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Food

On the Trail of Tisana

By Iris Brooks
Published September 14, 2006

Tisana is a drink in which water is enriched with local herbs including leaves, flowers and roots. It may be an infusion for refreshment or medicinal means.

Belly-dancing, eating eggs, drinking black currant juice and walking on hot coals are a few of the healing prescriptions I am given by a variety of practitioners on a recent trip to southern Tuscany. And then there are the Etruscan elixirs.

My body soaks in the sun and the therapeutic thermal waters at Terme di Saturnia, while my mind soaks in components of Kat James’ program, Total Transformation in Tuscany. Joining a small group of women, we learn about shedding, upgrading and beauty from the inside out. Then we join in an herbal harvest, where we smell, snip, clean, dry and measure herbs to create Etruscan elixirs or healthy infusions known as tisanas.

Breathing clearly is my challenge as allergies kick in on the back roads of Tuscany. I wind my way past shoots of wild asparagus, olive groves and wine vineyards, noticing that the policemen drive Alfa Romeos. Red poppies and yellow mustard seeds dot the predominantly green landscape. The language and the land are lyrical here, where the word for room sounds like camera and word for floor is piano. My Italian vocabulary consists mainly of musical words: crescendo, andante, vivace, piccolo, forte, etc. Thankfully I have a translator to explain the nuances of the tisana.

Tisana is a drink in which water is enriched with local herbs including leaves, flowers and roots. It may be an infusion for refreshment or medicinal means. Made from whole (non-pulverized) herbs, tisana “tries to help the body help itself,” explains Gina Mollinari, the American tisana importer and head of the Scarangello Company, who describes her kitchen as an herbal pharmacy and refers to the tisana as her gold.

While herbal elixirs are currently in vogue in California, the history of tisane started 2,000 years ago in Egypt and Greece. The name comes from the classical Greek ptisane, which means barley water and in 13th century France became tisaine. Tisane (plural) remained popular in the country while pharmaceuticals were more common in urban areas. “Medicinal plants have always been grown and official medicine used extracts of plants. In the 1960s-’70s, people returned to nature and started using tisane again,” explains herbalist Costanza Giunti. For her, the goal of the tisane is working on the cause of a health problem and this requires knowing even the little things going on in the body. Although there are 3,500 herbalists in Italy today, only 10 percent blend and sell tisane.

At Saturnia, one of the most renowned spas in Italy, tisana is served in oversized floral mugs with a clay insert to hold and steep the herbs. Dr. Carrcaterra explains, “The<

  Recipe

TISANA TIPS

 

Tisana should be stored away from humidity and carbohydrates (because of worms).

 

Don’t add anything to the tisana.

 

Don’t refrigerate these drinks and once made, discard them after 24 hours.