Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

tisane a fragrant herbal infusion drunk for refreshment or medicinal reasons or both. The history of the word is unusual. It began in classical Greece as ptisane, which meant barley water, passed via Latin (ptisana) into 13th century French (tisaine), and 16th century English (ptisan, still meaning barley water). Later, it reappeared in English as tisane, ‘a 20th century readoption from the French’ (as Ayto, 1993, explains). See also orgeat.

The phrase ‘herbal tea’ has more or less the same meaning. It came into being not because herbal teas have anything to do with the tea plant but because of the dominance of true tea among hot beverages made by infusing leaves. This has resulted in ‘tea’ being taken to cover any such beverage. The existence of flavoured teas (real tea, flavoured with herbs or fruits) is a further source of confusion. It would be preferable to retain ‘tisane’, which has a respectably long tradition as an English word, and to use ‘tea’ only for real tea.