All an “infusion” is, really, is plants steeped in liquid for a while. Water, milk, vinegar, oil, wine, vodka... the options are endless.
When you hear an Herbalist talk about an Herbal Infusion, it’s generally meant that your herbs were steeped in hot water for anywhere from 20-60 minutes, or up to a few hours. A longer steep like this allows many more plant constituents, the “phytochemicals”, to make their way into the water and shift it from a simple beverage to a medicinal remedy.
Yes, this will change the flavor! One of my favorite experiments with students is to serve
- fresh Chamomile flowers steeped in room temperature water overnight
- dry Chamomile flowers steeped in hot water for about 3 minutes
- dry Chamomile flowers steeped in hot water for at least 20 minutes
Any guesses about how each tastes? DIY Herbalism students, do you remember ALLLL the way back to your first class- what were the 3 teas like?
- Fresh Cham is so light and fresh and fantastic
- Dry, quick Cham is about like you’d expect- sweet and heavy and a bit cloying, certainly relaxing but for me, reminiscent of dusty old-fashioned rooms
- Dry, long Cham is a whole different animal- bitter, rich, dark, and surprising!
So what about tea bags vs loose tea?
Plus, tea-bag tea is usually pulverized, basically a powder, so it infuses much more easily and quickly into hot water than whole or even cut leaves and flowers do. This means you can get away with a shorter steep, maybe 10-15 minutes, than you would want for loose tea- more like 20-60 minutes.
That simple tea bag does come at a cost, though. Once reason there’s so much plant material in each tea bag is because the quality can much lower than whole plants. Imagine a Chamomile harvest- the best flowers are sold to the higher priced tea companies, the lesser flowers to cheaper brands, and the fluff that’s left over is scooped up and sold in individual tea bags. Given my druthers I’ll make loose tea every time, but a good quality tea bag for convenience is perfectly good enough
If you really want to up your Herbal Infusion game, start making Overnight Infusions with mineral-rich nutritive herbs- Nettles is classic, and Alfalfa, Horsetail, Red Raspberry Leaf, Chickweed, and Oatstraw all have dense nutrient profiles and make wonderful Overnights. An Overnight Infusion is the barrel-aged porter of the herbal world- so much richer and more flavorful, and worth the wait.
The process couldn’t be easier- herbs in a jar (a handful or two altogether, or about ¼ of the jar), fill with boiling water, cover loosely (don’t want a bug or something to get in there), and sit it on the counter overnight. It takes a LONG time for the minerals in these plants to steep into the water, so by morning you’ll have an intense infusion waiting for you
Fresh herbs like Chamomile, Tulsi, Fennel, Peppermint, Anise Hyssop, Rose- any of the yummy ones, really- absolutely shine in a Cold Infusion. And herbs like Marshmallow, Cinnamon, Linden, and Slippery Elm have a sugar molecule called “mucilage” that gets slimy and gooey in cold water, which is wonderfully soothing to the digestive tract and nervous system.
Cold Infusions are even more simple than the hot ones, since you, um, don’t have to heat the water. Just put your plants in your jar, cover with room temperature water, cap loosely, and let sit overnight. If your house is particularly hot you could put it in the fridge, but true cold will slow the mucilage from extracting
The answer is- staggering. No, I mean that as a verb, not an adjective!
Do this: make your Chamomile tea in a quart jar around dinner time in hot water. Before bed, when it’s cooled off, add the Marshmallow, and wait till morning. Just stagger *when* you add different herbs to create your different combos.
Staggering is also a good solution for when you would like to include more gentle notes of strong flavors. Try stirring your tea with a Cinnamon stick, if you don't want an overpowering spice. Or add your Chamomile or Rose petals right before serving, if you want the aromatic bloom.
There are so many ways to infuse your plants in just simple water! What are your favorite flavors or techniques?