A Complete Guide to Making Herbal Infusions

IMG_9648.JPG

An herbal infusion is one of the easiest, most accessible herbal preparations. If you’re a beginner, it’s a fantastic way to dive into your own herbal practice, incorporating the benefits of countless herbs into your life in a practical, fool-proof way! This method uses simple tools found around your own kitchen, and takes little preparation. Herbal infusions are one of the oldest, most ancient herbal practices, because water and heat have always been with us. So it can be a profound experience simply to slow down, and meditatively prepare your own herbal medicine, just as the many generations before you have throughout history and virtually every culture.

A nourishing base of Nettles & Oatstraw, with Red Raspberry Leaf & Red Clover as a hormone-balancing support (and also quite nutritive too!), Lemon Balm to improve the flavour and ease anxiety, and just a touch of Chamomile & Lavender for some gentle, calming flower medicine.

Taking herbs in their whole form certainly has its benefits, but some of the constituents can actually pass through the digestive tract without ever being absorbed by the body. Many herbal preparations are able to draw even more constituents from the plant material, which are then contained in a medium which is easily accessible to the body. Solvents can be water, vinegar, glycerin, or alcohol. A basic herbal infusion uses water as its solvent: gentle for collecting water-soluble properties from plants, including enzymes, vitamins, and aromatic volatile oils. It’s ideal for more delicate plants, such as flowers, leaves, and stems. There are slightly different variations on the Herbal Infusion method, using either hot or cold water, or even the power of sunlight! Then there is the decoction method which also uses water as its solvent, but is useful for hardier plant materials, such as bark, berries, or roots, since these tougher plant materials require a bit more energy to fully collect their constituents. All methods are written below, but a few points should be made first…

Alfalfa, Nettles, & Red Raspberry leaf infusing on a sunny windowsill.

Medicinal Tea vs. Beverage Tea

For clarity’s sake, an herbal infusion or simply an infusion, makes use of infusing plant material into water. This is also commonly called a tisane. This method isn’t to be confused with the well known tea commonly brewed around the world, Camellia sinensisblack, green, oolong, white, etc. Nor should it be confused with pre-packaged “herbal teas” found in stores. Many of these are packed with artificial flavouring and colouring, and any number of sweeteners or fillers. They also typically contain very little plant material and may even be “watered down” with lesser quality plants, or even another plant entirely. A few other differences between medicinal tea and simple beverage tea, would be that herbal infusions are usually brewed for much longer and are taken more often throughout the day. Also, the herb to water ratio is generally much higher, since the infusion is made for more than just the flavour, but for a specific effect or support to the body. 

A lovely herbal flower infusion: Hibiscus & Rose.

Bulk Herbs vs. Tea Bags

For a number of reasons, I highly suggest purchasing or harvesting your own bulk herbs, and not relying on pre-prepared, store-bought tea bags. First of all, being able to inspect your own herbs for colour, aroma, quality, and freshness is ideal, as well as the plant material being more intact and not as finely ground, which ultimately maintains their nutritional integrity. If they are already in a teabag, there’s a whole lot more trust involved in the process and you just can’t rely on what you’re getting necessarily. It’s also more expensive to buy pre-bagged herbal teas, and you can no longer mix and match, making your own herbal blends.

You can find bulk, loose herbs in many natural food stores, co-ops, or online. I especially love to purchase from Mountain Rose Herbs or Bulk Herb Store. Just be sure to purchase organic, unsprayed, or wildcrafted herbs when possible, and make sure the company is only distributing sustainably harvested herbs as well, since there are many at-risk/endangered species now. All that being said, if you are only interested in using pre-bagged teas at the moment, then I recommend Traditional Medicinals, a trustworthy company for quality herbal products.

Green, green goodness! Alfalfa, Lady’s Mantle, Lemon Balm, Nettles, Oatstraw, Raspberry Leaf, & Skullcap.

A Couple More Tips & Instructions

Once you’ve selected quality herbs for infusing, all you really need is a way to heat water and a sturdy glass container of some sort. I highly recommend the ever popular Mason Jar due to their durability, non-toxicity, non-porousness, portability, and heat resistance (though I have had one break on me once boiling water was poured inside, so still be careful). Most Mason Jars also come with tight fitting lids. Just a practical choice all around, whatever the herbal preparation.

Dried herbs versus fresh herbs? Since fresh herbs have more water content than dried herbs, the latter is considered stronger and more concentrated. In general, double the amount of fresh herbs compared to dried herbs in the instructions below, or in most any of your day-to-day needs as well. There are many recommendations on the specific proportions to use when making infusions, but I generally recommend using around 1 tablespoon of dried herbs per 8 ounces (1 cup) of water, or 1/4 of a cup of dried herbs per 1 quart of water. And again, just double the herbal material when using fresh herbs.

A general dose for adults is to drink around a quart of herbal infusion throughout the day. That’s why making larger batches is so practical, as compared to making them individually cup by cup.

These infusions are best consumed within 24 hours, but can also be refrigerated and had up to 48 hours after being made.

A nourishing daily herbal infusion blend. Equal parts: Lemon Balm, Marshmallow Leaf, Nettles, Oatstraw, Raspberry Leaf, & Red Clover.

Hot Infusions

Supplies:

  • kettle or pot for boiling water
  • glass container, ceramic cup, or teapot
  • mesh strainer
  • 1-3 tablespoons of herb/herbal blend of choice
  • 1 cup water
    • Note: You can make a bigger batch than this, just maintain the herb to water ratio.

Instructions:

  • Put water on to boil in a kettle or pot (do not use aluminum, copper, or teflon).
  • Prepare herbs by crushing either with a mortar and pestle or by hand. This will help weaken the plant material and break down their cell walls, allowing the most benefit to be received from the plant.
  • Place herbs in a glass container.
  • Pour the hot water over the herbs. Never add the herbs to the pot of currently boiling water. Boiling herbs is too damaging and will rob you of some of the benefits of the herbal material. Once the water has achieved a boiling temperature, you can take it off the heat and let it set for a moment, and then add herbs to the pot if desired.
  • Cover the container so that none of the volatile essential oils escape along with the steam.
  • Allow to steep for about 3-5 hours, or overnight. A minimum of a 15-45 minute infusion will still have many benefits, but I encourage you to do the longer amount of time.
  • Pour through a mesh strainer, to separate out the herbs. Press down firmly on them too, so as to get as much of the herbal constituents as possible. Those last few drops of liquid contain quite a bit!
Using a mesh strainer to separate out herbs.
A cold infusion of Marshmallow leaf & root.

Cold Infusions

This method is ideal for a few select herbs, preserving the delicate essential oils in plant material, as well as those with mucilaginous properties (demulcent herbs, soothing inflamed, irritated tissue and mucous membranes). Licorice, Marshmallow root, and Oatstraw are good examples of this. Other herbs that are known to preform well with cold water infusions are Hibiscus, Lemon Balm, Peppermint and just about anything in the mint family really.

Supplies:

  • glass container
  • mesh strainer
  • 1-3 tablespoons of herb/herbal blend of choice
  • 1 cup cold water
    • Note: You can make a bigger batch than this, just maintain the herb to water ratio.

Instructions:

  • Prepare herbs by crushing either with a mortar and pestle or by hand. This will help weaken the plant material and break down their cell walls, allowing the most benefit to be received from the plant.
  • Place herbs into container.
  • Pour cold water over the herbs and cover.
  • Infuse for 5+ hours, or overnight in the refrigerator. This method of infusion will do best with a longer brewing time, since no heat is involved and the most benefit possible is desired from the extraction process.
  • Pour through a mesh strainer, to separate out the herbs. Press down firmly on them too, so as to get as much of the herbal constituents as possible. Those last few drops of liquid contain quite a bit!
A solar infusion of Lemon Balm.

Solar Infusions

This is a very unique, simple method of using the Sun’s energy and heat to make an herbal infusion. It only requires a few hours in direct sunlight, making it a very accessible method of making infusions for most people. A sunny windowsill, sidewalk, patio, or balcony is perfect! Solar Infusions do produce a generally milder tea as compared to using boiled water. But I’ve found that there’s generally a more gentle, subtle effect or energy to be observed with this method compared with the rest. It’s definitely a personal favourite herbal preparation of mine.

Supplies:

  • glass container
  • mesh strainer
  • 1-3 tablespoons of herb/herbal blend of choice
  • 1 cup water
    • Note: You can make a bigger batch than this, just maintain the herb to water ratio.

Instructions:

  • Prepare herbs by crushing either with a mortar and pestle or by hand. This will help weaken the plant material and break down their cell walls, allowing the most benefit to be received from the plant.
  • Place herbs into a glass jar, and add water. Place a lid on the jar tightly, and gently swirl the herbs around a bit or stir to help them begin to soak up the water.
  • Place the jar in a continuously sunny area for at least an hour, but ideally 3-5 hours.
  • Pour through a mesh strainer, to separate out the herbs. Press down firmly on them too, so as to get as much of the herbal constituents as possible. Those last few drops of liquid contain quite a bit!
A solar infusion of Lemon Balm… liquid sunshine!

Decoctions

The decoction method is particularly useful for those tougher plant materials, such as bark, berries, or roots. Hardier plant materials require a bit more energy, time, and processing to fully collect their constituents. A decoction, basically just a gentle simmering, preforms this task perfectly.

Supplies:

  • pot and lid for boiling water (do not use aluminum, copper, or teflon)
  • glass container
  • mesh strainer
  • 1-3 tablespoons of herb/herbal blend of choice
  • 1 cup water
    • Note: You can make a bigger batch than this, just maintain the herb to water ratio.

Instructions:

  • Prepare herbs by finely chopping or crushing with a mortar and pestle. This will help weaken the plant material and break down their cell walls, allowing the most benefit to be received from the plant. You can also soak the herbs over night so as to soften and prepare the plant material before the decoction process.
  • Bring both water and hardy plant material to boil in a pot with a lid.
  • Once boiling, lower heat and cover again with a lid.
  • Maintain a gentle, slow simmer for around 20-45 minutes.
  • Remove the pot from the heat, and to separate out the herbs pour through a mesh strainer into either a glass jar or other heat-sage container. Press down firmly on them too, so as to get as much of the herbal constituents as possible. Those last few drops of liquid contain quite a bit!
  • Note: Roots and barks can actually be used over and over again a few times before discarding (or composting ideally!)
A moment just before the freshly boiled water begins its time-honoured process of drawing forth the humble offerings of these plant allies: Bilberry, Dandelion, Nettle, & Raspberry Leaf.

Decoction-Infusion

A decoction-infusion is what’s in order for an herbal infusion recipe that calls for both hardy plant material like barks/berries/roots and flowers/leaves. How do you fully capture the benefits of the tougher first materials, all while gently preparing the delicate second materials? Just a simple combination of the two methods above…

Supplies:

  • pot and lid for boiling water (do not use aluminum, copper, or teflon)
  • glass container
  • mesh strainer
  • 1-3 tablespoons of herb/herbal blend of choice
  • 1 cup water
    • Note: You can make a bigger batch than this, just maintain the herb to water ratio.

Directions:

  • Follow the directions above for decocting barks, berries, or roots.
  • Place the more delicate leaves or flowers into a glass jar or other heat-safe container.
  • Once the decoction has finished simmering for the 20-45 minutes, pour it over the waiting herbs in the glass jar (herbs, simmering water, and all).
  • Allow to steep for about 3-5 hours, or overnight. A minimum of a 15-45 minute infusion will still have many benefits, but I encourage you to do the longer amount of time.
  • Pour through a mesh strainer, to separate out the herbs. Press down firmly on them too, so as to get as much of the herbal constituents as possible. Those last few drops of liquid contain quite a bit!
An uplifting and gently encouraging, highly nourishing, & hormone balancing herbal blend: Lemon Balm, Nettles, Oatstraw, Red Raspberry Leaf, & Rose petals.

I hope you enjoyed this educational post! Head back to the Herbalism page for more ways to study herbs and their properties, actions, preparations, and traditional use in day-to-day living.


REFERENCES


DISCLAIMER: Any information offered here is for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Leaves in My Hair makes neither medical claim, nor intends to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. You must do your own independent research concerning the safety and usage of any herbs and for making any decisions regarding your health. Pregnant or breastfeeding women, persons with known medical conditions, and those on medication should consult with their licensed health care provider about any medical decisions. References to external websites and resources are for informational purposes only. Leaves in my Hair neither endorses them nor is in any way responsible for their content. 

Advertisements

Author: helen.wildrose

Christian • Herbalist • Writer • INFJ • Plant-Based

One thought on “A Complete Guide to Making Herbal Infusions”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s