Welcome to part three of our Healthy Home series– How to Prepare Herbal Remedies. In part one, we talked about herbalism basics and went over some important precautions. In our part two we talked about how to know which herbs to choose. In this post we will discuss some basic herbal preparation techniques.
There are many different ways to use herbs for your herbal remedies including poultices, sachets, infusions, tinctures, teas, decoctions, and ointments to name a few. Today we will talk about infusions, teas, and decoctions as those are the basic procedures that many of the other remedies build from.
First a reminder that you should not use copper or aluminum pots or utensils to prepare any herbal, and of course, it goes without saying that you should be very familiar with the herbs you are using and your intensions with them. Make sure they do what you want them to do and ONLY what you want them to do. Also be aware of any changes that combining different herbs together can cause with their effects.
Alright, let’s start with teas. Teas can also be called infusions or Tisanes (pronounced like Tiz-ann with a short i and a short a). They can also be called “a little cup of heaven” in my humble opinion. I love a nice cup of tea almost as much as I love a cup of soup. For many of the same reasons. They are soothing and relaxing and comforting. Herbal teas are less popular than they used to be. People are typically in too much of a rush to prepare a cup of tea much less to actually sit and drink one. They’d rather use a quicker remedy like a tincture (add a couple of drops to your water bottle and be on your way.) But it’s too bad because teas can be much more effective for chronic ailments than tinctures. So don’t forget about them. Keep them in your arsenal.
How Much Herb to Use and How often to Drink it
The general rule of thumb when preparing teas/infusions is to use 1 teaspoon of dried herb to 1 cup of water. Or for fresh herbs (always preferred for teas if you can get them!*) use 2 tablespoons of fresh herb to each 1 cup of water. Having said that, you can always adjust for taste, assuming you are using herbs that have been deemed safe and non toxic. (As you should always do.)
*there are a few herbs that must be dried before use: Cascara Sagrada and Orris Root, and some believe Elderberries as well. As always, be sure to research your herbs before use.
If you are making a tea that will require you to drink several cups throughout the day, it is perfectly fine to make a quart of tea in the morning and drink it room temperature or reheat it throughout the day (2-3 tablespoons per quart water.) Teas should ideally be prepared fresh daily but they will keep for a few days if refrigerated. If it tastes flat or different, it’s too old. Throw it away.
Tea made just for enjoyment has no set dosage. Make and enjoy as you see fit. Medicinal teas, however, should be used with consistency. For a chronic health problem, for example, you may want to make a quart every day and have 3 or 4 cups throughout the day, five or six days a week for up to four months at a time. It is a good idea to take breaks between 4-month courses to insure that your body doesn’t get immune to the effects. It is fine to try a different herb that has the same effect during those in-between times.
For acute health problems (recent onset, of a more serious nature, reaching crisis level), you will want to sip teas in smaller, more frequent doses such as 1/4 cup every half hour until you feel like the symptoms are subsiding. (Fever or asthma flare, for example.)
INFUSIONS– typically used to prepare leaf and flower herbs (but sometimes also roots and barks that contain high amounts of volatile oils such as in Valerian and Golden Seal).
There are three methods for preparing an infusion:
(2) If you need a stronger infusion, place the herb in a pan of cold water. Very very slowly bring water to just before the boiling point. You will see lots of tiny bubbles starting to form and rise up. Remove from heat. Let stand 5-20 minutes depending on how strong you want your brew. Strain.
(3) Use either method above but allow to steep over night. This will make the strongest infusion possible.
DECOCTIONS– Typically used to prepare non leaf or flower part herbs that can be more difficult to break down. Roots, barks, nuts, non-aromatic seeds, etc. Except as noted above for herbs with high levels of volatile oils.
There are also three methods to prepare decoctions:
(1) Bring the water to a boil then add the herb. Gently simmer for 15 or more minutes, keeping tightly covered at all times to retain the nutrients that could escape with the steam. Remove from heat and strain.
(3) Brew as above in either 1 or 2, but allow to steep overnight before straining. This will, of course, result in the strongest type of decoction.
NOTE! You can often use the same batch of roots, barks, nuts, or seed to make a few batches of remedy. Each batch will get a little less strong, but can still be useful. I like to make Elderberry tea with my leftover herbs after making my winter elixirs. So good!
Sometimes you will need to prepare a remedy that contains both leaves/flowers and roots/barks. If you have purchased a pre-blended kit and you can’t separate leaves from roots, decoct the blend as described above and then when you are done, add a little more of the fresh herbal blend to the pot. Allow it to infuse as described above in infusion section.
If it is not pre-blended, decoct roots first. Turn off heat. Add leaves and infuse.
Next post we will begin to discuss some herbs that are good for headaches, tension, and the nervous system. Those herbs are called nervines. If you would like to get a jump on preparing your Materia Medica for those, begin with these varieties: Skullcap (Scullcap), Valerian, Chamomile, Lobelia, Wood Betony, Catnip, Hops, and St. John’s Wort. See you then!