About Herbal Infusions
Infusion is the process of extracting chemical compounds or flavors from plant material in a solvent such as water, oil or alcohol. This is accomplished by allowing the plant material to remain submerged in the solvent over time.
What is an Herbal Infusion?
An herbal infusion is a water-based medicinal preparation made by placing about an ounce of herb into a quart of water and leaving it to steep, covered for a period of time. Dried herbs are usually used because the minerals and other phytochemicals are made more accessible by drying. Although made like tea, herbal infusions are much stronger in taste and action than beverage teas. Teas are generally made with about 1/7 the amount of herb to water as medicinal infusions and steep for a shorter period of time.
Infusions are commonly made from the more delicate parts of the plant, including leaves, flowers and aromatic parts. These fragile plant parts are steeped rather than simmered because they give up their medicinal properties more easily than do the tougher roots and barks. Seeds should first be bruised before adding them to an infusion. Some roots and barks are appropriate to use for infusions when ground or well bruised and may need to be steeped for a longer time.
Infusions can be taken warm or cold, heated or at room temperature. Refrigerate after straining for best results. They can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.
How do you make an Herbal Infusion?
Use 1 ounce (about a cup) or herb to 1 quart (4 cups) water or 1 tablespoon dried herb to 1 cup water. Poor the water over the herb, cover and let steep for the specified amount of time (20 minutes or more), then strain though a fine strainer like a tea strainer. Add water to replace any liquid lost returning it to the original volume of liquid.
Infusions can be made with both hot and cold water. Hot water infusions are made by pouring boiling water over the herbs and then tightly covering the preparation to prevent the loss of medicinal properties through the release of steam and letting steep for a minimum of 20 – 30 minutes. Cold water infusions are made my steeping herb in cold water for 6 to 12 hours (usually overnight).
Hot water infusions
- Extract the herbal constituents more quickly
- Extract deeper properties when steeped longer
- Should be steeped for between 20 – 30 min up to 8 hours
- Hot infusions draw out vitamins, enzymes, and aromatic volatile oils.
- Herbs good for hot infusions include Chamomile, Valerian root, Ginger, Nettle, Peppermint, and Skullcap.
Cold water infusions
- Cold Infusions are ideal for slimy herbs and herbs with delicate essential oils.
- Protects heat sensitive constituents such as volatile oils, sugars, proteins, gums, mucilaginous substances, pectins, plant acids, mineral salts, glycosides, and some alkaloids.
- Are steeped for 6 to 12 hours
- Good herbs for cold infusions include Marshmallow root, Uva Ursi, Chia seed, Red Root and Comfrey.
- The late herbalist Michael Moore provided us a great list of herbs well suited for cold infusions at http://www.swsbm.com/ManualsMM/CldInfus.txt
How long do you let the infusion steep?
Different sources have differing ideas about how long an infusion should steep to extract the most medicinal qualities. Presented below are some ideas to use as a basic guidelines. You can play with them a little to see what works best for you.
- In general an herb should steep a minimum for 20 – 30 minutes in a boiling water and 6-12 hours in a cold infusion.
- Nutritious herbs that are higher in trace minerals and vitamins may be steeped longer (4-8 hours) to extract more of the nutrients. Herbs like Violet, Nettles, and Oatstraw fit into this category. I like to steep mine overnight.
- Herbs that are higher in Volatile oils like peppermint, eucalyptus and valerian root may be steeped for a shorter period of time (20 – 30 minutes up to 2 hours)
- The longer the herb is steeped the stronger and more bitter it will taste. If the taste is overly disagreeable, add honey or steep for less time but no less than 20 minutes.
- Roots and bark can be steeped up to 8 hours as a hot infusion. More herb per ounce of water may be used depending upon the herb.
As a general rule, consume a quart of infusion per day internally. This means you can take it by the mouthful several times per day or you can take 1 cup, 4 times per day. It will depend on why you are taking it. For example, if you are taking an infusion to ease the symptoms and speed recovery of a cough or cold, you may want to sip it throughout the day. If taking it for relief of constipation or lower bowel distention, you may want to drink 1 cup at a time, 3 to 4 times per day. For general nutrition and allergy relief, I drink mine cold throughout the day instead of or in addition to iced tea.
When refrigerated, infusions will keep up to 36 hours. Without refrigeration, they spoil quite quickly. I like to make mine fresh daily and consume them within a 24-hour period, especially when taking them for daily use
How do you use Herbal Infusions?
Following are some examples of how to use your infusion as medicine and in daily life
- Take orally to treat a particular issue or illness
- Externally as a wash, or in the bath
- As a mouth wash or rinse
- Eye wash (well strained)
- Hair rinse
- Cleaning or sanitizing solution
- As a fomentation (dip a cloth in the infusion and place it on the body)
- In a neti pot or as a nasal spray
- in an enema or douche