If you saw our post last week about all the fancy words used in herbal medicine preparations, you may already have a starting knowledge of what an infusion and a decoction are. These are two different kinds of tea, an herbal drink made with water as the base. The differences between and infusion and a decoction are quite simple but knowing when to use each of them is what makes them helpful.
An infusion is probably what you already know tea to be. You take some herbs, put them into a cup, strainer, or jar and pour water over them. Now you can make a hot infusion by pouring hot water over them or you can make a cold infusion by pouring cold water over the herbs.
Generally with medicinal infusions we let a hot infusion sit with the herbs in the water for 10-15 minutes, sometimes more. For a cold infusion, this is generally put in the fridge over night so it can be drunk the next day.
Making a decoction is a bit different. You start by heating up water on a stove in a pot, not a kettle. When the water has reached boiling, you add your herbs to the water and let it cook for about 20 minutes. When complete, the herbs can be strained and water allowed to cool before drinking.
When do I use each one?
That is the best question to ask. Generally, a decoction is used when the herbs you are
making into tea are roots, barks, fruits, and seeds. Some examples of these are dandelion root, cinnamon bark, and milk thistle seeds. Hot infusions generally are made with leaves, flowers, and stems. The extra heat and time of a decoction is needed to cook and break down the harder roots, barks, fruits, and seeds to get the medicinal molecules out.
So what about a cold infusion?
This is a really cool, unique herbal preparation. Most of the time, cold infusions use the same leaves, flowers, and stems that hot infusions do. Because of the amount of time that a cold infusion is processed in, medicinal molecules of roots, barks, and seeds also have time to be extracted from the herb material into the water. This makes a cold infusion ideal if the herbal formula you are making into tea has leaves and roots.
A cold infusion is also best if most of the formula is flowers or other fragrant portions of a plant. The heat of a hot infusion or decoction is too high for flowers and can break them down if they sit for too long. Similarly, the aromatic components of the plant can evaporate away and be lost when heat is applied so it is best to use a cooler fluid for extraction.
I hope you have enjoyed this article from our Herbal Medicine 101 series. Stop by our website and check out our free herbal classes there when you have a chance to learn more. Be sure to subscribe to know when we next post in our Herbal Medicine 101 series.