With words like infusion, decoction, tincture, and glycerite being thrown around, I figured it would be best if I wrote you a little herbal preparations guide so that you can choose a delivery method that fits with your lifestyle and goals. This will take you one step closer to becoming the plant witch you know you want to be!
Water is a lovely menstruum, or solvent, for plant matter. It is especially effective for extracting vitamins and minerals from plants.
Infusions. An infusion is made by placing dried or fresh herb in a pot or container with a lid, pouring boiling water overtop and letting it steep for 10 to 15 minutes before straining. It is the best option if you are using leaves or flowers, as they are the most delicate parts of the plant and can be damaged with excess heat.
Decoctions. A decoction is the preferred preparation for woody plants, barks, roots, and berries. This plant matter is tougher and therefore requires a little more TLC to release all of its medicine! For this method you place the herbs in a pot with filtered water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, covered. Strain and enjoy.
Water based preparations are extremely valuable medicine. Many of us look at herbal teas as somehow less-than other forms of medicines or supplements. Because of our human tendency to overcomplicate things, the simplicity of a herbal tea must mean that it's somehow less effective. But in reality, teas are something I will always try to recommend first before other methods, for a few reasons! They are hydrating, packed with vitamins and minerals, and also bypass digestion. This makes teas (and tinctures--liquid forms of medicine) ideal for individuals struggling with digestive health issues. Capsules and dry preparations need to be processed by the body via digestion before the medicinal constituents can be used by the body. In cases of compromised digestion, an individual may not be getting as much out of their medicine as they would like!
Alcohol is an ideal solvent for medicinal plant constituents, and when combined with water is a powerhouse. Alcohol acts as a preservative, and so this form is great to have on hand for fast and effective medicine.
Tinctures. An alcohol, glycerine, or vinegar extract is called a tincture. Herbs are mixed with alcohol, in the correct proportions, or glycerine, and left to macerate for at least a month before straining and bottling. Tinctures are much stronger, volume for volume, than infusions and decoctions and so only a few drops at a time are taken. Drops can be placed on or under the tongue for immediate absorption (although the taste can be quite strong), placed in water or juice, or placed in hot water for a tea. When a tincture is put into hot water some of the alcohol content evaporates, leaving most of the herbal constituents in the water. Tinctures can also be added to foot baths (our feet are incredible for absorbing medicines!), capsules, lozenges, and smoothies.
Although alcohol is the most effective at extracting medicinal properties while also preserving the tincture, glycerine is a nice option for children or those wanting an alcohol-free remedy. Vinegars are also excellent for culinary use, and for extracting minerals from more nutritive herbs.
Herbs can be made into capsules, tablets, or lozenges for consumption. Many people find the convenience of capsules to be a bonus when trying to add herbs into their self-care routine. They can be taken at any time, are tasteless, and are already prepared and shelf-stable.
Herbs can also be used externally with great results. Herbal baths are a gentle but effective way to experience a herbs medicinal properties, and are often a good alternative for children rather than taking them internally. Herbal oils can be applied to the skin to soothe irritation and provide nourishment, and poultices, herbs made into a paste and applied to the skin, are wonderful remedies for certain ailments such as cough and chest congestion, or wound healing.
Flower essences are also a lovely way to bring plant magic into your life. They are remedies for energetic imbalances and emotional disturbances in your life. They are the energetic essence of the plant that they come from, and all plants have different properties and energies that work synergistically with ours. If you need emotional support, try turning to flower essences.
Voila. You are now a beginner plant witch! Now that you know all of the preparations, share in the comments which ones you gravitate towards! I would love to provide you with more of what you are looking for.