Like a tea made without tea leaves, a tisane is made by infusing fresh herbs in hot water. Historically, tisanes were consumed for their medicinal benefits, but they are also the perfect showcase for the bright flavors of fresh herbs. They're a great way to bring a new ingredient into your repertoire: pouring a little hot water over an unfamiliar herb is an easy way to get a sense of its flavor. And if you're pesto-ed out, a tisane is super simple way of using up extra herbs you have on hand.
Tisanes are often served hot, but I made these all iced for warm-weather sipping. Here are three flavor combinations that I'm really into right now.
Nettle Rosemary Tisane
Stinging nettles, not nearly as menacing as they sound, are leafy green plants that grow wild in North America. Lined with tiny spikes, the leaves and stems, which can be a skin irritant, are easily tamed with boiling water. If you're not quite ready to venture out and harvest your own, nettles are in greenmarkets for much of the spring. When steeped in hot water, they make a super-savory infusion that is a great pairing for slightly spicy, resiny rosemary.
Lemon Balm Lavender Tisane
If you've never tried lemon balm, I'd urge you to seek it out. I fell so much in love with it after using up the bunch that I bought to make this tisane that I planted some on my fire escape! Lemon balm is a member of the mint family and has a pretty similar appearance to the more familiar mint, but its bright, lemony scent is immediately recognizable. Paired with fresh lavender--leaves and all, not the dried buds--this is a clean tasting, refreshing drink.
Mint Shiso Tisane
Shiso, also known as perilla or sesame leaves, is used widely in Asian cuisine. You may have seen it wrapped around sushi or meat, in a chiffonade on noodles, or even made into kimchi. It comes in red and green varieties and is also a relative of mint. It has a unique taste that's a little hard to describe. It has hints of fennel and also a spicy note, like cinnamon, which add complexity to the classic, cooling mint tea.