Tools for Water Extraction

Whenever we think about herbs, one of our primary concerns is how to extract the active constituents in the best manner.  As Herbalist James Green says in the Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook (a book we use in our fundamentals program) We want to get the right constituents out, we want the delivery method to be effective, and we want the extraction to last. We also like to make the extraction practice as accessible as possible, which is why water is so ideal.

Water extraction, also called infusion or decoction, has been used for centuries. It’s a universal delivery method that almost every person and culture has access to. The one drawback to using water is the very short shelf life, even with refrigeration it won’t last more than 48 hours.  Although you can easily freeze it for use later on, but that takes up even more space!

However, water does an amazing job at drawing out many constituents we are looking for – mucilage, vitamins, minerals, polysaccharides, tannins, and antioxidants to name a few. Plus, enjoying a warm cup of tea, breathing in the scent, and wrapping your hand around a toasty mug has it’s stress-relieving advantages. So, as long as you have a few handy tools, making a water infusion can be very convenient and rewarding.

Some simple tools

French press – I love the convenience of a french press because it allows you to make more than 1 cup at a time thus avoiding having to dirty more tools and spend more time. Making “tea” in a French Press is very similar to brewing coffee: Simply place the herbs in the pot, cover them with hot water and secure the lid, really make sure it’s on so the volatile oils don’t just float right out! Once it has steeped the right amount of time, I’d give it at least 15 minutes, simply press the plunger down and it’s ready to drink. You can even use it for making nourishing herbal infusions by following the same directions but leaving it on the counter or putting it in the refrigerator overnight to extract all the nutrients before plunging.

Tea Bags – I make sure to purchase tea bags that are not bleached. I have a large array of sizes from very small to large. Some of my tea bags are cloth, while others are disposable one-off bags for traveling. 

Mason Jars of all sizes – Jars make it easy to brew sun tea, make cold infusions or you can use it as a replacement for a mug. The benefit here is the ability to put the lid on and pop it into the refrigerator to consume later.

Fine Mesh Tea Infuser – I tend to stay away from most tea infusers because they leave a lot of finer tea pieces in the cup. This doesn’t really bother me, but most of my friends don’t like “floaties” in their beverages. This particular tea infuser is amazing!

I love it because it opens on both the top and the bottom, making cleaning super easy. It has very fine mesh screen keeping everything inside, and it’s large enough to put a meaningful amount of herb in the infuser while still providing room for the herbs to expand, which they will as they absorb the water.

For making decoctions I simply use a non-reactive pot and a fine-mesh strainer. I throw the loose herbs into the pot, cover with the right amount of water and simmer. Many times I will let it sit overnight first to let the herbs absorb some of the water, but it isn’t necessary.

ProTip- try to use a taller and more narrow pot because it will prevent the water from simmering down too quickly. When I’ve used shorter, wider pots the water evaporated so quickly that I ended up accidentally burning the herbs.  OOPS!

Making herbal preparations doesn’t have to be difficult nor do you have to have a bunch of special equipment. Using the equipment you have on hand is less expensive plus it’s always better to give each tool multiple purposes in your kitchen.

Do you have a favorite tool you use to make infusions/decoctions? Share your thoughts!

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