There are many different ways to prepare and ingest herbs – hot and cold infusions, suppositories, oxymels, and syrups are some examples. A few of the most common ways are teas, infusions and alcohol tinctures. Choosing the best method depends on what condition you are treating and the therapeutic effect you are looking for.
Water extracts only the water-soluble constituents like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that feed and nourish the body. Alcohol extracts the chemical constituents and medicinal benefits of the plant. Taking a stinging nettle (Urtica dioca) infusion will give you the nutritional benefits of this plant (and it is a nutritional powerhouse). A stinging nettle tincture will help with hay fever, allergies and chronic stress. Taking both – phenomenal!
An herbal tea is most often used with a single herb or a mixture of herbs for enjoyment or during an illness to help relieve symptoms. For example, ginger tea is great to sip when nauseous or when you have a cold or flu. It will help with symptoms and is warm and relaxing.
Teas have a low concentration of herbs and they are steeped for a short period of time. Because of this short steeping time, you don’t get a high extraction of vitamins and minerals. An herbal tea would not be the best treatment for an acute condition. But, when taken over time, teas can be a great choice for chronic, long term imbalances.
An herbal infusion is a large amount of herbs brewed for a long period of time. I typically infuse 1 cup of herbs in 1 quart of water in a French press overnight. An herbal infusion feeds the body a high dose of vitamins and minerals. The longer steeping time fully extracts the vitamins, and minerals resulting in a “multi-vitamin in a jar”. In addition, our bodies will absorb these vitamins much more effectively than taking them in pill form.
Infusions promote health, support the immune system, nourish our body and provide energy. They contain enough protein, vitamins, minerals, and micro nutrients so you don’t need additional supplementation.
A tincture is made by soaking plant material in alcohol to extract its medicinal properties. Because there is water in the alcohol tincturing process, some vitamins and minerals are also extracted. There are many benefits to taking herbs in this form including:
- Long shelf life
- Optimal absorption and assimilation, particularly for anyone with compromised digestive function
- Portable – no preparation or steeping (great for work or when travelling).
- Taste – an easier way to take bitter or harsh flavored herbs
If you are concerned about the alcohol content, one dose of an alcohol based tincture has approximately the same alcohol content as eating a very ripe banana. You can use a glycerin or vinegar tincture as an alternative, but alcohol will extract the most constituents from the plant material.
This is the basics. Of course, there are many other considerations and it is best to see a qualified herbalist who can help you choose the best options.