How to Make Herbal Infusions
April 4, 2023 • 5 min read
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Though not as commonly known as teas and tisanes, herbal infusions have been consumed for thousands of years to restore health and well-being. Herbal infusions are believed to have originated in China, under the same emperor – Shen Nung – who first discovered tea in 3000 BCE. Effective in relieving physical symptoms, herbal infusions were also considered to open the mind for spiritual and otherworldly insights. In the 1st Century AD, the Greek physician and pharmacologist Dioscorides, describes 600 medicinal plants that can be prepared as infusions in his materia medica. In recent times, with the uptick in health awareness and the revival of herbalism, herbal infusions are once again becoming popular as a way to reconnect us to the earth, to our bodies, and to the power of plant medicine.
What Is A Herbal Infusion?
Herbal infusions are similar to hot, brewed tea, however they are steeped for much longer, delivering much deeper and more potent healing medicine. Infusing herbs in hot water allows the water to absorb the herbal constituents, drawing out vitamins, enzymes, and aromatic, volatile oils. Unlike tinctures or essential oils, herbal infusions use plant material as is – no diffusing or distilling here – which is a far more sustainable practice. And unlike tea (which is a form of infusion), these kinds of infusions are steeped for much longer which increases their efficacy. Herbal teas are lovely tasting but are generally quite weak, as the steeping period is so short. Additionally, teas usually only use the leaves of the plant, whereas infusions use everything from leaves, stems, shoots, roots, flowers, and berries, delivering a far wider range of health benefits. The longer certain herbs are steeped for, the stronger their flavours will be, and the stronger their medicinal qualities will be.
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What Do Herbal Infusions Do?
Herbal infusions are an easy way to consume the beneficial oils, nutrients and vitamins from herbs, that we can’t get from a quick dunk of a herbal tea bag. Herbs like stinging nettles, dandelion greens, raspberry leaves, and oat straw contain large amounts of easily absorbed nutrients and minerals (like calcium, iron, silica, magnesium) that are highly water soluble. This means that these vitamins dissolve in water and can be more easily ingested and absorbed by the body. Natural health enthusiasts and those practicing herbalism generally prefer infusions as they are a more bio-available and natural way to consume and benefit from herbs, when compared to pills and tablets.
Why Do Herbal Infusions Need to be Steeped For So Long?
Unlike black, green or white tea leaves which are usually steeped for just a few minutes, herbal infusions should be steeped anywhere between 4-12 hours. Scientists and herbalists found that it takes at least 4 hours of soaking herbs to extract a significant amount of vitamins and minerals into the water, and even longer (8-12 hours) for roots and tougher plant material.
For example, if you make a cup of nettle tea (1-2 teaspoons or a tea bag, in hot water for 10 minutes), you will get about 5-10mg of calcium, however, as herbalist Susan Weed notes, if you make a nettle infusion (1oz of stinging nettles steeped in 1-quart hot water for a minimum of 4 hours), you will get over 1000mg of calcium per cup! You’ll also get 15000 IU of vitamin A, 760mg of vitamin K, 10% protein. This significant increase in content goes up for all herbs and their differing medicinal properties, not just calcium.
How Herbal Infusions Can Be Used:
- As a sipping tea (room temperature, warmed up, hot, or cold)
- In topical homemade remedies like salves
- As a nutrient-dense garden fertilizer
- In homemade insect repellents
Herbs to Use for Herbal Infusions:
Since herbal infusions are steeped in water for such a long time, it’s extremely important to know where your herbs come from. Opting for herbs that are organic, non-GMO, or certified naturally grown and purchased from a responsible and sustainable grower is your best bet in ensuring that the infusions you drink are actually beneficial, and not full of pesticides, herbicides and other pollutants.
Some amazing herbs to make infusions with (please do your research when choosing which herbs to use, and consult with your health care provider before ingesting anything):
- Stinging Nettles – nature’s greatest multivitamin! Excellent for nourishment, arthritis, joints, UTIs, and reducing seasonal allergies
- Dandelion Greens – a powerful liver detoxifier and digestion aid
- Red Raspberry Leaves – great for hormone balancing, and high in selenium
- Red Clover Leaves, Stems and Blossoms – very high in protein and vitamins, and a great hormone balancer
- Oat Straw – long used in India / Ayurvedic medicine, oat straw is a highly beneficial nervine
- Hibiscus – a natural emollient, excellent for radiating and softening skin, packed with vitamin C
- Hawthorn Leaves, Berries and Flowers – heart medicine and great for circulation
- Burdock Root – blood cleanser, liver detoxifier, and excellent for skin
- Tulsi / Holy Basil – great for easing anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and a blood purifier
- Chickweed – excellent for the skin
- Ginger Root – anti-inflammatory and great for circulation
- Horsetail – is the highest source of silica in the plant kingdom, making it excellent for hair growth
- Violet Leaf – helpful in dissolving cysts, and is great for the lymphatic system
- Mugwort – great for dreamwork, and for easing pain, especially sciatica
- Mullein – great for asthma, coughs and lung conditions
You can also make cold infusions (infusing the herbs in room temperature/cold water, using no heat). These kinds of infusions work well for mucilaginous herbs that usually release more of their gooey healing properties when in cold water. Since there is no boiling involved in the making of cold infusions, bacteria growth can happen more easily than with hot infusions. Always use clean tools, refrigerate your infusion (if not being consumed right away), and only keep it for a day or so.
Herbs for cold infusions:
- Linden Leaf and Flower – sweet and uplifting, eases dry coughs and digestive distress
- Marshmallow Root – helpful for UTIs, lung afflictions, and increasing immunity
- Peppermint Leaf – restores elasticity and reduces swelling / inflammation
- Rose – a heart-opening herb, wonderful for women’s health and pelvic decongesting
- Lemon Balm – a heart-opening herb that will uplift and soothe
- St John’s Wort – instant mood booster
There are so many other herbs that you can work with, and once you begin walking the plant path, you’ll find yourself naturally drawn to the plants that call you.
How to Make a Hot Herbal Infusion:
- Scoop 1-4 tablespoons of each herb (you can use the folk method aka eyeball it) into a heat-safe pint-sized jar / mason jar. Let your intuition guide you – start small and if you feel like you need more, add more herb content
- Heat water until it’s just boiling (ratio is 0.5 parts herb to 2 parts water)
- Pour the hot water into the jar over the herbs, submerging them
- Cover the jar (not tightly so it doesn’t burst, but enough to hold in any volatile oils)
- Steep for 4-12 hours (overnight is best)
- Strain out the herbs in the morning, and compost them
- You can drink the infusion at room temperature, or re-heat it on the stove.
- Enjoy! (Make sure to consume the infusion within 24 hours of straining)
How to Make a Cold Herbal Infusion:
- Place the desired amount of loose herbs in a pint-sized jar / mason jar.
- Fill the jar with cold water and put a lid on it (ratio is 0.5 parts herb to 2 parts water)
- Allow to infuse overnight
- Strain out the herbs in the morning, and compost them
Once you begin making your infusions, you’ll get a sense for which herbs you like the taste of, and which ones you’d like to remove/add in. Play around with different herbs and plants, and see what feels right for you!
Information offered on the Forage and Sustain website is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Readers and listeners must do their own research concerning the safety and usage of any herbs or supplements.
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