. There is one Chinese legend about a man named Shennog, known as the “divine farmer,” who lived from 2737 BC to 2697 BC. He discovered the infusion of herbs when he was drinking hot water outdoors and some leaves from a nearby tree blew into his cup. He took a sip and was pleasantly surprised by the delicious concoction. One of the earliest writings about tisane was recorded in a medical book during the third century AD. It was written by Hua T’o, a Chinese physician and surgeon, who was a pioneer in the field of medicine. He is known for creating some of the first herbal treatments and anesthetics by decocting medicinal plants.
Many tisanes found their beginning in Egypt during 1550 BC. Chamomile was recorded to be enjoyed by Egyptians in the Ebers Papyrus. It was used to honor the gods, embalm the dead, and cure the sick. Herbs like dill and basil were also blended into tisanes to aid digestion and treat heart issues. It was not until 1070 BC that herbal tisanes became a standard beverage for personal enjoyment.
In the 16th century, merchants from Portugal imported tea and tisanes from China to Western Europe. By the 17th century, tea evolved into one of Europe’s most popular commodities, most specifically in Britain. The British made a profitable business of transporting teas and tisanes to Indian consumers and later to America when they explored the New World. Today, tisanes are gaining popularity in tea shops and have become an alternative to expensive medications.