Medicinal Tea: Infusion vs. Decoction

Chamomile Flower Infusion

I drink tea every day.  It soothes and calms like no other beverage and I appreciate the ever-increasing variety.  Part of my love for tea flows from the preparation ritual.  Watching the flowers and leaves unroll, swell, and bloom lifts my spirit and makes me smile like a child watching the transformation take place for the first time.  Besides fixing the daily morning wake-up cuppa and sipping on Sleepy Time or fresh chamomile tea before bedtime, I never thought much about the science of making tea until we discussed it at an Herbiary Apothecary Garden class.

First Day of Class

Decoction vs. Infusion

An infusion is how most of us think about making tea.  We grab our tea, drop it into the mug, pour hot water over it, let it steep, and drink.  Not too complicated.  To infuse a medicinal tea, the process is very similar.

Instead of buying all of our health-related remedies from the corner drug store, we can make natural herbal concoctions at home for a sliver of the price and with fewer side effects.  Before modern medicine and the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry came about, we were taking care of our families with plants straight from the garden or found in the woods.  An experienced herbalist will know what type of plants to use for which ailments and what parts of the plant the medicine should derive.  This is important for thinking about the difference between creating an infusion or a decoction.

We create an infusion when we want to use the softer part of the plant.  These sections, such as the leaf or flower, are high in volatile oil and dissolve easily.  Usually, boiling water is poured over the botanical and left for an amount of time dependent on what is being prepared.  Medicinal tea is left to steep for a much longer time than say, everyday drinking tea such as Lipton.  This can create a drink with a bitter taste but high concentration of herbal medicine.

When we want to extract oils from a tougher part of the plant, say the root or bark, a section low in volatile oils, we create a decoction.  Decoctions are created by mashing that part of the plant, then boiling it to release all of its medicinal goodness.  Whether making an infusion or decoction, make sure to keep the lid on while steeping or boiling.  This will ensure that the medicinal essential oils drop back down into your drink.

So next time you are feeling under the weather, why not make your own homeopathic remedy?  An easy medicinal tea to make is with ginger.  I like to keep handy a few jars of ginger decoction (boiled chopped bits of ginger) in my fridge because they make a tea great for getting rid of mucus or a nasty cough.  Sometimes I even pour a bit into my morning smoothie for a tropical flavor.  Give it a try!

Mucus-Out! Tea: ginger decoction, cayenne, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and honey.

And check out Herbiary if you are in Philadelphia:

Eye-and-eye mantra: Be the woman you want to be at all times!

Photography by Ajua Hawkins.

Copyright 2012-2014 Ajua Hawkins

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