When I first started exploring the world of herbs, it was extremely hard for me to find any information online on the proper extraction methods used with herbs. Most people either have recipes for it and tell you what you need, but directions seem vague and then there’s the question of “Well how do I actually take the herb?” and “When?” Infusion is the most popular form of extracting, but not the most potent. In this blog I’m going to present the various ways of extraction to get the fullest benefit from your herbs. Keep in mind, the effectiveness and value of most herbs are highest using fresh plants, freshly gathered herbs, but there are some herbs which only should be used dried. If you use the wrong kind of process in preparing your remedy however, you can ruin the value the herb puts forth and not get any benefit. It is, therefore, very important to extract the herb and pay attention to what type of plant you are wanting to extract from, the plant parts being used, the elements of the plant to be extracted, the form in which the extraction will be taken or applied, and the desired remedy/effect you are wanting to get from the plant. Whether you have fresh herbs or not, these methods will work with either. Before I get into that though, let me talk quickly on proper storage methods and what type of containers you should be using. Wikihow has a blog on this Here and this is some good information to review as well concerning storage of tinctures or extracts.
Prepared remedies made with alcohol store the longest (2-3 years if not more). All remedies should be stored in glass with stainless steel lid, no plastic. It’s desirable to have dark, amber glass, but if using clear glass, just make sure to store in a cool, dark place. I put most of my extracts in the fridge so it keeps longer. If preparing an ointment, you can use a little gum benzoin or tincture of benzoin (one drop per ounce of fat). This will preserve most salves or ointments. It is also very important to sterilize your containers. You can do this fairly quickly by pre-heating your oven to 350 with glass jars in there (so they both rise with the heat and you do not get cracking of the glass) and once done pre-heating, leave the jars in there for an additional 30 minutes. Careful handling the jars afterwards as they will be very hot. You can use plain old Mason jars or for high quality dark, amber glass jars with and/or without a dropper, I’d recommend Starwest Botanicals.
Infusion of herbs is pretty much concocting a tea. It’s the easiest and most common method made by combining boiling water with the herb. This is typically the green leafy parts, stems, or the flowers, and steeping to extract their active ingredients. Timeframe for steeping is 10-15 minutes and should be done while covered so that the volatile elements in the infusion do not evaporate and stay in the tea. Typically, it’s 1 tsp dried herbs per 1 cup boiled water for adults. And one-third to two-thirds the adult dose for children and infants (so 1/4 tsp per 2 cups boiled water or if a very potent plant, 1/8 tsp per 2 cups boiled water.) Some herbs are not safe for infants or pregnant women. Make sure you educate yourself on this to prevent harm. I disclose this in my Herbs and Uses pages on the herbs listed there, but let me know if there’s a certain herb you are unsure of. If infusing a very potent plant such as Goldenseal, you’d want to use the children’s dose for the weak and elderly as well. If using fresh plants, the usual amount is about 1/2 to 1 ounce freshly chopped herb (although some people like to brew whole pieces of the plant, I find chopping prior allows more active ingredients to be released into the water) to a pint of water. Depending on the herb and what you are trying to remedy, you’ll want to be aware of how often you should drink the tea. 2-3 cups 2-3 times a day is typical for one to two weeks for most ailments, but you may need to do this longer. Some herbs should ONLY be taken for two weeks. I also disclose this in the herbs I have listed on this site.
This method is primarily used when you want to extract the mineral salts and create bitters. You may have heard of ‘Swedish Bitters’. That is made using this method. Where infusion is extracting the vitamins and volatile ingredients. Here you are extracting the salts and bitter principles of the plant. Hard pieces of the plants should be used in this method. This would be your roots, wood, bark, and seeds. This method requires boiling about a half ounce plant parts per 1 cup of boiling water in an enameled or nonmetallic pot. I really like Dr. Mercola’s ceramic pots for this method. Green plant parts can be added to cold water, brought to a boil, and boiled for 3 to 4 minutes; or the parts can be added to boiling water and then boiled for the same amount of time. Steep this mixture covered for 2-3 minutes. Hard parts such as the root will need to be steeped about 10-15 minutes or longer to extract their ingredients. Strain this and drink. Directions for taking this are the same as the directions for Infusions above.
This method uses cold water to preserve the most volatile ingredients and extract only minor amounts of mineral salts and bitters. It also takes a lot longer so if you are a patient person you can try this method. 🙂 Add about double the amount of plant material used for an infusion to cold water in an enameled or nonmetallic pot. Let the mixture sit for 8-12 hours, strain, and the drink is ready. Directions for taking this are the same as for Infusions above.
This method should only be used with fresh plants. You will chop up the fresh plants or plant parts into small pieces and press to squeeze out the juice. If you have a juicing machine you can use this or a pestle and mortar work as well (depending on the plant). If using a pestle and mortar, add a little water to the pressed material and press again to get the rest. This is a good method for extracting water-soluble constituents, especially those sensitive to heat. It is also excellent for getting vitamins and minerals from the plant, but the juice must be taken within a short time after pressing as the quality of these vitamins and minerals will degrade over time. Vitamins decline rapidly and fermentation usually sets in. Starwest Botanicals sells some really good quality pestle and mortars.
This method is used with dried plant parts. For this method, you will need a pestle and mortar. I’d recommend buying one from Starwest Botanicals. Grind the dried herb up using this until you have a powder. This powder can then be taken with water, milk, or used in soup and in cooking, sprinkled on food; or swallowed in gelatin capsules which Starwest Botanicals also sells. A No. 0 capsule holds about 10 grains; No. 00 holds about 15 grains. The most common dose for powders is the amount that you can pick up on the tip of a dinner knife.
Use an enameled or nonmetallic pot and take about 1 cup fresh/dried herb to 2 cups of boiling water and 1 cup of organic coconut sugar or raw honey. Bring the mixture to a boil, simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, mesh up the herb in the water, add more coconut sugar or raw honey, bring to a boil again, and then simmer. Make sure the sugar and honey is dissolved. Strain through a sieve and bottle. Keeps about 1 year in the fridge. This is especially popular for administering herbs to children. The most popular herbs used in this method are typically elderberry and rose hips. Check out my page on Rose Hips for more info.
This method is most often done using the powdered form of the herb (see Powder section about to make this). You will take 1 to 4 ounces of powdered herb (equal parts of each herb if combining them and this amount depends on the potency of the herbs being used so you may need to use less) with 8 to 12 ounces of alcohol. I recommend at least 80% alcohol and the alcohol should be good quality vodka like Grey Goose. Why vodka? Because it’s mostly tasteless. DO NOT USE RUBBING ALCOHOL OR HYDROGEN PEROXIDE. Add purified water to this mixture to make a 50% alcohol solution. This is just diluting the alcohol. Let stand covered for 2-8 weeks (depending on the herbs used) in a cool, dark place. This mixture should ONLY be made in glass. Shake the mixture once or twice a day while it is standing. When it’s done, strain and pour the liquid into a glass bottle suitable for storage. I recommend dark, amber glass and if taking orally, a glass bottle with a dropper. Starwest Botanicals carries these. You can add raw honey to this to sweeten it, just mix it well. In regard to dosage, it will depend on how many drops and how often you take it with each herb. The more potent the herb, the less you need of it. Typically 4 drops under the tongue a day should do, but cut this to a 1/3 for children. Herb Lore has a really good dosage guide for children. I know it’s pertaining to their products, but this is a typical guide that should be used for most tinctures. This method can also be used with those herbs not meant for oral consumption, such as Horse Chestnut, which is really good applied to the skin in reducing varicose veins, but is poisonous to eat. Several drops of Horse Chestnut tincture in your lotion applied to the skin 2 times a day is beneficial.
To make this is a combination of two methods. You’ll use one of the extraction methods I’ve already listed about to produce a remedy. Once you have the remedy made, mix well one part of the remedy with four parts hot petroleum jelly, organic lard, or similar substance. For purists, an old method is to boil the ingredients in purified water until the desired properties are extracted. Strain the liquid, add the decoction to organic olive, coconut, almond, or sunflower oil, and simmer until the water has completely evaporated. Add organic beeswax as needed to maintain a firm consistency. Melt the mixture by heating slowly, and stir until completely blended. As pointed out above, a little gum benzoin or a drop of benzoin tincture per 1 ounce of fat will help to preserve the ointment.
This method is used to apply a remedy to a skin area with moist heat. To prepare, you will bruise or crush the medicinal parts of the plant using a pestle and mortar to a pulpy mass. Starwest Botanicals carries this. You will then proceed in heating this up using an enameled or nonmetallic pot. If using dried herbs (or if needed even with fresh plants), moisten the plant materials by mixing with a hot, soft substance, such as moist flower or organic corn meal, or a mixture of organic bread and milk. Apply this directly to the skin by spreading the paste or pulp on a wet, hot cloth, apply, and wrap the cloth around to help retain moisture and heat. Moisten the cloth with hot water periodically as necessary. Where irritant herbs are involved (as in a mustard plant), keep the paste between two pieces of cloth to prevent direct contact with the skin; after removing the poultice, wash the area well with water or herbal tea (especially Chamomile or Mugwort) to remove any residue that may have gotten on the skin. You can use a poultice to soothe or to draw impurities from the body, depending on which plant or plants you use.
Create an infusion of decoction as stated above and pour into a glass or ceramic bowl. Soak a clean cloth or towel in this, wring out, and apply as hot as possible to the affected area. A fomentation has about the same application as a poultice, but is generally less potent.
Create an infusion of decoction as stated above and pour into a glass or ceramic bowl. Make sure this has been cooled. You can set the bowl on another bowl of ice cubes to better achieve this effect. Soak a clean cloth or towel in this, wring out, and apply to the affected area. Leave on until it is warmed by body heat, usually 15 to 20 minutes. Repeat application with a fresh, cool compress. Continue until relieved.
These are some really great ways on how to extract from herbs and are a must to know if you plan on creating your own home remedies. Another really great way is to add the dried or fresh herb to a hot bath. Typically 1 cup chopped fresh or 1/4 cup dried placed into a bath satchel and hung off the edge of the bath. Some people just place this directly into the bath, but I wouldn’t recommend this if you don’t have a good drain catcher to catch the herb when the bath drains. This method is called Hydrotherapy and allows the body to not only soak and take in the active ingredients of an herb, but allows for steaming or inhalation of the volatile compounds of the herb. This method is extremely popular with Eucalyptus, Lemon Balm, or Lavender. I’ve used this method using Lavender with my daughter when she was a baby to help soothe her as Lavender is very calming to the central nervous system. Mineral salts can also be added to baths to help improve detoxification and healing. Epsom salt is great for this.
The Herbal Academy offers some really great training and courses on extracting herbs from beginner to advanced. I highly recommend checking them out.
Feel free to comment below on any methods you’ve tried or what worked for you! Happy extracting! 🙂
References: “The Herb Book”, by John Lust