This blog post discusses how to create your own herbal infusions, decoctions and tinctures.
Infusions are used to prepare the delicate parts of a plant, such as flowers, leaves and seeds. The medical constituents in these parts of the plant are accessible when introduced to boiling water. There are various ways of preparing an infusion: using a tea-strainer in a mug of boiling water, a tea-pot with a built in infuser, make your own tea bags or use pre-prepared ones. For best results, leave the herb seeping in the water for 10 minutes before drinking the resulting infused liquid.
Important: If the herb that you are preparing is high in volatile oils (e.g. thyme contains thymol) you must use a fully-sealed vessel, such as a glass jar with a lid, during the infusion preparation. The oils will otherwise evaporate and escape. Strain the herb when pouring from the glass jar in this instance.
If making a large volume of infusion, it should be stored in the fridge and consumed within 24 hours.
Decoctions are used to prepare the tougher parts of plants such as berries, bark or roots. The medical constituents require more energy to be released, and as a result they are boiled for a minimum of 10 minutes.
The herb you are preparing should be chopped finely. Place it in a pan with cold water and use a tight fitting lid. In the photographs I have used 3 tsps of dried dandelion root and 2 cups of water (a small quantity enough for one drink). If you are using dried herbs, you only need half as much as fresh herbs.
Strain the resulting liquid. If you want to add more delicate herbs to your decoction, you can add them at the end of the boiling process and allow them to infuse for a minimum of 10 minutes before straining. You may wish to add a little honey to your decoction before drinking.
Tinctures are generally used to prepare roots or leaves. They traditionally use alcohol to extract constituents from the herb. If someone is unable to, or would prefer not to have an alcohol based tincture, glycerol can be used as an alternative in preparation.
Tinctures are much stronger than decoctions and infusions and should be taken with care. Dosages should be checked with a herbalist, generally no herbal tincuture should be taken in quantities of more than 1 tsp 3 times a day, often significantly less will suffice.
If you are using a fresh herb, you will need twice as much as the dried herb. I have used dried herbs in the photos and filled up my chosen jars approximately halfway with the herb, then topped them up with alcohol.
If using alcohol to prepare your tincture, 30% proof or higher vodka, gin or brandy can be used. Alcohol should be a minimum of 30% proof to ensure the best properties of the herb are extracted and preserved. Ensure the herb is fully covered with alcohol, and the lid fits well. Give the herb and alcohol solution a mix to make sure all the air is out. Store for 1 month in a warm dark place (such as a cupboard), shaking it every day or so. Don’t forget to label and date your jars.
After 1 month, strain the mixture using a muslin cloth, and store in a coloured bottle in a dark place. You may find a small funnel helpful for this process. Ensure you label the bottle with the herb’s name and date of preparation. Tictures last for 2 years, often significantly longer.
Please note, this is provided as a rough guide only. If you are unsure of quantities, how best to prepare a herb, whether herbal remedies are suitable for you or interactions between herbs then please talk to a herbalist.
Herbal remedies can have contra-indications and you should always check with a medical professional before commencing any herbal regime, especially if you are on medication, have a pre-existing health issue or are pregnant.