Making Basic Extracts: Extracting Herbs in Water

Making your own herbal extracts in enjoyable and educational. The process of extracting herbs will teach you a lot about different kinds of herbs and help you understand how to use them better.

The key to using good extracts is to start with high-quality plant material. You want to ensure that your herbs are as fresh as possible. Once you have your plant material, you can turn to liquid extracts using a variety of solvents and extraction methods.

Water-Based Extractions

Water extraction is the oldest and most basic method for making herbal medicine.


Herbal teas are easy to make and are a good start to learning to use herbal remedies. A hot or cold infusion can be made from fresh, dried, or powdered herbs. An infusion is sometimes called a tisane, which is a French word for tea. Teas are cheap, simple, and effective, and require only a short time to prepare.

Infusions are a pleasant way to take some herbs but are less palatable when the herb has a disagreeable flavor. Many constituents, especially the more bitter and astringent principles, are not released into the water in a simple tea but need to be extracted by more potent infusions or decoctions. Aromatic principles are lost if the container is left uncovered while the herbs are steeping.

Infusions are used for topical applications as rinses, compresses, and foot soaks. An infusion may have a single ingredient or many. It may be taken hot or cold, inhaled as a vapor, used to perfume a pillow, or enjoyed in a bath.

Hot Infusions

Hot infusions are best for leaves and flowers, whole medicinal properties including vitamins and volatile oils, are easily released into the water. To make a hot infusion, pour boiled water over the herb. Cover the container. Use a canning jar and the purest water you can get. Let the infusion steep for at least 15 minutes, depending on the desired strength, then strain the infusion into a cup. Drink it lukewarm or cool, but take it hot to break up a cold or cough. Teas can be sweetened with honey or raw sugar, or flavored with herbs such as lemon verbena or mint. Make infusions fresh each day, or refrigerate for up to three days.

Medicinal infusions steep for a much longer time than a regular cup of tea.

Weak Infusion Use 15 grams of herb per liter of water, or 1/2 ounce per quart. The steeping time varies depending on what part of the plant is used. Steep leaves for 1 hour, flowers for 30 minutes, crushed seeds for 15 minutes, and bark and roots for 4 hours.

Standard Infusion Steep 30 grams of the herb in 1 liter of hot water, or 1 ounce per quart, for 30 - 60 minutes. Strain well, pressing as much water out of the herb as possible, and drink the tea. Use within a day.

Strong Infusion Make a standard infusion and steep for 8 hours.

Cold Infusions

A cold infusion is best for herbs with highly volatile constituents or constituents that are damaged by heat. Soak 15 grams of the herb in 1 liter of cold water for 8 to 12 hours. Strain and drink. Make a fresh infusion daily.


When your medicinal plant is tough, as in the bark, roots, rhizomes, seeds, nuts, or woody stems, you need to use the decoction method to extract the plant constituents. Decoct green plant parts if you are trying to extract mineral salts. A decoction is like a tea, except that the herb is simmered in water until some of the liquid has evaporated. Simmering evaporates volatile principles, so the decoction method is not good for aromatic herbs. 

Like infusions, decoctions may contain one ingredient or many. They may be ingested hot or cold or applied externally. Make decoctions fresh daily and refrigerate unused tea. A decoction should keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Standard Decoction Put 30 grams of herb and 1 liter of water in a pot, cover, and bring to a low simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and steep for an additional hour.

Strong Decoction Place 30 grams of herb and 2 liters of water in a pot. Bring to a low simmer until the water is reduced by half.


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