Infusions and Decoctions

Infusions and decoctions are methods for preparing herbal teas and formulations which can address specific conditions promoting overall wellness for an individual.  While they each may have a variety uses, they differ in the methods of preparation.  Depending on the parts used plants and herbs may need to be infused or decocted.

Teas are a well-known method of taking herbs.  Teas are usually enjoyed as beverages, but they can also be used to produce a strong medicinal effect. This makes them suitable for aiding illnesses.  To be effective medicinally, however, the proportion of herbs to water must be much greater than an amount used in a beverage.  A medicinal dose of herbs can be as much as one ounce of herbs to one cup of water.  That’s for dried herbs.  Fresh herbs can call for up to two ounces of herbs to one cup of water.

Herbs used for teas should be cut and sifted instead of whole or powdered, so they can be strained easily.  Fresh herbs should be first “bruised” by rubbing them between the hands or using a mortar and pestle to break down the tissue structure and release the active properties.

Herbs should be prepared in nonmetallic containers like glass earthenware, or enamel.  Stainless steel works as well when the others aren’t available.  Herbs prepared  in water soluble metal pots like iron or aluminum may lose or have their properties weakened.  The water used should be distilled or low mineral spring water instead of tap water allowing for more efficient extraction of the herbs’ active ingredients.

Infusions are a common method used for preparing herbal teas.  This method easily works well for dispersed herbal properties like volatile oils, fragile leaves, or flowers.  For a simple infusion, bring the water to a full boil, remove it from heat, and add the herbs.  Steep them from ten to twenty-five minutes depending on the quantity, type, or formulation of herb(s) used or until the tea is cool enough to drink.  Some should be drunk as hot as possible without burning the mouth.  A sun tea infusion is also a good method.  Simply place the desired amount of herbs in a tightly covered glass jar and place in the sun for a few hours.

Decoctions are used to extract the deeper essences from courser leaves, stems, barks, and roots.  The herbs are placed in the container and simmered (not boiled) in a larger quantity of water and reduced by half, like two quarts of water would be reduced to one quart.  This process may take from twenty minutes to an hour depending on the quantity of water and herbs used.

In either decoctions or infusions teas containing volatile oils (like mints or ginger), the container, or even mug, should be covered while steeping to avoid losing these vital oils.

This is a bird’s eye view of making medicinal herbal teas.  If there are questions or concerns regarding the use of certain herbs or how to prepare them, you may want to consult an herbalist familiar with these tried and true techniques.  Herbal Teas, whether infused or decocted, can be very effective in bringing someone to a place of balance and wellness.  There are countless examples of herbal teas and their many uses both for internal and external use.  As with any herbal remedy or preparation, if you are in doubt or have questions about using specific herbs consult with an herbalist or your physician first to make certain the preparation will not interfere with any current medications or treatment.

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