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 each of these preparations, 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 the liquid contains.
Beverage teas are commonly drunk for enjoyment and taste, whereas infusions and decoctions are more often used when seeking therapeutic benefits. Beverage 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 with honey, maple syrup, or an herbal glycerite before drinking, if desired.
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) on the stovetop over low heat for a set amount of time. Check out herbalist Michael Moore’s list of herbs to use for decoctions right here.
Fresh Herbs 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 is called for dry herb measurements. For example, if your recipe called for 1 teaspoon of dry mint leaf for tea, but all you have on hand is fresh mint, you would simply use 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh mint leaves instead.
When it comes to water temperature, boiled water is most commonly used when steeping tea, but some plant constituents (mucilage, for example) are extracted better in cool to room-temperature water. Check out herbalist Micheal Moore’s list of plants to infuse via cold water right here.
It can be helpful to know which plant constituents you would like to extract from from the plant material before deciding the water temperature to use. Keep in mind that 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.
The amount of herbs used for each preparation is the first big difference you will notice among these preparations.
Tea usually calls for anywhere from 1-3 teaspoons of herb per 8 ounces of water.
Infusions and decoctions can call for varying amounts of herb and water, but the most common measurement is 1 ounce of dried herb (by weight) to 4 cups (by volume) of water. If you’re following the folk method and eyeing the measurements, most people fill their glass canning jar 1/4 full of dried herb (or 1/2 full of fresh herb) before filling the jar full of water. Keep in mind that 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, beverage teas use fewer herbs, therefore they have a lighter flavor, whereas infusions and decoctions use more herbs 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, while some herbal teas may be steeped for 10-15 minutes. Keep in mind that longer steep times may lead to a bitter flavor for some teas, 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 1-4 hours and sometimes even upwards of 12 hours. 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 a bit different from beverage teas and infusions in that they’re not steeped, but instead, they are simmered on the stovetop until the water level is reduced by half. This can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on how much water you use and the temperature on the stove.
When it comes to teas, there are many ways to brew up a good cup of tea, such as loose-leaf teas, bagged teas, teas made in a pot on the stovetop, teas infused in glass canning jars, sun teas, or teas made in a coffee pot or French Press. 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.
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 Beverage Tea
- Bring 8 fl 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 the 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 the herbs, place a lid on the jar, and shake once to mix the 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 a 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, as well as 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!
Herb Folk is a low-cost membership that provides exclusive monthly content centered around seasonal herbalism and lifestyle practices that educate and inspire others to slow down and let the cycles of nature guide their days. Inside you’ll find articles, videos, audio, recipes, and downloads all centered around seasonal herbalism and lifestyle. In addition to monthly seasonal herbal content, you will also find quarterly creative projects, and an exclusive community group where members can connect and learn from one another in real-time. Learn more about Herb Folk and become a member today!