Herbal Infusions and Decoctions

When I first got started with herbs, I heard a lot about infusions, decoctions and tinctures but was confused about what was what because they all sounded like the same thing. I wasn't sure what I should be doing because there didn't seem to be a big difference, yet people talked about them as if there was.

The difference between a decoction and an infusion is simply the part of your herb that you are using which determines the length of time you 'cook' your herb.

If you are working with soft plant material like flowers and leaves (and even some soft stems), you will make an infusion.

If you are working with harder plant pieces like roots, bark or seeds, you want to make a decoction.

How To Make An Infusion

Fresh or dried herbs can be used to make an infusion.

When I make any herbal infusion, I am actually just making an herbal tea. The short brewing time helps to extract the important oils without degrading them. Remember, for an infusion we are using the 'soft' parts of the herb that don't need to 'cook' for long.

Prepare your fresh herbs by rinsing them and chopping them into small pieces (I usually chop mine about the size of a dime. Some people don't bother to chop them - some simply tear them in half.) You decide which is best for you.

Place your prepared herb in your container. Glass or stainless steel is the best choice for working with herbs. Don't use aluminum or copper. Aluminum could be released in unsafe amounts during cooking. Copper can destroy the vitamin C content.

Bring water to a boil.

Pour water over your prepared herbs and let steep for about 15 minutes. The timing of the steeping is a personal choice. You may want to steep yours for less time. While it is steeping, place a plate over the top of the container to keep the volatile oils from escaping in the steam.

If you don't like drinking your infusion with the herb parts still floating around, strain it before drinking. You should use your infusions and decoctions immediately. They don't keep well.

How To Make A Decoction

The definition of "decoct" is "To extract the flavor of by boiling". A decoction is made by using the "hard" parts of a plant (roots, bark, and seeds) and boiling it in water.

Prepare your fresh herbs by rinsing them and chopping them into small pieces.

Place your prepared herb in your pan. Don't use aluminum or copper pans. Aluminum could be released in unsafe amounts during cooking. Copper can destroy the vitamin C content. Glass or stainless steel is the best choice for working with herbs.

Add water to your herbs, cover and quickly bring to a boil. (I use about 4 cups water over about a cup of herbs.) As soon as the water begins to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. If you are using an electric stove, you will want to remove the pan from the burner as soon as it starts boiling and move it to another burner that is set to the simmer setting. Avoid too high of heat for too long.

Do not lift the cover at any time during the boiling and the simmering. Simmer for 30 - 60 minutes. The harder the herb that you are using, the longer you will simmer it.

Remove from heat and set aside. Again - Do not lift the cover. You want to avoid letting the volatile oils escape in the steam. Let it sit undisturbed for about 2 hours.

Now, you can remove the cover and pour the liquid and the herb parts into a glass jar. Put the lid on it and let it set for another 10 - 12 hours. I usually make a decoction late in the afternoon or in the evening so that I can leave it overnight.

After 10 - 12 hours, strain it and use it immediately. Decoctions don't keep well.

Infusions and Decoctions are fairly easy to make but they don't keep long. My next article will talk about tinctures. Even easier to make and they will store for a long, long time.


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