Herbal infusions offer an easy method for consuming the oils and flavors from favorite herbs. Infusion is the process of steeping (soaking) herbs in water until the water absorbs the oils and flavors, then drinking the liquid for the taste or for the medicinal value. Herbal tea is a form of infusion, in that it is created by steeping herb leaves in hot water, but the resulting drink is rather weak since the steeping period is usually fairly short. True infusions typically use roots, shoots, leaves, and flowers of the plant, while teas typically use only the leaves in the steeping process; and true infusions require a considerably longer period of steeping. Herbal tea can be thought of as weak infusion, while true infusions are sometimes called "long infusions" to distinguish them from teas.
For natural health enthusiasts, infusions offer a more natural way to ingest herbs, when compared to swallowing pills and tablets. For others, herbal infusions are simply a way to enjoy the taste of various herbs. Whatever the goal, you will find it quite easy to make herbal infusions. It is a process that requires time but minimal effort.
Uses for Herbal Infusions
Herbal infusions can be used for a variety of purposes.
- You can drink it for the medicinal value, consuming either cold or rewarmed.
- Infusions are used in many homemade cosmetics and remedies, including topical salves.
- They can be used in natural and organic home products, such as garden fertilizers and insect repellents.
- An infusion of garlic and cayenne pepper does wonders for keeping rabbits away from your plants.
Herbal Infusions for Medicinal Purposes
There are many common herbs that have documented uses in folk medicine for treating various physical conditions.
- Aloe vera: Although known mostly as a plant whose pulp can be used to treat minor cuts and burns or to moisturize dry skin, infusions of aloe vera are known to prevent constipation and relieve symptoms of ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Mint: The mint family, including peppermint, when steeped in an infusion or tea can soothe an upset stomach and relieve gas pains. It is also said to prevent nausea and vomiting.
- Thyme: This perennial herb contains an oil called thymol, which has a notable antiseptic property. Use an infusion of thyme as a gargle to combat bad breath and mouth sores, and to help with tonsillitis and laryngitis. Pure extracts of thyme can relieve bronchitis and asthma.
- Chamomile: This favorite for teas can also be used in more powerful infusions. Ingesting the infusion helps when you are anxious, or when you have trouble falling asleep. It will also help with stomach pain. Gargle with the infusion to relieve mouth sores.
- Sage: This member of the salvia family is not only good for cooking; using an infusion of sage in a vaporizer can relieve asthma and other respiratory problems.
- Lavender: Used in an infusion, lavender has antiseptic and antibacterial properties that can be used to wash skin. It is said to help clear up acne and will speed the healing of skin wounds.
- Echinacea: Use fresh flower buds to make an infusion that has the potential to help stave off a cold and the flu.
- Nettle: Used in an infusion or tea, stinging nettle is said to strengthen adrenal function, and help with eczema, arthritis, gout, and joint pain.
- Comfrey: An infusion made from comfrey leaves is very high in protein and contains nearly every necessary vitamin, except for B12. It is said to aid healing of skin, organs, and bones.
- Mullein: Infusions of this herb are said to combat inflammatory diseases and are often suggested as a folk remedy for asthma, coughs, and other lung conditions.
- Red clover: An infusion of red clover blossoms, leaves, and stems are very high in protein and vitamins (except B12), and it is an excellent source of phytosterols. Preliminary research suggests that it may have some cancer-prevention properties.
- Oat straw: Long used in India, oat straw in infusions is said to help with emotional issues and to improve heart health by moderating cholesterol levels.
Herbs for Great-Tasting Infusions
Herbs most commonly used because they offer great-tasting infusions include chamomile, ginger, and any of the mints.
It is important to remember that some herbs can be harmful if you consume too much, such as if the infusions are allowed to steep too long. Combining the wrong herbs can also lead to problems. For this reason, please do your research before making any infusion you intend to drink. It's best to follow recipes from trusted sources and pay attention to any warnings given.
Consult your physician or herbalist before drinking infusions.
How to Make an Herbal Infusion
Herbal infusions take very little time to prepare, but you will have to wait for the herbs to steep thoroughly. Be sure to follow the recommended times and measurements in your herbal infusion recipe.
In order to make an herbal infusion, you will need three things:
- 1 tablespoon dried herb of your choice
- 1 cup boiling hot water
- Glass jar with a tight lid (make sure it is very clean)
The quantities of herbs and water can be increased proportionately to make a larger infusion if you wish. If you want to make 1 quart at a time, for example, this will require about 1 cup of dried herb and 1 quart of water. However, it's best to start with a small volume on your first infusion of any herb to avoid waste if you find you don't like it.
While making the infusion, be sure to keep the jar covered at all times to contain the steam. The heat that's trapped inside is crucial to releasing those beneficial compounds in the herbs.
- Place the herbs in a glass container.
- Pour boiling water over the herbs so they are completely covered.
- Seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid to keep the steam and volatile oils from escaping.
- Allow the infusion to steep until the water cools to room temperature or for the time recommended by the infusion recipe. In general, roots and barks require the longest infusion (or a decoction) of about 8 hours. Leaves should be infused for a minimum of 4 hours, flowers for 2 hours, and seeds and fresh berries for at least 30 minutes.
- Strain the spent herbs out of the water using cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer (or both). Repeat if necessary to remove all of the herbs.
- The resulting liquid is called an infusion. Clean out the jar and pour the infusion back into it for storage. An infusion can be refrigerated for up to 48 hours. After this, it should be discarded.
To avoid the straining, you can make a sachet to contain the herbs during the steeping process. Place the herbs inside a small piece of cheesecloth, tie it closed with a string, and place the bundle inside your jar of boiling water. You can even let the string hang over the side for easy removal.
A Decoction: a Stronger Infusion
A stronger beverage, called a decoction, can be made by using roots, barks, dried berries, and other plant materials that require stronger, more prolonged heat in order to extract the oils.
To make a decoction, combine the herbs and water in a small saucepan. Cover with a lid and slowly bring to a simmer. Allow the mix to simmer gently for 20 to 45 minutes (or according to your recipe). Remove from the heat, strain, and pour the liquid into the storage jar.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Peppermint oil. Updated September 2016.
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