Want to drink something delicious and healthy, cheap and simple to make, and easy to carry with you? Herbal infusions are the perfect answer! They are one of the most basic and easy ways to enjoy herbs and get their wonderful benefits.
What is an herbal infusion? It is simply a water extract of one or more herbs. It is stronger than an herbal tea, and takes more herb material. But it is as easy to make as a loose-leaf tea.
Because there can be confusion as to what is an infusion and a tea, and the differences, if any, between them, let’s define them, at least for the purposes of this article.
Many herbalists and herbals use one or the other term and they seem to mean the same thing, referring to a water-based extraction that uses a fairly small amount of herb steeped for 10 or 15 minutes or maybe half an hour (to me this is a tea). At other times the term tea refers to using a large amount of herb matter steeped for a short period of time. However, my understanding of the difference between an infusion and a tea, gained in part from Susun Weed, is that an infusion is much stronger and more concentrated than a tea.
My definition of teas and infusions is this: A tea uses 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of herb/s per cup of boiling water, steeped about 5 to 15 minutes. An infusion uses 1 ounce of herb material to 1 pint to 1 quart of boiling water, and is steeped anywhere from ½ hour to 8 hours or overnight, depending on the herb.
An herbal tea may be drunk for its medicinal properties or for the pleasure of its taste, or both. An infusion is quite often clearly medicinal and will often be used for its medicinal qualities.
Often, I am not sure quite what I want from my herbal drink—do I want something medicinal, just something that tastes good, or both? I will end up doing something that is between a tea and an infusion, using a goodly quantity of herb/s—more than a tea requires, but less than an infusion. I end up with a strongly-flavored drink that is at least somewhat medicinal and often tastes good, if I’ve gotten the right blend of herbs (I am always using different combinations, again depending on my mood).
Making herbal teas is fun! Don’t be afraid to experiment with combinations of various herbs you like and try different amounts mixed together. When it comes to taste, there is no right or wrong, only what delights your mouth and your senses.
In my experience, using a good quantity of herbs for your tea makes for a better tasting brew. If you think herb teas are insipid and weak, then you probably have not been using nearly enough herb matter for a cup of tea. Use more! The taste will be surprisingly robust and may truly change your mind (or your friends’) about what an herbal tea can be.
Generally, the proportion of herb to water for tea is to use about a tablespoon of dry herb to a cup of boiling water. Pour the freshly boiled water over the herb, cover (to keep in the essential oils and other good stuff), let steep for 15 minutes, then uncover and sip. You can add sugar, honey, maple syrup, or stevia for sweetening, and/or milk of your choice. Enjoy!
An infusion is made by soaking plant material (usually dried) in water that has been brought to a boil. The infusion steeps anywhere from ½ hour to 8 hours, depending on the plant material being infused. Boiling water must be used to break open the cell walls of the plant to allow them to release their constituents. Make sure you have good strainer to strain out your herb material.
What you need:
- A heat-proof pint or quart jar, such as a spaghetti jar or canning (mason) jar (You can also use a cooking pot or pan that has a lid.)
- A lid to fit the top of the jar, screw-on and tight-fitting if you will be transporting your infusion.
- Boiling water
Using the proportions of plant material to water below, put your herb material into the heat-proof jar with a lid or other covering that won’t allow steam to escape. Bring your water to a boil, pour over the plant material in the jar to the bottom of where the lid comes, and cover. (The lid needs to be kept on to keep volatile constituents from escaping.) Now let it steep for the time indicated for the plant materials you have used. When you are ready to drink it, strain it out with your strainer into another jar or into a cup or mug.
Usually it’s easiest to infuse one herb at a time. If infusing an herb blend, infuse for the time needed for the ingredient that gets infused for the shortest time. For instance, if you’re infusing a blend that includes anise seeds or hawthorn berries, even if it includes roots, you will only let it sit for ½ hour. If you’re using a blend that includes chamomile flowers, you’ll only let it sit for 2 hours, and so forth.
However, I don’t worry too much about being exact when I am steeping an infusion, and often mine sit for hours before I get to them.
Infusions can be drunk warm or cold. If you’ve let it steep for several hours, you can warm it up on the stove or in the microwave.
Infusions are easy to take with you in their jars, strained or not. They only last about 24 to 36 hours, even with refrigeration, so plan on making fresh infusions every day or two. If it starts smelling or tasting off, let it go—give it the plants, indoors or out.
Infusions can also be used as the basis for other herbal products, such as shampoos, or as the base for soups, drinks, and other herbal consumables.
For all parts of a plant, except roots and bark, the proportion is 1 ounce of dried plant material to 1 quart of boiling water. For roots and bark, it is 1 ounce of plant material to one pint of boiling water. See chart below.
Length of Time for Infusing
Plant Part Amount Jar/Water Length of infusion
Roots/Barks 1 oz./30 g. pint/500 ml 8 hours minimum
Leaves 1 oz./30 g. quart/liter 4 hours minimum
Flowers 1 oz./30 g. quart/liter 2 hours maximum
Seeds/Berries 1 oz./30 g. pint/500 ml 30 minutes maximum
The information on making infusions and the table of proportions are from The Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise by Susun Weed, Ash Tree Press, 1989.