The humble Herbal Tea, aka tisane or herbal infusion, is one of the most powerful medicine-making techniques you can master. From a historical perspective, we humans have survived and thrived through thousands of years using this technique as our primary medicine for both prevention and healing. Today, it’s one of the most practical and simple solutions for taking plant medicines at home…and for many of us it’s the most readily accessible. All it takes to make a good infusion is water and plants. A little heat can help, but even that is not necessary.

What is an Herbal Infusion?

Boiled down, an herbal infusion is what you get when you dissolve herbal properties into water. If you’ve ever sipped a cup of coffee or tea, you’ve technically had an herbal infusion. For medicine making purposes, though, we generally use plants other than coffee or Camilla sinensis, aka Tea, for our herbal infusions.

We have three basic techniques to draw upon for making a good herbal infusion:

  • Cold infusion,
  • Hot infusion,
  • and Long infusion or Decoction.

In all cases, the amount of herb or herb blend you use per cup or milliliter of water you use depends on the formula you’re making. For blends that are mostly flowers and tops or leaves, you’ll likely use approximately 1-2 Tbsp or 15-30 g per cup/140 ml. For barks, roots, and harder herbs, you’ll likely weigh your ingredients rather than measure by volume, but if you go by volume it’ll be in the neighborhood of approximately 1/4 cup (60 ml) of herbs per quart (475 ml) of water.

Hot Infusions: Not Just Your Usual Cuppa

Hot Infusions rely on the heat of the water to crack open the plant cells in the herbs and the water to absorb the chemicals and nutrients inside. That’s really a fancy way of describing how putting dried or fresh plants into a cup of boiling-hot water works. The Tea or Coffee we’re used to drinking daily uses similar principles, but in both cases the water temperature is lower than what you want to use to make an herbal infusion. Water temperature makes a huge difference in which properties you draw out of the plants you’re using. We use cooler temperatures when extracting coffee or c. sinensis into water because higher heat tends to extract more of the medicinal bitters and astringents, making your final brew bitter and drying on the palate. In brewing herbal medicine, though, we’re often using plants either specifically for those qualities (a bit of honey can help balance the bitter) or that have plenty of other qualities to balance them. When we make hot infusions, we’re generally looking for as much of the non-volatile constituents as possible with a reasonable helping of the volatile ones. In any case, if you’re making a hot herbal infusion, you’ll want your water to be at or very near the boiling point when you add it to your herbs.

To Make A Hot Infusion:

  1. Bring water to a boil, preferably using a gas, fire, or electric heat source rather than a microwave.
  2. Measure your herbs into a tea pot, cup, or mesh tea ball or add a prepared teabag to your teapot or cup.
  3. Pour the boiled water over the herbs in the teapot or cup while it’s still piping hot. Be sure to wet all the herbs.
  4. Cover the teapot or cup and let it stand a minimum of 10 minutes. You can let it stand until it’s cooled, if you desire a particularly strong brew.
  5. Strain the herbs from the liquid and enjoy.

Cold Infusions: A Whole New Take on Sun Tea

Cold infusions rely on water that’s not heated beyond body temperature. You don’t necessarily need to use water that’s been cooled artificially, like ice or refrigerated, but you can begin there if you so desire. Iced tea, sweet tea, and Coffee Extract or Cold Brew are all made using a Cold infusion technique. When we make a cold infusion for medicine or enjoyment, we’re aiming to extract the volatile oils or essential oils from the plant. The cooler water encourages those oils to remain in the water rather than ride the steam into the atmosphere as they will do in a hot infusion. It also tends to draw out the sweeter flavors in the plants, leaving behind more of the bitter and astringent and even sour properties that the herbs may hold. The down side to making a cold infusion si that it takes longer than it’s cousin, Hot infusion. Generally you want to let your herbs steep in water in the sunshine or a sunny window or on your countertop for several hours up to a day.

To Make A Cold Infusion:

  1. Measure your herbs into a glass jar with a lid.
  2. Pour fresh water over the herbs. Be sure to wet al the herbs.
  3. Seal the jar tightly and let it stand at room temperature. You can put it in the sun, if you so desire, or leave it on the counter.
  4. After at least a few hours and up to a full day, strain the herbs out of the liquid. The liquid is your Cold Infusion. Enjoy!

Long Infusions: The New Decoction

Herbalists have long used a long and lower heat method for making stronger medicines, particularly when tough plant parts are involved. They call this method a Decoction, although I like the term Long Infusion because that’s really what it is. It takes both heat and time to make a good Long Infusion. The heat helps break the plant’s cell walls, as it does with a Hot Infusion, and the time gives the water plenty of opportunity to extract the goodness from those cells. Typically, Long Infusions are used for really tough plant parts, like roots or bark, and for times when you want to extract as many minerals as possible without using vinegar. The classic bone broth or soup stock are practical examples of a modified version of a Long Infusion, assuming you include some of the herbalist’s favorite bone broth herbs like Astragulas, Burdock, or Codenopsis. Traditional Chinese Herbalists make use of the Long Infusion as the basis for many of their formulations. When you see the word Tang in the name or pick up a teapill formula, you’re getting a version of the Long Infusion that’s most likely been dehydrated and shaped into a form that’s easier to transport and take in our modern, busy world.

To Make A Long Infusion:

  1. Measure your herbs into a pot or slow cooker.
  2. Fill the pot or slow cooker with water.
  3. If you’re using a pot, bring the mixture to a low boil for at least 10 minutes then let it simmer for at least another 20 minutes or up to a couple of hours. Watch the water level to be sure it doesn’t all boil out. The longer you simmer the mixture, the stronger the resulting infusion will be. In most cases, a total of 30 minutes (10 to boil and 20 to simmer) is sufficient.

    If you’re using a slow cooker, set it to high and let it cook for a day. If you set it to low heat, you can let it cook for 24 hours.

  4. When you’re done simmering or cooking your Long Infusion, strain the herbs from the liquid and enjoy.

Recipes to Try

Search the Drinks Menu for more tasty infusion recipes