Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How To Make Herbal Infusions And Decoctions

Have you ever wanted to try collecting herbs from your garden and brew up a nice cup or pot of tea with them, but felt intimidated and unsure how to go about it?  If so, read on!  Today I want to share with you how to create your own herbal teas and will explain the difference between infusions and decoctions.  Enjoying tea from the plants you have grown is one of the many rewards that will come from your herb garden.
Garden with Veggies
and Herbs

Potted Herbs
Herbal Infusion
It's so easy to go out to the garden and pluck a few leaves and flowers and turn them into a relaxing, refreshing, uplifting and tasty cup of tea, also known as an infusion.  The difference between herbal infusions and decoctions is not only the type of herbal material used but also the cooking method.

For an infusion you will gather enough leaves and other herbal material, such as stems, flowers and buds.  After cleaning your herbs you will crush or bruise them to release the volatile oils, and you will simply pour boiling water over the herbs to steep, or infuse.  For a medicinal infusion it is best to allow the herbs to infuse or "steep" for at least 30 to 60 minutes, but when you are just looking for a tasty beverage you can let it infuse for 15 to 30 minutes.  Herbal infusions usually taste great both warm and iced.

Lemon Balm
When you make an infusion you use the leaves and flowers, the aerial parts of the herb or plant that are light.  You do not simmer the herbs but merely allow them to infuse in hot water.  A decoction is an herbal "tea" that is made with the roots, stems and barks; in other words, the parts of the herb that are tough, woody and heavy.  A decoction is made by  putting the herbal material in a pot of water and bringing it to a boil.  Once a good boil is established you lower the heat, allowing the herbs to simmer for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the herbs used and how strong you want the decoction to be. Decoctions are generally very strong and usually need to be sweetened with honey or stevia.

Some of my favorite herbal infusions are Catnip, Peppermint, Lemon Balm, Basil, Sage, Lavender and Red Clover.  I often pick herbs from this garden for tasty and medicinal beverages.  Below is Sage in flower with Basil growing beside it.  Rosemary looms in the background.  Peppermint lines the back garden wall but doesn't show in this picture.  It is fun to mix them up for different tastes and medicinal effects.

A bee in the Sage
California Poppy

Many people aren't aware that our culinary herbs are also medicinal.  Sage infusion makes a great tea for sore throat, laryngitis and is an effective throat gargle for performers or someone giving a speech.  Basil is a delightful tasting tea that fights headache as well as high blood pressure and combines very well with sweeter herbs such as Lemon Balm and Catnip.  California Poppy is a mild sedative that is safe for children and goes well with Catnip, Lemon Balm and Lavender.  Rosemary and Lavender infused together make a great headache relieving tea and when you need a burst of energy infuse some Peppermint for 60 minutes for a great tasting kick that will refresh and energize you.

Great herbs for decoctions are Dandelion root and Wild Cherry Bark.  Your barks and roots need to be decocted to get the full medicinal dose from the tough herbal material.  A decoction of Dandelion root will help to lower blood pressure, purify the blood and liver and is a great diuretic that will not leech Potassium from your system as pharmaceutical diuretics do.  This is because Dandelion contains large amounts of Potassium.  Wild Cherry Bark is a well known cough remedy and combines well with Licorice and Echinacea roots for a cold fighting decoction that tastes delicious.

Now that you know the difference between herbal infusions and decoctions and how to make each, which infusion or decoction will you try first?

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