Herbal teas, infusions, and decoctions are some of the easiest ways to use herbs. If not the easiest, they’re certainly one of the most nutritious!
Today I’m going to walk you through what each of these preparations are as well as give you step-by-step directions on how to make them yourself.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What Are Herbal Teas, Infusions, and Decoctions?
Herbal teas, infusions, and decoctions are all names for different types of herbal water preparations. They each vary slightly in how they’re made, but the end goal is to extract the chemical constituents from the plant material and transfer it into water. That water is drunk (or inserted into the body in the case of an enema or douche), and the body easily absorbs those constituents.
Tea is commonly drunk for enjoyment and taste where infusions and decoctions are used for medicinal benefits. Teas are light in color and flavor and infusions and decoctions are much darker in color and stronger in flavor. All of these preparations can be sweetened before drinking.
Teas and infusions are made using soft herbs (flowers, stems, leaves) by pouring water over herbs and allowing the herbs to steep for a certain period of time. Decoctions are made by simmering harder herbs (roots, nuts, seeds, barks) over low heat for a set amount of time. Herbalist Michael Moore has a great list of herbs to use for decoctions right here.
FRESH VS. DRIED HERBS
When making teas, infusions, and decoctions, fresh or dry herbs can be used.
Keep in mind that fresh herb measurements are almost always double what dry herb measurements are. For example, if your recipe called for 1 teaspoon of dry mint leaf for a tea and all you had was fresh mint you would simply use 2 tsp. of chopped fresh leaves in place of the dried.
When it comes to water temperature boiled water is most commonly used, but some plant constituents (mucilage) are extracted better in warm or cool water. It’s best to know what constituents are in the plant you’re using and/or what you want to extract from it before deciding which kind of water to use. If you use hot water when you should have used cool water, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll still get a lot of beneficial properties from the plant. Check out herbalist Micheal Moore’s list of plants to infuse via cold water right here.
The amount of herbs used for each preparation is the first big difference you will notice among these preparations.
Tea usually calls for 1-3 teaspoons of herb per 8-ounce cup.
Infusions and decoctions can call for varying amounts, but the most common amounts are 1 oz. dried herb (by weight) to 4 cups (1 quart) of water and 1/4 cup dried herb to 4 cups (1 quart) of water. These amounts are not set in stone. The more you make certain recipes over and over, the more of a preference you’ll have for each recipe.
As you can see, tea uses less herb, therefore it has a lighter flavor, where infusions and decoctions use more water and are stronger in flavor.
Steep time is the second area where you will see the most difference between these three preparations.
True teas (those that contain actual tea leaves) are steeped anywhere from 3-5 minutes and some herbal teas are steeped around 10-15 minutes. Longer steep times for teas tend to make them bitter which isn’t very enjoyable to drink.
Infusions are steeped for various times based on how strong you want the end preparation or how much time you have. Common steep times are anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour to 4 hours and sometimes 12 hours even. It is thought that the longer an infusion steeps the more properties that are pulled out of the herb. I’m not certain that is true, but feel free to do whatever works best for you.
Decoctions are steeped (simmered really) for varying amounts of time as well. 1-2 hours is most common, but depending upon the herbs being used, the amount of water, and the reduction you’re looking at getting, it could be simmered for several hours.
When it comes to teas… there are many ways to brew up a good cup of tea. Honestly, there’s no one “right way” as each method has its own set of pros and cons. Basically, you brew your tea based on your preferences and needs at that time.
My friend Stacy from A Delightful Home recently wrote an article on the Bulk Herb Store Blog called Herbal Tea 101: 8 Ways To Brew Herbal Tea, and it gives a good overview of some of the most common brewing methods such as loose-leaf brewing, bag brewing, brewing on the stovetop, in a mason jar via the sun, or in a French press. It’s a must-read (and pin) in my mind.
What Plant Properties Are Extracted In Teas, Infusions, and Decoctions?
Herbal teas, infusions, and decoctions use water as their solvent. Water is referred to as “the universal solvent” because it extracts all of the plant constituents except for resins.
That means that a tea, infusion, and decoction will contain any of the following plant constituents:
- minerals, trace elements
- small amounts of volatile oils
This is important to know if you’re looking to get a certain action from an herb as the actions are due to the constituents in the plant.
How To Make Herbal Teas, Infusions, and Decoctions
There are a lot of different ways to make these types of herbal preparations, but in the steps below I’m going to share the easiest, simplest, quickest way to make them that doesn’t compromise their quality. If you want to know about other ways to make these preparations, Google it. You’ll get page after page of results!
HOW TO MAKE A TEA
- Bring 8 oz. of pure water to boil in a kettle, hot shot, or on the stovetop.
- Place 1-3 tsp. of loose leaf herbs in a tea strainer. This is my favorite tea strainer by far!
- Pour water over herbs. Cover your teacup with a saucer. Wait 3-5 minutes.
- Remove tea strainer. Compost herbs. Sweeten the tea with raw honey. Drink and enjoy!
HOW TO MAKE AN INFUSION
- Bring 4 cups of pure water to boil in a kettle or on the stovetop.
- Place 1/4 cup of herbs (or 1 oz. by weight) in a quart mason jar.
- Pour water over herbs, place lid on the jar, and shake once to mix herbs and water well.
- Let sit anywhere from 4 hours to overnight.
- Strain and compost herbs. Sweeten infusion with raw honey, if desired, and enjoy hot or cold. Drink the recommended dosage throughout the day.
* When using an infusion as an herbal enema or douche, follow the above steps only do NOT sweeten it. Continue as directed for specific preparation.
HOW TO MAKE A DECOCTION
- Bring 4 cups of pure water to boil on the stovetop. Once the water comes to a boil, turn the heat to low. You want the water to steam or lightly roll, not boil.
- Place 1/4 cup of herbs (or 1 oz. by weight) in a saucepan with water. Mix well with a spoon.
- Let this simmer for the desired length of time or until water is reduced by half (2 cups).
- Strain and compost herbs. Sweeten decoction with raw honey if desired. Drink the recommended dosage throughout the day.
So there you go. Now you know the difference between herbal teas, infusions, and decoctions, and you know how to make them.