What are the differences between these preparations and how do you know which one to use when? Here are some basic rules.
Remember that an infusion is like a tea, prepared by pouring boiling water over a handful of herbs and letting them steep for 10 or 15 minutes before drinking. This method is adequate to extract the molecules from flowers, leaves and slender stems. It is also used for herbs that contain resins (pine, fir) or essential oils because these volatile substances evaporate and their benefits are lost if they are subjected to too much heat.
For some plants or parts of plants, an infusion is not hot enough and it is preferable to boil the herb to extract enough of its beneficial components. That is called a decoction. We make decoctions of roots, barks and dried berries. These plant materials are tough and a simple maceration in hot water is insufficient to extract the active principles from the centre of these hard herbs.
- Soak the herbs in a good quantity of cold water for an hour or two to soften the outer layers of the herb.
- Bring to a boil.
- Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. The boiling water will soften and gorge the herb, enabling it to extract its active principles.
- Filter and drink.
A decoction is more concentrated than an infusion, therefore smaller quantities are used, one or two cups of decoction per day. A filtered decoction keeps for two days in the refrigerator and can be drunk hot or cold.
A concentrate is a filtered decoction that simmers and reduces, which concentrates its active principles. Concentrates are used if we need a more potent remedy. They are taken in smaller doses, which makes it easier to take herbs that don’t taste good.
- Prepare a decoction.
- Filter and return to heat.
- Simmer uncovered for a few hours and reduce to half of the original quantity.
A concentrate can keep for two weeks in the refrigerator. Take 20 ml doses, once or twice a day.
A syrup is a concentrate with added sugar (honey, maple syrup, raw sugar) and some alcohol for conservation.
- Make a concentrate which has reduced to one-quarter instead of one half. If you started off with one litre of decoction, reduce it to 250ml.
- While it is still hot, add sugar or honey and let it dissolve. Use one part sugar or honey to four parts liquid.
- Let cool.
- Add a tincture which will act as a conservation agent and a therapeutic agent. You can mix more than one tincture to benefit from the actions of many herbs or to take large quantities of tinctures for an important treatment.
A syrup is an easy way to take multiple herbs together and to mask the bitter taste of some of them.
Make your first syrup with good-tasting plants like elderberries, rosehips or hawthorn berries and add your choice of extracts. You will enjoy always having a health elixir ready and on hand for your personal health problems.