Long Herbal Infusions
Why Drink Nourishing Long Herbal Infusions?
During the winter, people ask me what they can do to make up for the generous consumption of sweets, beer and other comfort foods and drinks that people use to keep up their spirits in the dark of the year. Though you cannot make up for the impact of these foods on your metabolism, you can drink nourishing long herbal infusions to help replace the nutrients lost, reduce cravings for less healthy beverages and foods, and help heal all kinds of health issues all the year round.
Nourishing long herbal infusions provide large quantities of calcium and other minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids and proteins in their most natural form.They also contain anti-cancer phytochemicals and antioxidants, as well as unique combinations of specific nutrients for building healthy bones, supporting the immune system, calming the nerves, stabilizing blood sugar, improving digestion and more, depending on the herb(s) you choose. They are much more effective than nutritional supplements due to their superior absorbability. They are also safer and significantly less expensive!
I have seen nourishing long herbal infusions, taken over time, heal the following health problems: osteoporosis, anxiety, adrenal burnout, eczema, diabetes, sinus problems, severe allergies, hormonal difficulties, infertility, joint pain, high blood pressure, and more. Please note that there are other herbal preparations that can be used to heal some of these conditions and that the choice of herb matters. However, all nourishing long infusions will provide large amounts of nutrition that cannot be obtained from teas or tinctures.
Working with people as a practitioner over the last several decades, I have noticed that there is no single other food or beverage which can have such a powerful impact on improving health in everyday life, no matter what your health issues are. Drinking long herbal infusions helps people to have more energy and resilience during stressful times. People sleep better because they have enough nutrients to soothe and support their nervous system. Many a time I’ve had a client or student tell me that when they begin to drink nourishing long herbal infusions on a regular basis, their cravings for unhealthy beverages such as soda are reduced or eliminated. I have found that this approach of adding nutrition first, rather than cutting out all the “bad” foods, accomplishes the goal of greater health without as much trauma and struggle. Often, the craving for “bad” foods (usually stimulants and sedatives) occurs because the body is desperate to function without the nutrition it needs. Give it the nutrition, it doesn’t need the stimulants/sedatives as much.
Why a long infusion, as opposed to a tea? Because you can get certain nutrients out of a dried plant only after soaking it in hot water for a long time. Scientific studies have shown that it takes at least four hours for a significant amount of minerals to extract into the water, and longer (up to eight hours) for roots, which are tougher and take longer to release their medicinal constituents into the water. If you make a cup of nettle tea (1-2 teaspoons steeped in hot water for ten minutes), you would get about 5-10 mg of calcium, but if you make a cup of nettle long infusion (1 oz. steeped in 1 quart hot water for a minimum of four hours), you will get over 200 mg of calcium per cup. And not just the calcium, but all the nutritional co-factors necessary to effectively assimilate calcium, because calcium by itself is not well utilized by the body.
Not all herbs lend themselves to a useful preparation as a long infusion. A long brew makes some herbs unpalatable. This is nature’s way of saying you don’t need that much of those strong medicinal constituents, and that this preparation may even be harmful. As a young herbalist (if I had dared to call myself that in those days), I remember hearing about long infusions and thinking, yes, this is the way to go! So I made myself some St. John’s Wort long infusion. Can some of you guess what happened? I nearly gagged on the resulting brew - the word “vile” comes to mind! That is because St. John’s Wort contains a larger number of medicinal constituents that are stimulating/sedating, and a smaller number that are primarily nourishing – just the opposite of what we want in a long infusion.
Although this particular herb is too strong (stimulating/sedating) to prepare as a long infusion, it does work quite well as a tincture. Herbs that are aromatic, intensely bitter or otherwise strongly stimulating/sedating are better as teas, tinctures or other preparations. Examples of herbs that are safe as teas but that could be harmful or even toxic as a long infusion are chamomile and black tea.
Herbs that do make effective long infusions have the following properties: One, their medicinal constituents (phytochemicals) are primarily nutritive rather than stimulating/sedating. This is what gives nourishing long infusions their characteristic tastes: bland, sweet or earthy. Two, their medicinal constituents are best extracted into water (rather than alcohol, for example). There are many herbs to choose from, depending on your needs – see the list below. Each long infusion herb has its own medicinal properties, actions and uses in addition to its nutrition – choose one or more based on your health needs and your sense of taste.
Nourishing long herbal infusions can be enjoyed on a one-time basis to provide nutrition, thereby improving your energy and performance for the day. They can also be used on a regular basis as part of a healthy diet. Some people like to rotate them for variety, while others stick with one herb over a length of time as a tonic to help treat a particular health condition (2 cups daily for a minimum of two months). It’s fine to add honey, milk or a pinch of cinnamon, and you can drink them warm, iced or room temperature – listen to your body’s preferences.
Long infusions are easy to make (instructions included below), and one pound is enough for one month’s supply of two cups of infusion daily. Though they need to steep for a length of time, they don’t take any longer to actually make than a regular cup of tea. You may be surprised to discover that some family members take to long infusions happily and naturally, with their improved mood and resilience of benefit to everyone. One of my apprentices has a fifteen year old son who likes his oatstraw infusion so much he makes it for himself on a regular basis. I use long herbal infusions as my daily beverage, and when I don’t drink them, I can tell how much they help by what I am missing: energy, stamina, and steady nerves. Get your year off to a nourishing start by using the instructions below to make long herbal infusions for yourself!
Long Infusion Herbs and a few of their uses
Oatstraw - strong and steady nerves, stable blood sugar, osteoporosis, eczema
Nettle - energy, adrenal restorative, hormonal normalizer, immune, lungs, osteoporosis, vein and circulatory tonic, digestion
Comfrey - strengthens and heals bones, tendons and ligaments, repairs inflamed tissues in the digestive system and skin, memory
Mullein - lungs, coughs, congestion, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic
Red Clover - nerves, lungs, lymph, fertility, hot flashes
How to Make a Long Herbal Infusion
1. Take one ounce of chosen dried herb (Your best guesstimate is ok if you don’t have a scale.) Rough guide: 1/8 to ¼ of a jar. Less for finely ground herbs, less for heavier herbs like roots, more for fluffy herbs that take up a lot of room.
2. Place in a canning jar. Use a one quart jar for leaves (such as comfrey), or hardy flowers (such as red clover), one pint jar for roots, barks, or berries (such as burdock root or rose hips).
3. Cover completely with boiling water, stir with chopstick or knife and add more water until full.
4. Place lid on, and let sit four to eight hours for leaves or hardy flowers (such as red clover), eight hours for roots. Many people make their infusions in the evening and then strain them in the morning.
5. When done brewing, strain and refrigerate. Infusion will keep for 48 hours in the refrigerator. (After that, the proteins start to break down and the brew will taste off.)
6. Infusions may be reheated (preferably do not boil, but still OK to drink if it does boil), iced, sweetened, milk added, etc. Some do well with salt or tamari, such as nettle.
Most infusions contain large quantities of calcium, magnesium and other minerals, including trace minerals, in their most absorbable form. They also contain essential fatty acids, vitamins and protein. In addition, they each have particular medicinal qualities, actions and uses.
Many nourishing and tonifying herbs can be used as long infusions, including Oatstraw, Comfrey leaves, Red Clover blossoms, Nettle leaves/stalks, Violet leaves, Linden blossoms, Chickweed herb, Burdock root, Dandelion root.
© Kathleen Wildwood 2015