In today’s article, we’ll talk about herbal teas, infusions, and decoctions. These are preparations made from medicinal plants that can easily be prepared at home.
“Medicinal plants” is a term of Latin origin that groups together herbaceous or woody species that were historically used in botanical workshops (ancient pharmacies) for their medicinal, food, and herbal properties.
These plants contain active principles in one of their parts (roots, leaves, flowers, seeds, fruits) that can be extracted and consumed through teas.
Teas can be prepared through infusion and decoction methods, depending on the extraction process of the active principle.
Now let’s see how to properly prepare an infusion or a decoction and, in general terms, which plants are more suitable for each type of preparation.
The peculiarity of herbal teas is that they contain the active principles of one or more medicinal plants. Usually, different plants with similar properties are mixed together. In this way, there is a synergistic enhancement of the various active principles, according to a specific therapeutic activity.
To prepare a herbal tea composed of multiple herbs, you must follow simple rules:
- The plant parts, whether fresh or dried, must be chopped to facilitate the extraction of the active principle.
- The physical components of the various medicinal plants must be consistent with each other; hence, you cannot mix hard and tender parts.
- Usually, it is recommended not to mix more than five plants in the same herbal tea to avoid unfavorable interactions.
Composition of Herbal Teas
A herbal tea composed of various medicinal plants usually includes:
- Base remedy, one or more specific active principles for the desired therapy.
- Adjuvant, which includes elements that interact positively with the base remedy.
- Complement, which comprises plant parts that provide a pleasant aroma and appearance.
- Corrector, one or more herbs that improve the organoleptic characteristics of the herbal tea.
Uses of Herbal Teas
In botanical workshops, herbal teas are used for various purposes and to treat different disorders. Some examples include:
- Everyday minor ailments such as constipation, diarrhea, bronchitis, cough, catarrh, abdominal spasms, colitis, etc.
- Weight loss
As mentioned earlier, herbal teas can be prepared through the infusion or decoction method. Let’s explore infusions and decoctions in more detail.
Infusion is the most common method of preparing herbal teas, especially for those that are pre-packaged and mixed.
It involves immersing herbs or plant parts, both fresh and dried, in boiling water, or more accurately, letting them steep in hot water. This allows the aromatic or medicinal properties of the plants to pass into the liquid obtained.
The chosen medicinal plants for the infusion should be thoroughly cleaned. They can be used whole or, more effectively, chopped or ground into small pieces for better infusion.
Boiling water should be poured into a container, preferably made of terracotta, which will then be covered appropriately to prevent the volatile elements of the plant from dispersing.
The infusion time is generally short, 5-10 minutes. After this time, the infusion is filtered to obtain a clearer drink.
It is also advisable to compress the residue to retain all active principles.
A wide variety of herbs and plants with medicinal and aromatic properties are used to prepare infusions. Let’s see some of the main ones.
Plants suitable for infusions
Roots, Rhizomes, and Leaves
Plants for infusions that use roots and rhizomes:
- Valerian officinalis
Plants for infusions that use leaves:
Flowers and Seeds
Finally, some plants are used for the properties contained in their flowers or seeds:
The principle of infusion is also used to flavor liqueurs.
In this case, alcohol is the liquid that extracts aromatic essences from herbs and fruits. They are infused in alcohol for a more or less extended period.
In our previous articles, we have presented the recipes of some liqueurs made using this technique: wild fennel, bay laurel, limoncello, pomegranate liqueur.
Decoction is a type of herbal tea that differs from infusion because, instead of simple immersion in boiling water, the parts of one or more plants used are boiled (decocted) for a more or less extended period. This facilitates the extraction of active substances that are less soluble in water. The disadvantage of this technique is that boiling may destroy any thermolabile substances, as well as volatile substances, which are lost.
The liquid obtained from the decoction is filtered while still hot.
Plants suitable for decoctions
Decoction is more suitable for woody and harder plants, such as:
- Horse chestnut bark
- Marshmallow (roots)
- Burdock (roots)
- Licorice (roots)
- Dandelion (roots)
- Stinging nettle (roots)
- Rhubarb (roots)
- Seeds of milk thistle
Leaves and Other Parts
Decoctions can also be prepared with leaves and less hard plant parts, such as:
- Artichoke (leaves)
- Ginkgo biloba (leaves)
- Stinging nettle (leaves)
- Blackberry (leaves)
- Mullein (leaves)
- Juniper sprouts
- Horsetail shoots
- Bulbs of onion
- Eggplant peel
- Hawthorn (fruits)
- Chinese lantern (fruits)
- Rowan (fruits)
- Cereals (seeds)
Uses of Decoctions
Very often, decoctions are used externally, especially for rheumatic issues. The active principles of the plants are released thanks to the prolonged action of heat.
In fact, the decoction of barks, roots, and woody parts requires longer boiling times, ranging from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the hardness of the plant. Often, an additional infusion step is performed for another 5-10 minutes.
For softer plant parts, a shorter boiling time of about 10-15 minutes is sufficient.
Normally, the plant parts are crushed, ground, or powdered before boiling. This helps the passage of active principles into the water.
- Springer – “Herbal Teas and their Health Benefits: A Scoping Review” – A comprehensive review of the health benefits associated with herbal teas, exploring various plant species and their therapeutic properties.
- Frontiers – “A comparative review on the anti-nutritional factors of herbal tea” – This comparative review examines the anti-nutritional factors present in herbal tea, providing insights into potential risks and considerations.
- Emerald Insight – “Herbal infusions and health: A review of findings” – A review of findings related to herbal infusions and their impact on health, exploring various studies and research methodologies.
- Harvard Health – “The health benefits of 3 herbal teas” – An article from Harvard Health that discusses the health benefits of three specific herbal teas, providing practical insights and recommendations.
- Ethnobiomed – “Plants used for making recreational tea in Europe: a review” – A review of plants used for making recreational tea in Europe, exploring cultural practices and traditional knowledge.
- Joybilee Farm – “How to Make an Herbal Tea, Infusion, and Decoction” – A practical guide on how to make herbal tea, infusions, and decoctions, offering step-by-step instructions and tips.
- Learning and Yearning – “Herbal Teas, Infusions and Decoctions: What’s the Difference?” – An article that explains the differences between herbal teas, infusions, and decoctions, providing clarity on these commonly used terms.
- Mountain Rose Herbs – “How to Make Herbal Infusions & Decoctions for” – A blog post that offers guidance on making herbal infusions and decoctions, focusing on various techniques and best practices.