Herbal infusions are the oldest form of medicine known to man. Very simply, an herbal infusion is what most of us consider to be a cup of tea. But really, an herbal infusion can be so much more! Herbal infusions provide medicine when we are sick, nourishment to our bodies, and can even boost our immune systems!
Here is what herbalist James Green has to say about herbal infusions:
The “inactive” constituents of a plant make up the fodder that feeds the probiotic organisms which render healthy digestion possible and constitute the substrata of the geography of our entire physical immune system.
These simple techniques [infusions] supply us with extracts that deliver not only the pharmacologically active components of an herb, but their nutritive components as well, along with the fodder that is used by beneficial intestinal flora to help us digest and assimilate all of this.
James Green, The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook
Benefits of Infusions
1. Quick and efficient
2. Increases hydration – increases water consumption
3. Prebiotic material
4. Heat maximizes diaphoretic effectiveness
5. Better option for long-term tonic effects
1. Some constituents are not soluble in water
2. Patient compliance – sometimes difficult to get the patient to drink enough herbal infusion
3. Dosage – difficult to determine if only part of the tea is consumed
4. Unpleasant taste of some herbs
5. Storing dried herbs – lose potency if not consumed in a timely manner
Herbal Infusion Methods
Using the folk method is generally desired when using tonic herbs over a long period of time or when making gentle infusions (ex. peppermint or chamomile) for children. Children sometimes have a difficult time drinking herbal infusions if they are too strong, therefore diluting them to a desirable strength will help increase consumption. The same goes for long-term tonic herbs. I may be able to chug down a strong infusion when I am sick, but I don’t want to have to do it everyday. I usually dilute my daily infusions and drink them throughout the day.
When making an herbal infusion using the folk method, simply estimate the amount of herbs needed (ex. spoonful), pour boiling water over the herbs, cover and steep 20-30 minutes. Strain the infusion and dilute with water as needed.
Using a more medicinal approach is sometimes desired when an exact dosage is desired, especially for stronger herbs. Using this method is not as critical in making infusions as it might be in tinctures, but there are still instances when knowing exactly how much herbs are in the infusion is helpful.
Generally, a 1:20 ratio of dried plant material to water (1 part herbs to 20 parts water) and a 1:10 ratio of fresh plant material to water are the standard infusion amounts. As an example, to make an infusion from dried chamomile, I would use 5 grams of chamomile flowers and 100 milliliters of water. If I were using fresh chamomile flowers, I would increase the amount of flowers to 10 grams.
Note: Some herbs require only a bit of herbal material to be effective, such as cayenne or many bitter herbs.
Hot water infusions are best suited for flowers, leaves, soft stems, some roots, and any herb containing volatile oils (the oils are dissipated in decoctions).
If making a hot infusion, pour boiling water over the herbs, cover to preserve volatile oils, and steep 20-30 minutes. Add additional water as needed to measure the original amount (100 ml).
A cold water infusion is used when the herbs have a high mucilaginous content such as slippery elm or when a long infusion time is desired. Cold water infusions can be made with the same amounts of herbs as hot water infusions, the only difference is the temperature of the water used.
The length of time cold water infusions are left to soak varies. Slippery elm can be used after 20-30 minutes. Cold water infusion can be left to infuse overnight though, especially for nourishing tonic infusions.
All unused herbal infusions should be stored in the refrigerator and used within 24 hours.
Reference: The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook by James Green