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Herbal Tea, Herbal Decoction, and Herbal Infusion: What are the differences?

Plants are one of the most important medicines given to us by nature. It has been widely used for medical treatments in human history and forms the basis of modern-day pharmacology. The earliest medicine men and women known as Shamans turned to the plant world for healing and by doing so, they turned to the Spirit of the plants for assistance in healing. Shamans work together with plants as allies. They are a fundamental source of nourishment and protection for all life on earth. Susun Weed, a strong advocate for the Wise Woman Tradition writes in her book “Healing Wise”,

"We are all healers in the Wise Woman tradition. Self-healing and self-loving, we co-create healing with our allies. Our allies are our problems; they bring us gifts of wholeness. Our allies are wise women; they support us in our transformation. Our allies are green allies, wild plants; they supply us with optimum nourishment."

There are many different ways to incorporating these green allies in our day to day life; from cooking, smudging spaces, remedies and crafts to design elements and anything in between. The Wise Woman’s Tradition would advise that one of the most simple and beneficial ways plants can have an impact on the health and wellbeing of an individual is by consuming it. When in the form of a liquid, the body does not have to work to absorb the nutrients, medicinal properties and can easily be assimilated into the body. This post explores 4 ways herbs can be prepared as a beverage.

For herbal preparations there are a few things to keep in mind

1. Always use distilled water if possible, for your herbal preparations as distilled water contains no minerals and is able to draw out the maximum medicinal qualities of the herb.

2. Use sterilised stainless steel or glass containers to keep your preparation pure and maximum extraction of medicinal properties.

Herbal Tea

Herbal teas also known as Tisanes are not true teas. They are made from leaves, roots, stems and flowers. Aromatics are most often used in preparation for teas. The medicinal component of these are mainly essential oils in the herbs and therefore need gentle preparations. When steeped for longer periods, the medicinal component become ineffective.

- Fresh herbs: When using fresh ingredients, keep in mind the potency in comparison to dried herbs are less. You would use more herb to get the desired taste and benefits as there is more water content than in dried herbs. A general guide to use is 1oz of fresh herb to 1 cup of water. Fresh leaves can be steeped in boiled water for 10 to 20 minutes. When steeping flowers, 5 minutes would be plenty.

- Dried herbs: Dried herbs have a longer shelf life than fresh herbs, but may lose some of its flavor, aroma and health promoting antioxidants over time. Drying makes herbs compact and more potent. Therefore, a little goes a long way. To prepare a cup of tea using dried herbs, use 1tsp of herb to 1 cup of water. While teas are generally steeped up to 5minutes to extract the maximum amount of antioxidants, herbal tea’s consisting of leaves can be brewed up to 15 minutes and root herbs such as ginger or turmeric can be chopped up/ grated and steeped up to 30 minutes.

Herbal Decoction

A herbal preparation is considered a decoction when it has been prepared by boiling herbs in liquid. This creates a concentrated brew. Normally, woody roots, non-aromatics, seeds and barks are used for this method. Decoctions must always be made freshly and can be added to baths and herbal compresses in addition to drinking it. To make a herbal decoction, use 1tsp to 1tbps of herb to 1 cup of water. Bring this to a boil and then simmer for 20-40 minutes. Strain before use. This is the most common method of preparation for taking herbal medicine formulas.

Herbal Infusion

Herbal infusions require a large amount of herb to be brewed for a long time. As the potency of phytochemicals in herbs increase when dry, dried herbs are best used when making infusions. 1oz of dried herb to 1-quart jar or about 1 cup of dried herb to 1L of boiling water are the ratios typically used.

- Hot Herbal Infusion: To make the infusion, put dried herb in to glass jar and top it up with boiling water, screw on the lid tight but not too tight as the vessel slightly expands while cooling, sealing the lid tighter. Leave this to steep overnight and strain the next morning. The infusion will keep in the fridge in the fridge for 3-4 days or until it spoils. Usually a cup or two a day is sufficient and normally start seeing the benefits in 4-6 weeks of regular use. Infusions are a nourishing and loving form of self-care providing your body with essential minerals, antioxidants and supplements.

- Cold Herbal Infusion: This uses a similar process to the hot herbal infusion. For a cold brew, measure 1 cup of dried herb to 1L of cold water and leave to brew at room temperature for 4-10 hours. Infusions known as Sun Tea’s use this method but is left in a sunny spot to warm gently, which is not recommended as it may encourage bacterial growth and contaminate the infusion. Using cold brew techniques result in better tasting tea, reduced risk of bacterial growth and is ready to pour over ice and enjoy chilled with no extra chilling time.

The combinations that can be used for teas and infusions are numerous, which helps us to tailor these habits to nourish specific needs. Herbs provides us with all the nutrients the body requires. This makes Herbal infusions one of the most powerful tools in a healer’s medicine box. Having the knowledge to create even basic herbal teas and infusions empowers you to foster healthy nourishing habits and take healing in to your own hands.


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