Certainly the history of teas, that is, putting a herb into water, goes a long, long way back, and I believe that it probably started with the Chinese. It is said that in about 2737 B.C. an Emperor by the name of Shen Nung (神農) was waiting while a servant boiled water, had some leaves fall into the water, and being a Herbalist himself, gave the new leaf/water combination a try, and so was the birth of tea, which was Camellia sinensis, which is a herb of course.
But what happened from there you may ask, well, frankly I don’t really know, and probably nobody else really knows either. But I will give you my ‘assumption’, and please, tell me what you think?
I believe that from about the time of Shen Nung and his story, the idea of putting plant matter into hot water probably grew. As they have found containers for tea in tombs from the Han dynasty 206 BC – 220 AD, and it was around the 618-906 AD during the Tang dynasty, that tea became the drink of China. And some say that herbal tea was found in the Pharaoh’s tombs about 1000 B.C.
Ultimately, over those thousands of years, many herbs other than Camellia sinensis would have been tried as a tea, and now Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), has many herbal combinations for healing the sick. Of course, as trade via ship and the silk road continued, so did the idea of making a tea.
A herbal tea is actually called a “Tisane”, which is actually an archaic word which means “Peeled Barley”. This is probably a good thing, because it separates from making a herbal tea, a ‘Tisane’, and TEA, which is specifically one plant – Camellia sinensis.
When one comes to term “Infusion” it can apply to many different things because what it means is the ‘pouring or adding in of something’, and with herbal teas and tea, there’s a pouring or adding in of the essences of the plant into the water.
I have left the title of this post, just “How to do Herbal Infusions”, simply because I believe that Camellia sinensis, a herb, (especially Matcha) has wonderful health benefits along with all the other herbs you could make an infusion from, and why not combine tea with another herb?
Also, there are infusions and decoctions, and they are similar, but there are some real differences, one difference is that infusions are never boiled.
Reasons why to have Infusions
One the best reasons for having an infusion is due to the easiness of it, you can simply throw in 1 heaped teaspoon of your favourite herb, pour in some boiling hot water, wait 5 to 10 minutes and there you are, now enjoy.
One of my most favourite ways to take herbs both for enjoyment and therapeutically is via an infusion. Except for those yucky ones of course, then I take capsules, and the reason I normally don’t take tinctures is that they are expensive keep in store just in case. But there is a place for them at times.
Although there are rare issues with infusions, on the whole they are very safe, especially with common and well known herbs. Ask yourself, when was the last time you heard of someone dying from drinking tea?
Herbal teas are generally naturally free from caffeine, unless they have been mixed with something else, so those who want to be caffeine free have many choices of beverages, and are generally less in tannins.
You can take constant infusions of a herb your entire life, if you feel it benefits you, an example of this could be if you tend to indigestion and insomnia, you could take a ginger and peppermint infusion shortly after your dinner, and then later on that night 1/2 an hour before bed have an infusion of chamomile, lemon balm and a small squeeze of lemon juice to help with your liver.
It is only a consideration, if you are taking it ‘therapeutically’, on how much and how long you are taking it for.
Finally, I personally believe that the idea of just sitting down and relaxing over a fragrant, and delicious cuppa, has so many therapeutic benefits, to resist this stressed out world, don’t you think?
How to do Infusions
Even though infusions are an excellent way to obtain the herbs benefits, there are a few suggestions that are worth following for better results.
Never use plastic or aluminium containers to prepare an infusion in, but you can use an enamel, china, porcelain or glass containers. You can even go as far as only using one teapot for tea, and one for tisanes, as they will flavour each other.
I would suggest is that once you have poured your hot water in immediately cover the cup or mug with a plate, saucer or similar to keep the volatile oils in, these are actually those essential oils that are found in herbs. And when you lift up the plate, try to make sure that the liquid condensed underneath the plate drains into your cup.
Or you can place 1 heaped teaspoon (5ml) of your chosen herb into a suitable glass jar, pour in boiling hot water and screw down the lid and wait until it has infused, which in most cases is 5 to 10 minutes. When cool enough to drink, enjoy.
An extra point for fresh herbs, now I love both fresh and dried herbs, but when using fresh herbs in your infusions, it is best to crush, grind or at least finely chop them, just before making the infusion, this is to release the less water-loving constituents out of the herb’s ‘glands’.
Some good herbs to use fresh are: Calendula, Dandelion, Clover, Lemon Balm, Mint, Gentian, Catnip, Lovage, Thyme and Self-heal.
But what about those bits and pieces floating on top? Well, there are at least three ways to deal with this: 1) just skim the liquid off the top, and dodge the pieces, 2) strain through a non-metallic filter, or 3) make or buy natural chemical free single use or reusable teabags.
Don’t worry, the amount of essential oil will not cause any harm as it is very small.
I believe that infusing the constituents out of the herb via hot water is one of the best ways to extract them, as even though you are using water, some but not all, of the less water loving components, will still come out, just not as much as say an alcohol/water extraction. And most tinctures taste yucky!
Hot or Cold Infusions
Yes, there are such as drinks as iced teas, I know, but when talking ‘herbally’ a Cold infusion doesn’t exactly mean the same thing as an Iced tea, as I will go on to explain.
Most herbal infusions are prepared using hot water, and yes, there are a few exceptions to the rule, for example Matcha, most are prepared at or ‘just before’ a rolling boil.
Most herbal infusions are mixed at a rate of 1 heaped teaspoon to 250ml of water, and you can multiply from there for larger amounts, and this is fine for most people, when just making a ‘cuppa’. But if you trying to take things more therapeutically then you’ll want to make larger amounts.
If you are using dried herbs then you want about 30g / 1 oz to 500ml / 1 pint, and when using fresh herbs 75g / 2.5 oz to 500ml / 1 pint. This is now best to place this into a thermos flask, that way it keeps hot for longer, and holds in the precious volatile oils and their benefits.
Then take this at half to 1 cup 3 times per day.
Although most people take infusions hot, some are best allowed to cool right down, these are infusions that are intended to act as blood purifiers, bitters for appetite, diuretics, to expel worms, reduce bleeding and to stimulate metabolism.
Some constituents are ruined or potency lowered when affected by heat, so at times the best preparation is leaving them in cold water, and some don’t need heat to be extracted.
In this case, all you need to do is place the herbs into a glass jar, pour in the water and leave it for at least 8 hours or overnight. Marshmallow, Wormwood, Mistletoe, Blessed thistle, Valerian and Barberry are such herbs best taken this way.
What about Milk
My first suggestion is not to use milk, I am not anti-milk, but in most cases when using infusions, just a straight herb/water mix is best. But at times, milk can add not subtract.
Milk can also be used instead of water in Cold infusions, but this doesn’t apply to those who are dairy intolerant.
It is interesting to note that milk proteins combine with the tannins in both tea, and some herbal infusions. This can make things more ‘gentler’ on some stomachs. So if you find some infusions irritating to the stomach or causing constipation, maybe try milk.
Milk is best NOT to be used when you are dealing with respiratory conditions, as it can increase mucus levels, thereby making symptoms worse, and some herbal infusions should not be combined with milk, as it can ruin other important and beneficial constituents.
Variations of Infusions
One of the beautiful things about infusions is that you can either just have one herb, or any number of combinations, and generally you only need to go up to three different herbs. The way to understand this is if you were playing a chord on a musical instrument, you want a top, middle and base note, or you could say, melody, harmony and rhythm. Or you could simply say, ‘they work synergistically’.
An example of this – for Dyspepsia:
- Top note or melody – Peppermint
- Middle or harmony – Dandelion
- Base note or rhythm – Meadowsweet
Other variations can be to combine with Tea, yes, Camellia sinensis, and you can easily buy tea in four different ways: black, white, green and matcha (always buy quality matcha).
Also, you can add fruit or fruit juice such as lemon, lime and orange, peach, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and watermelon.
For decoration, you can just simply add a few of the herb leaves or flowers on top, for example, rose petals or mint leaves, or a slice of fruit, such as a slice of lime.
Some sweeteners: can be raw honey, rapadura, agave nectar, or stevia, erythritol and monk fruit for those who are cutting out their sugar. I am not a fan of sugar.
Choice of Herbs for Infusions
This could be any of a thousand different herbs, but what I would suggest, especially if you are relatively new to infusions, is to try the more common ones first, then progress into trying new ones, and then venture out into combinations and even unusual ones.
Since every herb actually has some health benefit, even if it is quite small, I would also advise finding something that has some immediate help, an example of these could be:
- Chamomile: anti-inflammatory, carminative, mild sedative, and vulnerary
- Peppermint: spasmolytic, carminative, antiemetic, antitussive, emmenagogue, tonic, antimicrobial, mild sedative/stimulant, digestive and enzyme activator
- Ginger: antibiotic, carminative, antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, carminative, analgesic, digestive, expectorant
- Lemon balm: carminative, spasmolytic, mild sedative, stomachic, antioxidant, antibacterial, nervine, febrifuge, antiseptic
- Elderflower: common cold, influenza, sinusitis, bronchitis, hay fever, pharyngitis, laryngitis, and sinus headache
A few small things to consider when using infusions:
- Don’t keep them for any longer than 24 to 36 hours, as things will break down
- If you are using them therapeutically use them for 6 weeks, then break for 1 week, then resume
- Most common herbs are fine to use in infusions, BUT, some should only be taken in low to very low doses, otherwise they can become toxic, so unless you KNOW the herb and know it is safe, always do your research first. (These are usually hard to find)
- If you become pregnant, some herbs you should either reduced or removed from your diet, so check with your health care professional first
Please remember, this blog cannot and should not replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment, and no cure is implied in anyway. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.
Russell a.k.a Herbal Panda
“Add colour and aroma to your life, drink Tisane”Herbal Panda