November 8

How to Brew Medicinal Herbal Tea: Infusions and Decoctions

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Hibiscus tea steeped in a french press
Hibiscus tea steeped in a french press

Yesterday’s post on Teas and Tinctures was quickly growing too long, and I decided to cut a few things out and break them down over several blog posts. Today’s post will cover more detail on how to brew your own herbal tea.

Brewing “tasty tea” and “therapeutic tea” are two different things, but I always try to make my therapeutic teas taste pleasant. After all, who wants to take a remedy that tastes awful?

To make medicinal herbal tea, you will make either an infusion or a decoction. The difference between the two is important.

  • Infusion: Water that has had an herb steeped in it
  • Decoction: Water that has had an herb simmered in it AND it’s liquid reduced in half by volume through evaporation

The method is determined by the type of plant material you are using. Infusions use the delicate parts of a plant, such as leaves and flowering tops. Decoctions are made when you are using the hard, tough, and woody parts of a plant, like roots, very tough leaves, and bark. Always use pots made out of a non-reactive material for your teas.

Tea pots like the one below may infusions very simple to prepare. (Amazon Affiliate link)

METHODS

Standard Infusion: Bring 8 ounces of water (by volume) to a boil, and pour over 1 ounce* of delicate plant material (by weight), and allow to steep while covered for a minimum of 20 minutes.

Standard Decoction: Fill a pot with 2 cups of cold water (by volume) and add to the cold water 1 ounce of hard plant material (by weight). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half, which takes approximately 20 minutes. If you wish to make a larger batch, it will take longer than 20 minutes to make.

Double Decoction: Follow directions for a standard decoction, but continue to reduce liquid to 1/4 of the original amount. When making syrups, I prefer using double decoctions to produce a thicker syrup.

*Please note: If you do not have a scale, a teaspoon of finely chopped material can be substituted for the 1 ounce measurement. This won’t always work with bulky items like mullein leaf, but will work with most ingredients. Do not let the absence of a kitchen scale prevent you from making tea.

When you do get a scale, consider getting a mechanical (non-electric) scale that clearly reads ounces and grams, like this one. (Amazon Affiliate link)


The standard instructions are a starting point. Play with the amounts and steeping times to make your teas to fit your needs.

Helpful Suggestions

I tend to make my infusions stronger and in larger batches. I use quart-sized canning jars, fill with 4 tablespoons (or 12 ounces by weight- cut small, bulky material can be tricky), boil four cups of water, pour over the herbs, then cap the jar. I let the jar cool down (takes a couple of hours with the thick glass of a mason jar), and then I put it in the refrigerator over night.

The next morning, I strain the herbs out with a mesh strainer over a large bowl, and reserve the liquid. The liquid then goes back in the (rinsed) jar and back into the refrigerator. A bowl with a pour spout or a funnel over the jar helps with this. I’ll take the jar out and warm up a cup of tea as needed throughout the day.

A neat tip I picked up from a fellow herbalist to prevent canning jars from self-sealing with a hot liquid inside is to turn the canning lid upside down, and secure in place with the ring. If you have plastic screw on caps, go ahead and use those instead. Also, if you use the mason jar later for canning, always use a new lid to get a proper seal.

Experiment with making “sun tea”. Try steeping milk (dairy, almond, coconut, etc) with herbs. Try single herbs and combinations of herbs. Have some fun exploring herbal remedies!

When I want just a single cup of tea, I have a metal mesh strainer that I bought from Mountain Rose Herbs that fits in almost any cup. I put my herbs inside, pour the hot water on top, and I put the lid from the pot right over my cup. Here’s what that looks like.

Nettle tea in strainer
Nettle tea in strainer
Nettle infusion steeping covered
Nettle infusion steeping covered

Infusions and decoctions can be more than just a nice, hot cup of tea. They can add another layer of herbal benefits to other herbal preparations.  A good example of this is using tea when you making a lotion, you could use an infusion or decoction for the water content. You could use an infusion of mint and lavender with vinegar as a spray to wipe down your counters instead of plain water. Of course, you could also infuse the vinegar as well, but that’s a topic for another day.

Using Both Hard and Delicate Plant Materials In A Brew

If I want to make a brew that uses both hard and delicate plant materials, there are two methods I typically use. One way is to make my decoction first. Once it’s done, I turn the heat off, add my herbs, and then put the lid on the pot.  I let it steep for thirty minutes, then strain all of it through a mesh strainer, saving the liquid.

The second method is something I use when I want as much potency as possible. It also takes more time and a little bit of planning. I make my infusion with the delicate ingredients the day before. Follow my instructions above for infusions that I keep in the fridge overnight. I may make this in either a quart or in a pint, or even a half-pint jar, depending on my needs. The next day, I would make a double decoction, strain, and add the infusion to it.If you were making syrup, add your sweetener.

Just an aside, you’ll notice that I use a lot of mason jars in my herbal preps. They come in packages of 12, and are well worth the investment whether or not you do any canning. It’s a good idea to have some on hand for collecting herbal materials when in your garden or wildcrafting, as well as to make your herbal preparations. If your local store runs out, you can find them on Amazon. Just click on the image below.

 

 

 


Tags

Decoction, Double Decoction, Herbal Tea, How to make herbal tea, Infusion


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