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Using Herbs: Herbal Teas, Infusions, and Decoctions

Using Herbs: Herbal Teas, Infusions, and Decoctions | Growing Up Herbal | Learn difference in herbal teas, infusions, and decoctions as well as how to make each one.

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.

WATER TEMPERATURE

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.

HERB AMOUNTS

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

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.

BREWING METHODS

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:

  • alkaloids
  • glycosides
  • saponins
  • flavonoids
  • tannins
  • mucilage
  • polysaccharides
  • vitamins
  • 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

  1. Bring 8 oz. of pure water to boil in a kettle, hot shot, or on the stovetop.
  2. Place 1-3 tsp. of loose leaf herbs in a tea strainer. This is my favorite tea strainer by far!
  3. Pour water over herbs. Cover your teacup with a saucer. Wait 3-5 minutes.
  4. Remove tea strainer. Compost herbs. Sweeten the tea with raw honey. Drink and enjoy!

HOW TO MAKE AN INFUSION

  1. Bring 4 cups of pure water to boil in a kettle or on the stovetop.
  2. Place 1/4 cup of herbs (or 1 oz. by weight) in a quart mason jar. 
  3. Pour water over herbs, place lid on the jar, and shake once to mix herbs and water well.
  4. Let sit anywhere from 4 hours to overnight.
  5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. Place 1/4 cup of herbs (or 1 oz. by weight) in a saucepan with water. Mix well with a spoon.
  3. Let this simmer for the desired length of time or until water is reduced by half (2 cups).
  4. 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.

Do you have any questions or comments about this information? If so, leave them in the comment section below, and I’ll answer them soon!

Click here to get back to the “How To Start Using Herbs” series intro.

24 thoughts on “Using Herbs: Herbal Teas, Infusions, and Decoctions”

  1. These are some great tips on herbal teas. I’m a fan of tea myself, so it was great seeing some interesting additions that I didn’t know. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Susan Herrmann

    I am also a RN and very interested in holistic healing, aromatherapy, and herbs. Is there a program or a teaching website that resembles what you have done in this article. It is so easy to grasp. Maybe you have more articles to read like this if so – where?

    1. This “Using Herbs” series will feature more posts like this one Susan, but if you’re looking for a school, I attend the Herbal Academy of New England which has an Introductory and Intermediate course. I’m really enjoying my time with HANE… the lessons are great!

  3. Just wondering, you say that “This is your favorite tea strainer by far!”, but there is no link and I don’t see where you say which particular tea strainer is your favorite. I drink 2-3 cups of tea a day and would love to know what strainer you like. 🙂 Thank you so much for writing such a clear and helpful article!

    1. So sorry about that Michelle. I updated the link in the post! Thanks for letting me know, and I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

  4. If I make a herbal infusion to treat cold and cough, what would be a dosage for a toddler? How many tsp, how many times a day? Thank you.

    1. For a cough, I’d say taking a sip of warm infusion every 20-30 minutes would be a good way to dose it. This will vary of course based on the herbs used in the infusion as well as your child’s symptoms. You can learn more about dosing herbs here. Be sure to read the section on “the minimalist approach.” Hope that helps some Lisa!

  5. What is your suggestion for stoping female hair loss as well as growing new hair? What herb should I use? Do I drink it or pour it on my hair as a rince after shampooing or both drink and use as a rince? I’ve read that stinging nettle is best but if so, do I use the dried leaves or the dried roots or both?
    Do I use a infusion or decoction to make the tea?

    If I am to use it as a hair rinse do I store a nettle hair rince in the refrigerator or can I leave it at room temp in the shower with my shampoo? How long will a rinse last before it goes bad and needs to be replaced with a fresh batch? I have the same question with a nettle tea that I would drink made from dried leaves or roots. How long does it last in the refrigerator before it goes bad and a fresh batch needs to be made?

    If it is nettle that should be used for hair loss do I use the hot or cold water method for both a rinse and to be used as a drinking tea or hot method for one way and cold for another?

    For an amature who knows little about herbs, I’m looking for exact instructions for my hair loss problem rather than general instructions.

    1. Hi Susie. I’m so sorry, but I’m not a clinical herbalist and don’t work with clients so I can’t give you exact instructions for the problem you face. I know that hair loss, especially in women, is a frustraiting thing. There are naturally things that can be done to minimze and sometimes reverse it. My advice would be to clean up your diet as much as possible, take a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement, switch out store-bought hair care products for natural ones, and use herbal vinegar rinses and infused herbal/essential oil hair oils on your scalp often. I’d also look into adaptogen herbs if you think you may have adrenal fatigue or any sort of deficiency. Thyroid issues can also contribute to hair loss as well. As this is a very detailed topic, it would be better for me to write a blog post about it with recipes and such in order to do it justice. Keep an eye out for it soon.

  6. Lisa Love Charles

    I made my first infusion yesterday with hibiscus. I boiled 2 cups water & poured it over 1 tbsp of herb in a mason jar. I let it steep for 30 min before I drank my first cup. It was great! I was proud & excited.

    Thanks for this article. These tips and explanations are so helpful.

    1. Good for you, Lisa!! Hibiscus is a fun herb and it makes beautiful, tasty summer drinks! Plus, it’s so healthy for you. Just don’t add milk to it… it will curdle! Not that it will hurt you at all… it just makes your pretty drink not so pretty any more! So, what’s next on your list of herbal to-dos? Another infusion? Maybe a decoction and then a syrup? You’ll have to let me know what you decide.

  7. Hello there. I am trying to venture into making my own DIY tea blends, body oils, first aid remedies, etc. I am trying to learn how to approach deciding which herbs to include in my blend. I read about synergy and how different herbs can work together. But I have not found any source that talks about which herbs work well together and which ones may not. It’s confusing. I would love a book to read- but I’m not sure of one. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t know the terminology or catch phrases to then properly look information up on this particular topic. Does this make sense? Thanks for any help in pointing in the right direction!

    1. Hi, Lauren. There are blending formulas that can be followed which can be helpful for beginners. Obviously, studying teas and herbs, learning how they taste, learning about their chemistry and how one can affect the other… those things will help with blending, but they take time. I have a mini-course on tea blending which teaches you how to blend herbs by following a simple formula. I love creating herb blends this way. They’re simple, but they taste great. You can check that course out here. Other than that, I’m sure there are books on teas and herbs that will help you learn about how to blend them. I just don’t know of any off the top of my head.

  8. How much of an infusion would an adult drink with herbs like Red Raspberry leaf, oatstraw, alfalfa? Is it 3-4 cups?
    For children, would it be 1 cup? Thank you!

  9. Hi there! I am boiling moringa, holy basil, gotukola, gooseberry powders 1 tbsp each in 1 cup of water and let it steep overnight. I am drinking it in the morning without straining. Is it ok if I do like this? Or does it have any harmful effect on my health? Please help.

    1. A lot of people drink their infusions without straining the herbs. I’m not sure that it matters all that much. I think it’s more a matter of personal preference.

    1. Infusions and decoctions will both extract water-soluble constituents because they’re both water-based preparations. Infusions are generally used when you have delicate herbs like flowers and leaves whereas decoctions are used for harder herb parts like bark, berries, and roots. The longer you infuse or decoct the herbs, the stronger the preparation will be. Does that answer your question?

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