Herbalism How To: Infusions + Decoctions
Is there anything more comforting than curling up with a good book and a hot cup of tea? Or in this case, a hot or cold cup of an herbal infusion. Part of my daily self-care regimen for 2018 has been to brew an herbal infusion before bed to drink the following day. The herbal blend changes depending on what I need, but lately has been focused on gentle, nourishing herbs like Nettle and Lemon Balm.
Herbal infusions are simple and soothing ways to introduce the healing compounds of medicinal plants into your body. They're basically strong herbal teas that have been brewed in water for long periods of time to extract the vitamins, enzymes, aromatic volatile oils, and other healing goodness. Infusions are super easy, delicious, and a great introduction to how you can use herbs to support your body, heal yourself, or just unwind after a long day.
These water-based extracts are put into two categories – Infusions and Decoctions. For herbal infusions, we use the most delicate parts of the plant – flowers, stems, and leaves. Decoctions are made with the tougher parts of a plant – roots, inner & outer bark, and seeds. Herbal Decoctions take a little bit longer to make but offer the opportunity to utilize some of nature's best medicine in parts that are often left forgotten. Many recipes for herbal remedies, such as Elderberry Syrup, start with decoctions.
As for Herbal Infusions, there are two primary methods – you can either 1) boil water and pour it over the herbs like a tea or 2) harness the power of the sun to magically brew you a potent potion. In the warmer months I like to use the solar method, but this winter I'm brewing a basic infusion each night, leaving the sealed jar on the counter to steep until morning, and drinking it the following day. Here's how to do both:
For both methods, begin by weighing out 1 oz of dried herbs for every 4 cups of water. If you don't have a scale, some good ratios to follow are 1 tablespoon of dry herb to every 8 oz of water or 1/4 of dry herb to a quart. Double the quantity if using fresh herbs!
As the water is boiling, crush your herbs with a mortar and pestle to weaken the cell walls.
Pour the boiling water over your herbs and cover it. I recommend using a french press or Mason Jar for this step!
Allow the infusion to make its magic for at least 20 minutes. You can steep it for 4-10 hours as well.
Strain your liquid and drink it hot or cold depending on your desired effects.
Store your remaining infusion in the refrigerator covered for up to 3 days. Enjoy cold or warm.
Combine herbs and water in a Mason Jar.
Place the jar in a sunny window for 4 hours.
Strain and imbibe!
Store your remaining infusion in the sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Enjoy cold or warm.
How to make a Decoction:
Weigh out 1-2 oz of your chosen herbs for your decoction. If you are using seeds, crush them a bit in a mortar and pestle, if you are using the roots or bark cut them up into smaller pieces so extract as much of their constituents as possible.
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Once boiling, add 1-2 oz of herbs and reduce the heat to a simmer.
After 20-45 minutes, remove the pot from heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes.
Strain the decoction and store in a Mason Jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Enjoy cold or warm.
One cool thing about decoctions is that you can reuse the roots a few times before composting them. Though the initial decoction will be the strongest, this allows you to get all of the medicinal properties possible out of a single sample. Just make sure to use the root in the next day or so before it molds.
What if my recipe calls for both?
Some formulations combine the tougher parts of the plant with the delicate components too. It is best to use the whole herb, after all!
Decoct roots/bark/seeds in the method previously mentioned.
After 20-45 minutes, pour the decoction over your other herbs (1 oz dry, 2 oz fresh).
Close or cover the container and steep for 20 minutes.
Strain the mixture and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Enjoy cold or warm.
Here are a few of my favorite simple combinations for Herbal Infusions!
Daily Infusion: 2 tbsp Nettle, 1 tbsp Lemon Balm, 1 tbsp Holy Basil + 1 quart of water
Anxiety Relief Infusion: 1 tbsp Passionflower, 1 tbsp Lavender, 2 tbsp Lemon Balm + 1 quart of water
Digestive Decoction: 2 tbsp Fennel Seeds, 1 tbsp Dandelion Root, 1/2 in chunk of Ginger + 1 quart of Water
Some other herbs to consider for herbal infusions include Chamomile, Peppermint, Skullcap, Elderberries, Echinacea Root, and the ones listed above. You can make an infusion out of just about every plant but be sure to check for herbal interactions with any medicines you may be on and contraindicated herbs for your disposition. The herbs I have mentioned above are gentle and generally very safe but I'll leave your infusion recipe up to you, your herbalist, or primary care physician. If you have any questions, shoot me an email or comment below! I'd love to hear about your recipes and experiences with herbal infusions.
Sending healing vibes,