Herbal Tea Infusions for Beginners

Herbal Tea Infusions for Beginners

If you’re on the path to learning more about herbal medicine, be prepared to learn lots about herbal tea infusions, decoctions, tinctures, and other types of botanical brews (if you haven’t already!). In case you’re curious what a tea infusion is (and how to make one), you’re in the right place. 😀

As a western clinical herbalist on a mission to bring herbal medicine back into every household in these modern-day times, I decided to unpack herbal tea infusions step-by-step in this article!

Affiliate disclosure:  This article contains affiliate links*.  As an Amazon Associate and also an affiliate for Mountain Rose Herbs, I will make a small commission through qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.

What is a tea infusion?

Tea infusions serve as a popular delivery method for getting herbal medicine constituents from a plant into the mind/body.  This practice been around for over thousands of years, in numerous cultures all over the world – and tea infusions are is still the #1 delivery method recommended by herbalists today.

The main perk of this extraction method is that it is a quick and easy way to extract nutritive and/or medicinal constituents from herbs into water.  Those beneficial nutrients and constituents can then be effectively delivered into the bloodstream and utilized by the body, when we drink the tea. 

To make a traditional herbal infusion, you just need to pour hot water over dried loose herbs (specifically the delicate plant parts including leaves, stems, flowers or berries), and let ‘em steep!

So, how is this different from regular tea?

Longer steep time

While mainstream tea is steeped only for a few minutes, medicinal herbal tea infusions call for a longer steep time of at least 15 to 20 minutes for optimal potency.

Less risk of consuming harmful chemicals

In herbal medicine, we also discourage people from using commercial tea bags which are typically bleached, chlorinated, and laden with chemicals or sometimes even heavy metals. (1, 2)  

  • This is pretty concerning, and something I wish more people knew about commercial tea so they can make more informed choices (if they’re drinking it multiple times a day for health benefits!).

How does it work?

Water as a solvent (aka a medium for dissolving stuff into) is the most effective way to extract micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) and many other medicinal constituents from herbs. 

Infusions are more passive as an extraction method compared to decoctions (which are recommended for extracting medicine from tougher plant parts like roots and barks).  The infusion method you’re about to learn is best suited for working with the more delicate plant parts like leaves, stems, flowers, petals and berries.

It’s also easier to extract medicine and nutrients from dried versus fresh herbs because the cell walls have been broken down in dried herbs.  (The cell walls cannot be broken down in a fresh plant, so steeping in water is less effective.)

Why make and drink herbal tea infusions?

A tea infusion can be made for enjoyment, wellness benefits, medicinal purposes, or all of the above! (The act of making and drinking tea in and of itself is pretty therapeutic and relaxing, in my opinion.) 😉 

This type of brew is also very easy, simple, user-friendly, and inexpensive which makes it very accessible for everyone, regardless of their income level, location, etc.

Depending on your herbs of choice and the degree of consistency in which you drink herbal tea, some of the most common potential benefits you may reap through drinking herbal tea infusions regularly can include but are not limited to:

  • Taste and enjoyment
  • A boost of energy (caffeine)
  • Relaxation
  • Stress reduction
  • Improved mood (less depression)
  • Better quality sleep
  • Nutrition for anemia and blood-building
  • Nutrition for bone-building
  • Healthier hair, skin and nails
  • Improved digestion
  • Hormone balance
  • Stronger immunity
  • And more!

(There’s an herb out there for almost everything, and the possibilities of what you can accomplish through incorporating herbal infusions into your life are quite endless!)

Types of infusions

Hot water (traditional style) 

Traditional herbal tea infusions are made with very hot, almost-boiling water.  (If you boil the water, and pour too-hot water over your tea, you run the risk of damaging some of the more delicate, temperature-sensitive constituents of herbs!)

Since hot water is better as a solvent than cold temperatures, I find this method to be exponentially more effective at extracting nutrients and medicinal constituents compared to cold infusions – except in cases of mucilaginous or “demulcent” herbs.

Cold infusions

Cold infusions are made by leaving cut and sifted or powdered herbs in cold water, and steeping them in a sealed mason jar in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight.  You will then strain the herbs out the next day in a nut milk bag or sieve.

Steeping certain herbs in cold water for longer periods of time versus in hot water for shorter amounts of time could result in a very different beverage, even when using all the same ingredients.  Most herbs won’t extract as well in cold water.

Cold water is a nice way to extract mucilage (polysaccharides which help to lubricate, soothe and hydrate dried or wounded tissues in the body).  

  • For this reason, demulcent herbs like marshmallow root can make great cold water infusions!

Sun tea 

While sun tea is a bit less common, a sun tea infusion is popular among herbalists during the summer season, especially here in central Texas where it gets very hot! 

I find that aromatic constituents in fresh or dried herbs (such as lavender, rosemary, and lemon balm) are the easiest to extract via the sun infusion method.

This unconventional infusion method entails leaving a mason jar of herbs and water out in the sun or even on a sunny windowsill, for up to 3 or 4 days, before straining out the herbs and sipping on the tasty sun-infused herbal tea.

Super infusions

The longer you steep a nutritive tea, the more minerals you’ll extract (up to a certain point). That being said, super infusions are most relevant and beneficial for people looking to extract LOTS of minerals from nutritive herbs such as stinging nettle leaf (Urtica dioica), horsetail (Equisetum arvense), or oat straw (Avena sativa). 

A super infusion is pretty much the same thing as a traditional hot water tea infusion, except the herbs are steeped in the hot water for at least 4 hours or longer (sometimes overnight) – versus for only 15 to 20 or 30 minutes.

The main downside to this method is it takes longer, and some types of tea can also become very bitter tasting which is less palatable.

4 Different types of herbal tea infusions - traditional, cold infusion, sun tea, and super infusion - infographic

How to brew your own infusion

To make an herbal tea infusion, it’s pretty simple and straightforward!  You’ll just need to pour hot water over a specific amount of dried herb in the form of leaves, stems, flowers, petals or berries, and leave it to steep for about 15 minutes or longer before drinking it.  

But if you’re like me and you prefer step-by-step “how-to” instructions, below are more details for you to refer to, as needed!

The materials 

Aside from the actual ingredients, you’ll only need a few basic materials to make a proper tea infusion. There are multiple ways to do it, so your materials will vary a bit depending on your method of choice.

Before brewing your botanical concoction, you’ll want to make sure you have each of the following:

  1. A vessel to heat the water (i.e. a stovetop pot, an old-fashioned tea kettle, electric water kettle, or a water bubbler)
  2. A measuring utensil to measure the loose tea/herbs (i.e.  a teaspoon or tablespoon)
  3. Something to hold and extract/strain the loose tea/herbs (i.e. a tea sachet, stainless steel tea steeper, sieve, or French press)
  4. A mug or thermos from which you can sip and savor your herbal infusion

The ingredients

While the ratios of a tea infusion are pretty flexible (since herbalism is more like cooking than an exact science – tea is still tea and it will still “work” regardless of the ratios), a standard herbal tea infusion will typically call for the following ingredients, in their respective ratios:

  • 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of dried herbs or loose tea
  • 8 to 32 ounces of water

One “serving” of a tea infusion is considered to be 8 ounces.

The step-by-step process

  • Prepare your materials and measure out your ingredients.
  • Heat up the water to almost boiling (but don’t let it boil since that may denature some of the more delicate constituents in your tea).
  • Place the tea in the sachet, steeper, French press, or you can also add it directly into the stovetop pot of hot water.
  • Let the tea steep for at least 15 to 20 minutes before draining through a sieve or strainer.
  • Pour the tea into your mug of choice, and enjoy!

Frequently asked questions

I also made sure to answer all your burning questions so you’ll be a fellow tea-brewing pro and connoisseur in no time!

Can’t I just use tea bags from the store?

Technically getting a tea bag and steeping it in hot water counts as a tea infusion, but in western herbalism we’re encouraged to work with the loose tea (or loose herbs) for multiple reasons.

  1. I personally like to steer clear of the chlorinated, chemical-laden tea bags that are used in most commercial tea products (1, 2)  because I don’t want that stuff interfering with my health! (It defeats the purpose of drinking tea for the health benefits.)
  2. Most of the clinical studies uncovering lots of health benefits only typically apply to the organic loose-leaf tea versus the commercial kind which is more processed and “watered-down” (pun intended).

Where can I find chemical-free tea sachets?

You can get these in most tea shops or also on Amazon. A few things to keep in mind about purchasing tea sachets/tea filters:

  • Whether you decide to go with disposable or reusable, I recommend choosing an option that is unbleached and chemical-free.
  • If you’re going with disposable, I recommend choosing something biodegradable and environmentally sustainable. 

Below I have shared a few affiliate links to products which are in alignment with my high standards as an herbalist!

Disposable:  Biodegradable, Compostable, Unbleached Tea Sachets

 

Reusable: 100% Cotton, Unbleached Muslin Drawstring Tea Bags

 

 

Where can I find loose herbs?

You can find loose herbs pretty much anywhere; however, I highly recommend finding organic herbs that haven’t been sitting on shelves in direct light for long periods of time as that storage practice will degrade herb potency.

You may be able to find a local apothecary near you, or I also love all of the following online organic apothecaries:

Can I make infusions with fresh versus dried herbs?

While some very aromatic herbs like ginger root or rosemary can be easily made into cold water infusions or sun tea, most herbs need to be dried in order to extract their constituents effectively.

This is because the cell walls are not broken unless a plant has been dried, cooked, or extracted in a tougher solvent like alcohol (such as in herbal tinctures).

What about roots and barks?

If you’re working with tougher plant parts such as roots, barks, or mushroom fruit, a tea infusion is too passive and not enough to break through the cell walls of these plants – even when they’re dried.  (An exception is ginger “root”, which is actually a rhizome and very potent!)

  • For example, if you’re working with roots such as ashwagandha root, shatavari root, eleuthero root, or yellow dock, you’re better off making a tea decoction or a tincture.

Can I make bitter herbs into infusions?

Bitter herbs are becoming increasingly popular because they’re so beneficial for supporting healthy digestion.  However, I strongly recommend taking bitter herbs as a tincture and NOT making them into tea!  

  • Not enjoying your tea would make it very difficult for you to take those herbs consistently. (I learned this the hard way after attempting to drink artichoke leaf tea infusions for 30 days straight!)
  • I also believe that on some level, if you really don’t enjoy the taste of your tea, that will counteract some of the potential benefits. 

How can I store the tea?

Tea needs to be stored in a sealed, air-tight container in the fridge or it will get moldy. (Who knew?!)  

I recommend letting your tea cool enough to store it in a glass mason jar (versus in a plastic container, to avoid plastic residues getting into your tea), if possible.

How long do tea infusions last?

Tea infusions will last up to 3 days in the fridge, if you store them properly.  

Note:  Infusions made with fresh plant material (versus dried) unfortunately may go bad more quickly.  

  • If you see any mold in your sun tea before it’s finished steeping, you most definitely need to discard it!

How often should I drink a tea infusion?

There’s no one right amount of tea that you’re “supposed” to drink; however, if you’re working towards achieving a particular health goal, there are likely specific types of herbal tea you could benefit from drinking regularly, in therapeutic doses which are unique to you.

Feel free to check out my list of top recommended herbalism books to learn more about herbal medicine, or consider working with a clinical herbalist 1:1 if you’d like to be matched to your very own “herbal allies”.

Tea recipes worth checking out

More herbal medicine resources

If you’d like to learn more about herbs, feel free to check out some of my other herbal medicine articles below!

Final thoughts and next steps

Tea infusions are a simple, easy and timeless way to get your feet wet in the big world of herbal medicine! Infusions are a wonderful way to extract nutrients and medicinal constituents from herbs in a way that is fun, enjoyable and culturally rich. They are also extremely affordable and accessible enough for anyone.

It’s easiest and most effective to extract medicine and nutrition from plants when they’re dried versus fresh, and when water is hot versus cold.

Herbal tea infusions are meant for delicate plant parts like flower petals and leaves, compared to herbal tea decoctions which entail actively boiling or simmering tougher plant parts like dried roots or barks in water.

There are many ways to make a tea infusion.  No matter which way you decide to go, It’s always best to work with organic herbs and natural, environmentally sustainable, compostable, unbleached tea bags (or stainless steel materials) when making your infusion, to avoid extracting unwanted harmful chemicals into your infusions.

You may also combine different herbs together to make a blended infusion of your choice.  The sky’s the limit!

If you’d like to learn more about working with herbs, make sure to check out all my favorite recommended herbalism books here.

Cheers!

–Jenna

 

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