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Making Herbal Decoctions & Infusions

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Water-based preparations are one of our most ancient forms of medicines. It is a great medium for extracting the healing herbal constituents from the herbs. It will extract most constituents to be fair, and a good all rounder, great for mucilage, minerals, vitamins tannins, flavonoids, bitters, acids. It isn't great for extracting alkaloids/resins but that is why we create tinctures if we want to extract these instead!

Infusions are a simple water-based herbal preparation - essentially it is making a cup of tea! The leaves and flowers are placed in boiling water and allowed to steep, the water leeches the plant constituents containing the healing properties, which you drink.

Nutritive and nourishing tonic herbs make good infusions. I enjoy a nettle (Urtica dioica) infusion in the springtime helping to tonify my detoxification channels. Hawthorn berry tea (Crataegus) is super heart tonic, Echinacea root for an immune boosting winter tonic or perhaps Camomile for a calming bedtime tea?

Making an Infusion

Always use, fresh pure water to make a herbal infusion, where you can. Steep your herbs in boiling water for 5-20 minutes in a teapot or smaller vessel. Always cover the vessel to stop the volatile oils from escaping. When the water becomes coloured it is a good indicator that the plant chemicals have infused into the water. The darker it is, the stronger it is and the more healing properties it will contain. Crushing, chopping, pressing or stirring can all help to break down the cell walls and increase the surface area increasing the speed and strength of the process. How long you steep for is up to you, depending on strength, flavour, or what you are trying to extract. If you are using strongly smelling herbs that contain volatile oils, such chamomile, then these will need the shortest time.

Once you have infused water and it is relatively cool, stir, squeeze and strain the herbs and enjoy your herbal infusion.

Usual dosages for nutritive and tonifying herbs are 5 - 15g (1-3tsp) of dried herb,1-3 times a day. As a general rule: 1 tsp of dried her per cup (230ml) or or 2 tablespoons of fresh herb per cup if you are using 'Generally Recognised As Safe' herbs. If you are needing a stronger infusion, you could steep for up to 4 hours.

Note: some herbs will suit a cold infusion, especially muclilagionous ones such as chickweed, cleavers, plantain etc. In which case, simply allow the herbs to sit in cold water and refrigerate from 3 hours to overnight. And, you can also use water-based preparations for poultices, compresses, formations and herbal washes and rinses!

Decoctions are pretty much the same as infusions but for the sturdier herbal parts, such as roots, berries and barks; requiring a longer and prolonged heat source for leaching to occur. It can be a good idea to bash, crush, chop them or grind slightly to increase the surface area for faster leeching. You can soak the herbs overnight in the fridge to help soften the barks if they are very hard.

Add the herbs to a pan with the required amount of boiling water. Cover and bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 - 45 minutes, depending on the required strength. Once complete allow to cool slightly so that you can drain the decoction through a muslin cloth. Squeeze the muslin to sweeze out all the precious consistentnts and get the most out of your herbs. Enjoy your herbal tea! You can compost the herbs so nothing goes to waste.

Remember water is a great medium for bacteria so consume infusions and decoctions immediately, once cool, or store in the fridge but drink within 24 hours.

You can buy many herbal teas in the supermarket these days but, if you are foraging your own make sure you can ID the plant correctly before coming home and drying your herbs. This post is not intended as medical advice, and I am simply sharing knowledge for those interested in herbalism, and applies to GRAS herbs. If trying anything new, remember that allergies can exist. In general be respectful of herbs, take moderately, start with a low dose, use for a short period and see how you feel. If you are taking medications or have a medical condition you should speak to your doctor before ingesting any herbs. Some herbs have the power to be dangerous when used in the wrong hands. It is recommended to be respectful, apply common sense, prudence, and research from a variety of reputable sources.

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