Decoction, Infusion, Tincture – Learn the Essential Vocabulary to Prepare Your Healing Herbal Potions

Most people confuse herbs as food and forget that it is really not the same. It is unsafe to over consume any kind of food or herbs. We strongly recommend you to understand the basics of dosage for each herbal preparation that you are setting out to create for consumption, and learn about the balanced diet. But don’t panic. Herbal preparations are similar to a meditation or even a ritual. It’s very easy to become familiar with the concepts. Like any skill, over time you will become more knowledgeable, and then you can start having fun with flavourings or some of your own combinations of herbal ingredients to make wonderful homemade potions.

Pregnant women are advised to consult a doctor or herbalist if they wish to start their own creations.

Infusion

From “Infuse”: to soak herbs in liquid and extract flavour or healing properties of a plant

An infusion is made with the soft parts of a plant.

Infusions require a long soak to coax vitamins, minerals, and essential oils out of the herbs into the water. It’s the essential oils of the plant that contain the most medicine. Herbalists describe that infusions are made out of the delicate parts of plants that grow above the ground, such as the leaves, flowers and stems.

If you’ve ever made tea, you know that simple act of brewing a hot cup. But this is just one way to extract your herbal infusion. You can drink your infusions hot or cold, and even apply topically on your skin. In this example, we will show you how you can make a simple infusion:

You will need:

1 tablespoon of Dried Herb (of your choice)
1 cup boiled Water
A clean Glass Jar with a tight lid
Muslin cloth or a Strainer

When you’re making your herbal infusion, make sure you keep your glass jar covered to contain the steam. The heat that’s trapped inside the jar will release the beneficial compounds out of your herbs.

Place your herbs inside the jar.
Pour boiling water over the herbs so that they are completely covered.
Seal the lid tightly.
Allow your infusion to soak until the water cools to room temperature.
Strain the herbs using muslin cloth or a tea strainer. Repeat if necessary to make sure all the herbs are removed.
And that’s done. You have an infusion before you. Pour the infusion back into the jar after cleaning it, and store in a refrigerator for up to 48 hours.

Alternatively you can even place the herbs in a muslin sachet, tie them with a string and strain them like a teabag. In this method, you will not need to strain the herbs.

As a general guideline, leaves can be infused for a minimum of 4 hours, flowers for 2 hours, and seeds and fresh berries for at least 30 minutes.

You can sweeten your infusion with a spoonful of honey when you want to drink it, because some herbs can be quite bitter. And don’t forget to check out our article on the Taste of Herbs.

Decoction

From “Decoct”: extract of an essence

A decoction in herbalism is the extract of elements from hard or woody parts of a plant, such as seeds, roots, bark, mushrooms and berries. Herbalists say that decoctions are made from plants that typically grow below the ground.

This method of extraction is stronger than an infusion, and can be consumed hot or cold, or even applied topically onto the skin.

Here we have a simple example, just to get you acquainted with the craft:

You will need:

1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon of ground up Herbs (per cup of cold water)
A cooking pot
A dropper bottle

Remember to start with cold water in a pot (on the stove).
Add ground herbs to the cold water and bring up a gentle heat for boiling.
Cover the pan let it slowly simmer for about 20 – 40 minutes.
Put out the heat and allow the decoction to cool down to a mild drinking temperature.
Strain the herbs.
Don’t throw away the herbs, as you can reuse them a couple more times to make sure that each decoction is strong enough.
You may store the leftovers in a refrigerator for up to 48 hours.

In general, roots and barks require the longest infusion (or a decoction) of about 8 hours.

If you’re using fresh herbs, use more because they have a higher water content than dried herbs.

Herbs that can be best prepared as infusions can be combined with herbs that are best prepared as decoctions. To do this, prepare the decoction hard herbs and when you turn out the heat, add the soft herbs while it cools, making sure to keep the potion covered at all times.

When it has cooled, it is ready to drink.

Tincture

Tincture: liquid extracts made from herbs that are taken orally

Since ancient times, a tincture has always been one of the most fascinating art of extraction in herbalism. It is an extract of plant material (marc) made typically from an alcohol solvent (menstruum). The menstruum can be non-alcoholic where water, vegetable glycerine or apple cider vinegar can be deployed.

Tinctures are very strong herbal preparations and therefore you would need to make sure that you use the right dosage, as they are typically consumed in very tiny amounts and can be stored up to 2 to 3 years.

You may refer to the specifications of the herbs you choose to check the dosage. For children, you will need only very small amounts.

The Folk Method for Tincture Crafting:

Herbs of your choice (ratio)
Alcohol (such as whiskey, vodka or brandy)
1 glass jar
Cheesecloth
A dark dropper bottle

The guidelines below will help you determine the quantity or ratio of plant material against quantity of alcohol:

Fresh soft herbs (such as leaves or flowers)

Chop or grind up the herbal material, allowing the plant juices to be exposed.
Fill the jar between ⅔ to ¾ of herbal material.
Pour over the alcohol into the jar, filling it to the top and covering the plants.
Now you should be able to shake the contents in the jar, giving in some your own healing energies.

Dried soft herbs (such as leaves or flowers)

Finely grind herbs.
Fill your jar up to ½ to ¾ with herbs.
Pour the alcohol over to the top of the jar, so all the plant material is completely covered.
Shake the contents in the jar by giving in some healing energies by doing so.

Fresh hard herbs (such as roots, barks or berries)

Chop up or finely grind washed plants to pull out the juices.
Only fill up the jar up between ⅓ to ½ with plant material.
Pour in the alcohol to fill the jar.
Allow the plants to be completely covered when you shake the contents together.
Shake the jar, while allowing your own healing energies in.

Dried hard herbs (such as roof, barks or berries)

Finely chop the herbs.
Fill the jar up to ¼ to ⅓ with the plant material.
Pour in the alcohol, making sure all the plants are covered.
The roots and berries will expand in size when reconstituted.
Shake up the mixture to give it a bit of your own healing energies.

How much alcohol should you use?

Learn more about determining the ratios of marc and menstruum for your tincture here:

Label and storage:

Store your tincture in a cool, dry place, preferably in a dark cabinet. Shake the mixture several times a week and check alcohol levels. If you find the alcohol evaporated a bit, or that the herbs have not fully been submerged in it, you must add more alcohol.
Make sure the herbs are not exposed to open air. This can introduce mold and bacteria into the tincture. Allow 6-8 weeks for the mixture to be extracted.

Finally! It’s time to get out your cheesecloth and place it over a funnel. Now start adding the mixture into the glass dropper. Let all the contents seep into the bottle, squeezing out all the last bits.

Remember to label and store in a cool dry place. This way your tinctures will last for a few years. So get busy and enjoy making your remedy!

Since tinctures are taken as drops, you can administer them very accurately.

References:

1.Theiss, B. and Theiss, P. (1993). The family herbal. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.
2.Ayo Ngozi, M. and Ayo Ngozi, M. (2017). Demystifying Weight-to-Volume Tinctures – Herbal Academy. [online] Herbal Academy.
3.Blog.mountainroseherbs.com. (2017). Guide to Making Tinctures.