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What Is an Herbal Infusion? + How to Make One

Herbal infusions are one of the easiest ways to make use of herbs. For many people, they are the gateway to herbalism because they are easy to make and bring out the joy of using herbs.

An infusion can be made and enjoyed by beginner and expert herbalists alike. All you need to make one is water and your herbs of choice. It's that simple!

Here's more about what an herbal infusion is, the benefits they have, and how to make your own.

What Is an Herbal Infusion?

An herbal infusion is simply an herb or herbs steeped in water. You've probably already made one if you've ever steeped a tea bag in hot water or made a cup of chamomile tea.

However, in herbalism, there is a difference between an herbal infusion and herbal tea.

Basically, an infusion is used specifically for health-boosting properties, while herbal tea is more about flavor and enjoyment. What really sets the two apart is the amount of herbs you use and the steeping time.

Herbal infusions use a much higher amount of herbs than a tea- usually 1-3 tablespoons per cup of water or 1 ounce per quart. They also steep for much longer- typically several hours or overnight.

Herbal teas by contrast are most often made with 1-3 teaspoons of dried herbs and steep for only 5-15 minutes.

As you can imagine, this makes herbal infusions much stronger, which is what gives them their healing properties.

Benefits of Herbal Infusions

There are many possible benefits of herbal infusions. It mostly depends on which herbs you are using.

In general, infusions are a very concentrated source of nutrients and plant compounds that come from herbs. They allow you to get more nourishment from herbs than you could otherwise. (For example, it would be difficult to eat an ounce of herbs but you could easily drink a quart of tea that was infused with an ounce of herbs.)

To add to this, the water extracts different components of each herb that would not be extracted by your digestion if the herb was whole.

Herbal infusions can also be tasty (depending on which herbs you blend), making them an easy way to take something that's good for you.

You can choose herbs to make an infusion for digestion, stress, tension, hormone balance, immune strength, congestion, detoxification, nourishment, and so on. The possibilities are almost endless.

As a bonus, herbal infusions are caffeine-free, which means you can drink them at any time of day.

Herbal Infusion vs. Herbal Extract

An herbal extract or tincture is another type of herbal preparation. Instead of using water like an infusion does, tinctures use alcohol or another solvent like glycerin or vinegar.

If you think of herbal infusions as more concentrated and potent than herbal tea, tinctures are even more potent and concentrated than infusions. They steep for much longer (usually 4-6 weeks) and are made with large amounts of herbs.

When you hear this, you might be tempted to think that using the strongest herbal preparation (tinctures) is going to be the best and most effective- but this isn't the case.

To start with, different plant compounds are extracted better in different solvents. This means that certain compounds are best extracted by water and others are best extracted by alcohol or another liquid.

For example, marshmallow root is a demulcent herb. It contains a high amount of mucilage that is very soothing for dry and irritated tissues (think a sore throat or upset digestion). However, mucilage is best extracted by cold water, so if you try to make marshmallow root into a tincture, it won't do you much good.

Different herbal preparations are also better for different situations.

As an example, herbalist Rosemary Gladstar says that she typically prefers herbal infusions for chronic issues but will often make use of tinctures for more acute situations. (Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide, pg. 39)

Basically, herbalism is as much an art form as it is a science. Don't discount herbal infusions because they seem like "just a cup of tea"! Always research (or ask an herbalist) if you aren't sure about the best way to use an herb for a particular situation.

How to Make 3 Different Herbal Infusions

Hot Infusion

hot herbal infusion

This is the most familiar version of an infusion- just like herbal tea, except stronger. Typically, hot infusions are made by the quart because making them a cup at a time is time consuming.

Here's what you do:

  1. Add 4-6 tablespoons of dried herbs to a quart jar (or 1 oz. of dried herbs by weight for a very strong infusion).
  2. Pour hot water that has just come to a boil over the herbs, filling the jar. Stir in the herbs and cover the jar with a cloth.
  3. Infusions usually steep for at least an hour and often several hours or overnight. Specific steeping time will depend on the herbs you're using- some need less, some need more.
  4. After steeping, strain out the herbs and transfer the infusion to a clean glass jar or a mug to drink.
  5. Refrigerate any extra tea for 2-3 days. You can drink it cold or warm it in a pan before drinking.

Cold Infusion

A cold infusion is often used for mucilaginous herbs (like marshmallow root) and some with delicate essential oils. Peppermint and fresh lemon balm are great in a cold infusion as are rose buds.

Here's what you do:

  1. Add 4-6 tablespoons of dried herbs to a quart jar (or 1 oz. of dried herbs by weight for a very strong infusion).
  2. Fill the jar with cool or room temperature water (preferably filtered water). Stir the herbs in and close the jar with a lid.
  3. Let the infusion sit on the counter (or somewhere at room temperature) for at least 4 hours and preferably overnight.
  4. Strain out the herbs and transfer the infusion to a clean glass jar or a mug to drink.
  5. Refrigerate any extra tea for 2-3 days.

Decoction

Technically, decoctions are considered different from infusions because they are simmered instead of steeped, but the end result is the same: a very strong herbal tea with health-boosting properties.

Decoctions are most often used for roots, bark, and dried berries that need to simmer in order for their constituents to be extracted. Flowers and leaves, which tend to be more delicate, are usually infused rather than decocted.

Here's what you do:

  1. Place 4-6 tablespoons of dried herbs in a small pan and cover with a quart of cold water.
  2. Heat the mixture on low until it reaches a simmer.
  3. Cover the pan and gently simmer for 25-45 minutes (reduce the heat if needed to keep at a gentle simmer).
  4. Strain out the herbs and transfer your decoction to a clean glass jar or mug.
  5. Refrigerate any extra tea for 2-3 days. You can drink it cold or warm it in a pan before drinking.
  6. (Optional) If you want to combine herbs that need to be decocted with those that need infused, first make a decoction following these steps with the correct herbs. When it finishes simmering, take it off the heat and add the remaining herbs. Infuse for 15-20 minutes before straining.

Ideas for Herbal Infusions

The possibilities for herbal infusions are limitless, but here are some ideas to get you started.

Single Herbs:

Blends:

 

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice.  Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.