Lydia is a student of herbalism and alternative healing modalities. She is a DIY enthusiast who is passionate about sustainable living.
The Simpliest Way to Explore Herbalism
Creating an infusion is the easiest way to get into herbalism. All you require are herbs and a liquid to infuse them in. In fact, many of the herbal teas in your grocery store have medicinal value. It can be as simple as drinking a fresh cup of peppermint tea to help with an upset stomach. The best way to get started making herbal infusions is with regular old water. It is inexpensive and readily available. Once you get a little more comfortable, the sky is the limit. You can make infused oils, honey, and vinegar.
What Is an Herbal Infusion?
Essentially an herbal infusion is an herb that has been left to sit in water or other liquid. The liquid extracts healing properties from the herbs. Tea or tisanes are the most well-known type, but it doesn't need to stop there. These infusions can be used for so much more than beverages. You can use them to create cosmetics and household cleaning products. They can be used in ritual magic. The sky is the limit! There is just much you can do with them!
Though most of us think of an herbal infusion as water-based, you can change it up once you are comfortable experimenting. You can infuse many liquids with herbs. If you are infusing your herbs in a liquid high in acidity, alcohol, or sugar content the shelf life will naturally be extended. Sugar, vinegar, and alcohol are all-natural preservatives. Oil infusions are a little trickier. For most oil infusions you will need to ensure that the herbs are completely dry. There is a risk of botulism spores if you create oil infusions with fresh herbs and leave them to sit for too long. If you are infusing oil with fresh herbs it is best consumed within a few days.
Why Create an Herbal Infusion?
Herbs are nourishing. We can extract their valuable healing benefits when we create infusions. We can use them in conjunction with our regular medical treatments, but always be sure they don't counteract any other medications you are taking. Always go to a doctor or other qualified health practitioner if you are not certain of your diagnosis. Some ailments are indications of a bigger underlying health concern. Keep that in mind if your condition doesn't improve with herbal remedies.
Historically, many families had a medicinal garden. In the early part of the 20th century, we begin creating more potent medications. These newly synthesized creations may have been more powerful and less messy. Unfortunately, many are accompanied by side effects. Most herbal remedies have fewer side effects compared to pharmaceuticals. This is why so many people love using them!
With medication that is stronger people saw less of a need to rest up when feeling unwell. Herbalism is a restorative way of bringing the body back in balance. Remedies are often combined with rest, proper nourishment, and light exercise.
Herbal infusions can help us medicinally in so many ways. I will only scratch the surface of that in this article. Infusions can reduce stress as with herbs like chamomile, peppermint, and lemon balm. They can improve the immune system when you use herbs like dandelion or ginseng. They can also relieve pain as herbs like feverfew.
Most of the herbs I discuss in this article are relatively safe. Remember to always do your research before ingesting them.
How to Create an Infusion
Dried herbs are really practical for making tisanes. They are more concentrated which gives them greater medicinal potency. You only require a small volume of herbs to make a healing herbal tea. This truly is the simplest infusion. All you need is a tablespoon of dried herbs and some piping-hot water. You can sweeten it or add lemon juice to your taste.
You can also use fresh herbs. Fresh herbs are great when you have access to them. They have a better fragrance and contain more beneficial volatile oils. If you are using fresh herbs you typically use double the amount you would if the herbs had been dried. When making a tisane you generally would let it infuse for about 10 to 20.
I am a big fan of cold brewing teas and tisanes. I put the herbs or a tea bag straight in a mason jar and fill it with water. Then I store it in the fridge until I am thirsty. Even my 7-year-old daughter has begun enjoying tea from the fridge. She no longer fusses quite as much about not having sugary beverages. Sometimes I add a little lemon juice, maple syrup, or honey. If you are cold brewing tea or tisanes in the refrigerator you should make sure to add the lemon after the tea has already been infused. I quickly learned that the acidity of lemon juice prevents a nice infusion from happening if you put it in too early.
Overnight infusions give you stronger infusions. You can serve these infusions over ice or warm them up again. The hot preparation method may bring out more of the healing properties. You can fill a jar with dried herbs and pour hot water over top. Leave it to infuse for at least 4 hours. Let it sit overnight. The longer it sits, the stronger the infusion. Cover and store in the fridge once it is ready.
Decoctions are another form of infusions. This is commonly used when we are working with tree bark, roots, or seeds. These plant materials are denser than the leaves or flowers. They take a little more effort to extract the healing benefits. A decoction is made by simmering the materials in water for anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes.
For the magically inclined, you may wish to use the sun or the moon to create an infusion. In fact, my passion for creating infusions came about via creating a solar-infused raspberry tisane to commemorate the Summer Solstice. To make a solar infusion just put 4 to 6 tablespoons of the herb in a mason jar, pour water over it, and leave it sitting out in the sun for the day. For the lunar infusion, you do the same thing you did with the solar tisane but on the night of the Full Moon.
These infusions should be used within 2 or 3 days. Storing them in the refrigerator can extend their shelf life.
Tips for Selecting Your Herbs
Herbs can be purchased online. Some will be available fresh from the grocery store. The health food store is also a rich resource for a variety of dried herbs. The best way of acquiring herbs is from your garden or foraging in nature. You can pick herbs that grow easily in your region. That way you will have easy access to them. It also makes creating herbal infusions more accessible.
Be sure to research the herbs you are using. Pregnant women specifically should be careful when using herbal remedies. Some herbs are quite potent and can cause premature labor. I remember purchasing an herbal tea designed for expecting mothers during my pregnancy. It contained raspberry leaf which is said to speed up the processor going into labor. After consulting with my midwife we decided at 38 weeks that I would be fine consuming this tisane at that stage. I prepared the tea one evening. The very next day my water broke, so they really do seem to work!
You should always try to figure out both the benefits and contraindications of any herb you choose to ingest. Some herbs are better for tisanes than overnight steeping. Fragrant herbs like rosemary, parsley, mints, and chives may be too intense if steeped for a long time. Of course, if you are using them for cosmetics or cleaning this may not matter. When I make rosemary hair rinses I do like the concentration to be strong.
Growing Your Own Herbs
Growing your own herbs is a fun hobby and a great way to ensure that you have the freshest ingredients. Most herbs grow best outside, but some grow great indoors. Basil works well in a bathroom with a sunny window. Basil loves the both sun and tends to need a lot of water. Just be careful not to let the soil stay continuously wet as it will cause root rot.
Buy your plants from a reputable nursery. You can grow echinacea or valerian, but the roots need to be a certain age to be effective. I would skip growing them if you are just beginning. You can buy them from the store and be certain that you have the quality you need.
Your herb garden will thrive if you harvest constantly. It is a great way to prune your plants and promote healthy growth. You can dry your plants and have a well-stocked apothecary for the entire winter.
There are many herbs that are not recommended for the garden. Tropical plants like ginger or turmeric can be cheaper to buy at the store.
10 of the Best Herbs to Grow
- Lemon Balm
Wildcrafting or Foraging Herbs
Wildcrafting or foraging herbs is a terrific pursuit. It will help you stick to a budget. It is rewarding and gives you a chance to connect to nature. There is a wide and varied potential apothecary right beneath our noses. I recently picked up a field guide to help me distinguish the different varieties of herbs that are edible here in North America. What is available to you will depend upon the region in which you live.
You should always use a field guide. Make sure there are no poisonous plants in your area that look similar to a plant you are foraging. You can also hire a professional to show you the ropes. Be careful not to pick where you are not allowed to pick. Don't intrude on anyone's property without permission. Many conservation areas have strict rules about not taking things out of the park. Do not forage or wildcraft where pollutants may degrade the potency of your herbs. Watch out for pollutants like road runoff. Also, watch out for pesticides or herbicides that may be sprayed in certain areas. City parks tend to be a bad choice, even if there are swatches of wild-looking patches.
When foraging do not damage trees or the environment. Many barks and bulbs are best avoided for this reason. It is a good idea to dry any plants you have collected from nature. Dried plants last longer. You could have a fully stocked apothecary for the winter if you are diligent about collecting and drying your herbs throughout the growing season.
10 of the Best Herbs to Wildcraft or Forage
- Rose Hips
- St John's Wort
- Common Blue Violets
- Raspberries, Blackberries, and their leaves.
- Red Clover
Drying Your Herbs
Drying your herbs and flowers is the best thing you can do before you start making your herbal infusions. If herbs aren't completely dry they may spoil. There are various methods to dry herbs. You can place them on a drying screen, hang them to dry or use a dehydrator. I have a convection oven that has a dehydrating setting. I use it for items that take a really long time to dry like orange rinds.
A dehydrator is good if you want to dry some herbs up really fast. This can be a godsend at the end of the gardening season when you are harvesting many things all at once. You will also appreciate it if you live in a region with high humidity. Use the lowest setting on the dehydrator to dry herbs and check on them frequently. Remove them when they are dry to the touch. They should feel crisp and crumble when you touch them. The stem should snap and break when you try to bend it. Roots should be completely hard.
Hanging herbs might be the simplest drying method. You merely gather them up in bunches and tie them with some twine or a bit of yarn. Hang them upside down in place with lots of ventilation and no major sources of sunlight. Let them hang until they are completely dry. This method works well with plants that have long stalks like lavender and yarrow.
Making a handmade drying screen is easy. All you need are some wooden frames and a roll of screening. These screens are easily stackable to maximize space. You dry the herbs by spreading them out in a single layer. This is good for drying leaves, berries, flower petals, small flowers, and pieces of root. Some flowers are really delicate. They fall apart so easily once they are dry. For this reason, a drying screen is the best way of ensuring they don't get damaged in the drying process.
For smaller batches of herbs, I have dried them on cookie sheets. You may want to do it that way for loose leaves for a tisane.
Storing Your Herbs
Everything should be completely dry before you store them. Mold can form if you don't ensure that the process is complete. You can store your herbs in glass jars or paper bags. You should label and date your herbs, though I often forget to. Make sure to store your herbs in a cool spot where they won't be exposed to sunlight.
What to Use Herbal Infusions For
There are many more things you can do with herbal infusions besides just medicinal tisanes. You can create hair rinses. The most popular hair rinses are rosemary, chamomile, and sage. Sage is great for those who wish to darken grey hair. Rosemary works well for brunettes. It also reduces dandruff and promotes hair growth. Chamomile brings out highlights in mousy hair.
You can water your houseplants with infusions. This is great to do if you have made more infusions than you are able to consume. You can also create infusions to combat aphids and other garden pests with herbs. Feverfew and tansy are 2 herbs that are good to get bugs off your plants. Just add a little dish soap to your infusion and pour it on the affected plant.
You can make popsicles. Sweeten with honey or stevia and add a little fruit juice to boost the flavor. You can also mix infusions with juice or lemonade.
Infusions can be used in skin care recipes. In any recipe that asks for water, you can use an infusion instead. You can create toner by adding rose water or witch hazel.
As for your home, you can make a whole wide variety of scented room sprays by diluting them with water and adding a touch of vodka and essential oils. You can mix the infusion with vinegar or baking soda to create a whole wide range of cleaning products. This is great for those who are sensitive to chemicals. It is also great for the environment.
Remember that herbs have strong chemical constituents. Always treat them respectfully. Keep herbal medicine out of the reach of those they may harm or who don't know how to use them.
A great resource if you want to know more is Colleen Codekas' book Healing Herbal Infusions. She also has a terrific website that is a valuable resource. It is located at growforagecookferment.com. I love her website as it has a vast amount of useful information about foraging, herbalism, and fermenting, as well as some amazing recipes.
Below I have also included some links to Nourish WebMD pages that provide further reading on some of the herbs I suggested using in this article. This should be plenty to get you going and hopefully spark your passion. It truly a fun hobby and a great way to stretch your budget, make your home smell great, and nourish your own health and well-being.
- Health Benefits of Peppermint
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- What Is a Goldenrod Flower? Its Uses, Health Benefits, and More
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- Is Dandelion Tea Good for You? Pros and Cons, Nutrition Information, and More
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- Nettle Leaf: Health Benefits, Nutrition, Preparation Information, and More
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.