The Difference Between Teas, Infusions & Decoctions

How to make an Infusion

Oatstraw Infusion

 

Three of the most common herbal preparations are Teas, Infusions and Decoctions. An infusion is really just a very strongly brewed tea. A decoction is when you reduce the infusion by approximately half in order to make it even more concentrated. An herbal syrup is a good example of a decoction. Some herbalist’s definitions of teas, infusions and decoctions are different, but this is the way I learned it. At any rate, no matter what you call them, the reason for using one process and over another is actually simpler than it may seem.

Tea:

When you make tea, you are usually brewing for just a few minutes and the herbs are generally soft, like flowers, leaves and stems that aren’t very woody.  Typically there is less medicinal value in Tea because it is steeped such a short time and only a small amount of herb is used.

Infusions:

An infusion’s purpose is to extract more nutrients, vitamins, minerals and chlorophyll from your dried herb than a tea does. It’s considered more medicinal because of this and in addition to producing a more concentrated elixir, it’s often used for preparations that contain hard, woody stems or bark since they need more than just a little warm water to extract their medicinal properties. To make an infusion, add one cup of dried herb to a quart jar of boiling water, cap it and let it sit at least 4 hours. You then strain it, making sure to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.  The remaining plant matter can then be put in your compost.  Once your infusion is finished and plenty cool, keep it in the refrigerator. It generally doesn’t keep well out of the fridge and even when refrigerated, should be kept no longer than about 3 days.

As far as the time to let it steep goes, I use Susun Weed’s recommended infusion times.  You can see how the more fragile parts of the plant need a lot less steeping time than the woody parts.

Roots/Barks – 8 hours minimum

Leaves – 4 hours minimum

Flowers – 2 hours minimum

Seeds/Berries – 30 minutes minimum

Decoctions:

A decoction can be prepared once you have an infusion. Simply steam your infusion slowly (very slowly) letting the steam evaporate and leave you with a more concentrated product. To do this, I set my stovetop to medium heat and put the pot of infusion on. As soon as it starts to steam, I turn the burner down even lower to keep it from boiling. Once the liquid has reduced by about half, the decoction is ready. In measuring how much to boil off, you can eyeball it or be more scientific and use something like a chopstick or knife that you mark the beginning liquid level on. One of the cool things about decoctions is that you can then turn them into cordials and extend their shelf life by adding a little liquor, but that will be a whole other post of its own!

Teas, infusions and decoctions are a large part of our medicine cabinet AND our preventative-medicine cabinet.  Nourishing, health building plants like Nettle (Urtica dioica) for recharging adrenals and kidneys; Oatstraw (Avena sativa) for the nervous system; and Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis) for warding off colds and flu are a few of our mainstays.  The ability to make medicine from our surroundings is very important to us when it comes to self-sufficiency and these medicines are good for you, free of chemical additives and readily available.  If you don’t have access to a place to wild harvest your own medicinal herbs, there are a number of places you can order it online.  My favorite is Mountain Rose Herbs, they have a great selection and their products are always fresh.  There are endless other ways to incorporate herbs into your lifestyle, but the use of teas, infusions and decoctions are a really easy way to get started!

 

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7 thoughts on “The Difference Between Teas, Infusions & Decoctions

  1. Natalie

    I am enjoying reading your blog. Your descriptions of the plants in the Jan. 9 blog was thorough but it would really help me to see a picture of the plant. Is it possible To include them in future posts?

  2. Jill Ribley

    Please sign me up for the newsletter! I am working toward heating with wood now, doing some research and just not sure what is best. I want to get the heat back to the bedrooms!

  3. Nat, great point, thank you! I actually lost the post last night when I shut the computer down, ugh, so in reposting it, I added some pictures. We also have video planned of actual in the woods identification which I’ll be posting as the seasons come in. 🙂

  4. adrian

    Can I make an infusion out of delicate plant parts (leaves, flowers), strain it and then very slowly evaporate it (dehydrator, crockpot) without losing the integrity of the medicinal/nutritional components?

    I wanted to feed some infusions to picky eaters who will in no way drink a quart but will consume less in a disguised form (smoothies, soups, etc)

    Thanks!

  5. Hi Adrian! I would say yes, and here’s my logic… The general rule of thumb is that anything hotter than you can stand putting your finger in (and keeping it there) is the threshold where medicinal benefits begin to suffer. They are not all negated, but begin to be compromised. Having said that, decoctions are simmered at low heat to reduce them and they still retain enough medicinal value so, in taking yours a step further, as long as you maintain the lowest heat you can, and still be reducing, I believe you will be good. I might would lean toward using the dehydrator since it seems the heat setting can go lower than on a crockpot (that’s an assumption based on my crockpot) and also so that you wouldn’t have to babysit the pot on the stove the whole time. Nutritional values are different as they can take more heat so you could also choose your method depending on which quality you wanted to extract from the different plants. Please let me know how it goes and how you wind up serving it! 🙂 Ann

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