Teas, Tisanes, Oil-Infusions, Decoctions, Macerations, Tinctures, and Percolations, oh my!

Herbal medicinal products are pharmaceutical products of plant origin, also known as phytopharmaceuticals. They exclusively contain one or more herbal substances or herbal preparations as active ingredients or combinations of them.

Most people are familiar with a herbal infusion like putting a tea bag or tea ball in a cup of hot water and allowing it to steep a couple minutes before drinking – tea is one of the most common infusions used today. But tea isn’t the only way. Infusions are used to extract vitamins and volatile ingredients from soft ingredients like leaves, flowers, citrus peelings, etc. There are many great ways to infuse plants. Teas, Tisanes, Oil-Infusions, Decoctions, Macerations, Tinctures, and Percolations all are forms of plant infusions used medicinally. Matter of fact, tea is the weakest of these herbal infusions. Let’s take a look at some differences between these Phytopharmaceutical mixtures.

Teas & Tisanes

TEA
Technically, tea refers to the leaves of just one plant native to China. Green tea & black tea, are examples of this type of infusion. Tea is generally made with boiling water and tea leaves steeped for about 5 to 10 minutes before drinking. The short brewing time helps to retain the volatile ingredients like antioxidants while drinking.

TISANE
Many beverages called “tea” are actually not tea. Herbal ‘tea-like’ infusions are actually Tisanes, a French word for “herbal infusion”. Historically consumed for medicinal reasons or as a caffeine-free alternative. Tisane infusions are made from the leaves, bark, roots, berries, seeds, and spices of plants and have a multifarious medicinal effect. Steeped the same way as tea, herbs are let to soak in boiling water for a few minutes before strained for drinking. Of all the infusions, however, typically there is less medicinal value in teas and tisanes than other infusions because it is steeped for only a short time.

Calendula and Castor Oil

OIL-INFUSION
Oil infusions have become more popular with olive oil shops popping up all over the place offering oil-based seasonings. Infused cooking oils and medicinal oil-infusions are typically made in the same fashion – soaking plants in oil. An infusion’s purpose is to extract more nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll from your herb than from tea. It’s considered more medicinal because of this and in addition to producing a more concentrated elixir, it’s often used for preparations that contain hard, woody stems or bark since they need more than just a little warm water to extract their medicinal properties. To make an infusion, add one cup of herb to a quart jar of your favorite carrier oil (e.g., Coconut oil, Grape Seed oil, Avocado oil, Apricot Seed Oil, etc.), vacuum seal the mason jar and let it sit. Depending on the plant part and type you might infuse the mixture for more or less time. Our recommendation for infusion times for Roots/Barks/Seeds is at least 12 hours minimum; Plant Leaves a minimum of 8 hours; Flowers have a 2 hours minimum; and, Berries infuse for at least a 4-hour minimum. You can see how the more fragile parts of the plant need a lot less steeping time than the woody parts. Also, consider the dryness of the plant material. If the plant if fresh-cut the minimum time recommendations can be used. However, with dried plants, you will likely need to use more time than the minimums suggested. Use your judgment to examine the plant material for when it looks and smells “done”. When the plants have completely infused their nutrients into the preparation the plants lose their scent and the oil takes it on. With the vital nutrients infused into the preparation, the infusion is ready to use for cooking, making handmade hygiene products, or for medicinal purposes. You then strain it, making sure to squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the plant material. The remaining plant matter can then be put in your compost.

Watch the tempature to not overheat and denature the phytochemicals.

DECOCTION
The word “decoct” means to concentrate an infusion by cooking it down. A decoction is used to extract primarily the mineral salts and bitter principles of plants from hard materials such as roots, bark, seeds, and wood; however, it is sometime used to ‘simmer-down’ infusions into concentrated forms. These plant materials generally require a low-heat infusion for at least 24 hours and then are allowed to steep for a number of days in a vacuum-sealed mason jar in cool storage.

Steeping plants

MACERATION
Maceration is the process of soaking or slow-steeping plant material to make it softer or to dissolve. Maceration is most commonly used in the wine-making process when macerating fruits with sugar, lemon juice, and spices. Maceration involves a number of biological and chemical processes and is useful to preserve plants by freeing the botanicals from contact with bacteria. Maceration is a process that requires proper control. If maceration proceeds for a longer time than the correct time, it breaks down plants and makes it overly mushy or may denature the phytochemicals.

TINCTURE
A tincture is a liquid preparation produced by using Comminution (i.e., reduction) and Maceration to prepare plant material in a mixture of alcohol, glycerine, or water at room temperature over a prescribed period of time. The mixture is then pressed and filtered to yield a fluid into which suspend active constituents of the herb. Effectively any herb can be converted into a tincture, but tinctures are not appropriate to all therapeutic strategies. One consideration of using alcohol-based solvents is that the tonics may not be appropriate to use for some people. Considering which solvent you use for your tincture is important. Glycerine is a better solvent of natural color transfers and tannin-suspension than alcohol. In fact, some herbalists will only use glycerine tinctures for tannin-rich remedies and other constituents that tend towards sedimentation.

PERCOLATION
Percolation is a more challenging method of making tinctures which uses seeping a substance through plant matter or filtering a liquid through a porous substance/material in order to make use of gravity to extract constituents from botanicals. In simpler terms, think of making coffee. Sometimes called the ‘menstruum and marc’ method – where an alcohol, oil or water (the menstruum) is allowed to slowly drip through the marc (the herbs) to pull the micronutrients from the plants. The entire process unusually takes a few days for herbal compounds and generally requires specific instruments.


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