How is it possible that I’ve been blogging on herbs for 4 months now and I’m only just now getting around to writing about tea preparations? Goodness gracious, myriad apologies, herbal friends! Well, no time like the present.

First off, let’s tackle the basic vocabulary so we’re all on the same page, and then we’ll get into the more general how-to.

Teas—brewed from tea leaves and contain caffeine, but ***also regularly used to describe tea-free herbal brews…
Tisanes—brewed with herbs, generally caffeine-free
Infusion—tea in which the herbs are steeped in (usually hot) water
Decoction—tea in which the herbs are boiled in water until, reducing the volume of the menstruum and resulting in a very strong brew

For the sake of this blog, “tea” will be used for its more general umbrella meaning***, since this is the most common usage. Also, the following instructions and pointers are, once again, non-standardized and for home apothecary use. Listen to your body, and your tastebuds, and make adjustments as you see fit.

Both infusions and decoctions use water as the menstruum with which to draw the desired constituents out of the herbs. Which method is used depends largely on what herbs or parts of the plant are being used and what constituents or properties you want to be predominant—it’s always wise to research this on your own per herb, action, desired and undesired properties—but generally you will use an infusion for leaves and flowers and “softer” plant parts and use a decoction for woodier roots, bark, stems, or hard berries. If you want to use a root in an infusion instead, you will need to make sure that it is finely chopped for higher surface area.

Infusions

There are a couple different methods of infusions, but this is the home wise woman method as I learned it from my teacher, plus a couple of my own notes.

  • For fresh plant material, use approximately 3 Tablespoons herb per cup of water
  • For dry plant material, use 1 Tablespoon herb per cup of water
  • Place herb in your container (mason jar or French press—you want to be able to seal it off so volatile oils don’t evaporate off)
  • Fill your jar with boiling water and seal the jar, allowing it to steep for 1 to four hours

My personal favorite is to put a handful of fresh herb in a mason jar, cover with boiling water, seal it, and then let it steep, turning the jar occasionally, until it has cooled to room temperature.

Infusion of fresh honeysuckle blossoms

Decoctions

This is also the first step in making any syrup, but it’s especially good when you want a strong medicinal brew. In Chinese Medicine, decoctions are a common application for herbal therapies.

  • Use 2 ounces herb per quart of water
  • Place herb and water in a saucepan and bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer on low until reduced by half. A good method of checking your reduction is to use a chopstick – mark your starting water level on the chopstick, then make a second mark showing a halfway reduction. Use this as your guide to know when you’re done
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