From Mikaela Reuben
Herbal infusions are a common practice among herbalists, naturopaths and other health practitioners. Making an infusion is the simplest way to extract the healing properties of a plant. Brewing a cup of tea is an example of an herbal infusion, where the desired constituents are extracted from the herb with the use of boiling water. Some ingredients offer even greater benefits when infused in cold water, such as chamomile, peppermint, and nettles. Cold brew extracts a different chemical composition and flavor from the herbs and is a wonderful technique to explore in the summertime when cold drinks are more appealing.
Fresh or dried herbs can be used for infusions. It is best to lightly muddle or “slap” the herbs before infusing – this allows the natural fragrance to release. It is ideal to use herbs with high volatile oil and flavonoid content. Volatile oils are the components of herbs that are extracted to make essential oils to be used for aromatherapy and are what give an herb a distinct smell. Flavonoids, on the other hand, are the chemical aspect of the plant responsible for UV protection that fight against free radicals.
Method: Fill a large jar (32oz) with cold water, put approximately 1 oz of herb in a cheesecloth or tea bag in the water, seal the jar and infuse overnight (or for 8-12 hours). I usually add a little more than this as I like it stronger and a tea bag too!
The possibilities are endless. Choose just one herb, or mix and match! You can add your favorite tea bags, or just fresh or dried herbs. Creating infusions is helpful not only to encourage hydration but in many cases, the process adds more nutrients to the water, increasing flavor and health. Always understand the properties of an herb before you use it!
Try fresh peppermint with a green tea bag, or fresh ginger and chamomile mixed, licorice or rosemary are totally satisfying alone, and lemongrass pairs well with white tea and tastes citrus-like and refreshing.
You can also use these infusions to make ice cubes for your summer patio drinks!
Here is a list of noteworthy and healthy herbs to explore in your cold infusions:
Peppermint or Mint
These both make very refreshing, easy to drink infusions that can be prepared hot or cold. Leaves can be lightly muddled before hand to help release the volatile oils. Mint infusions work to soothe digestive issues by calming and soothing the digestive lining and peppermint has a cooling effect. Peppermint and mint have both been known to help with nausea.
Chamomile is a flower head commonly used as a hot infusion for tea but is delightful as a cold infusion as well. It pairs beautifully with lemon and honey. Chamomile is a nervous system sedative, so it is a great option to calm the nerves, say before a big presentation at school or an important job interview. Because of its calming qualities, it is also a nice option to drink before bed. Chamomile is an anti-spasmodic, so it will calm muscles and organs, where needed. Chamomile, like mint and ginger, is a carminative, working to sooth the linings of the digestive tract in any cases of upset or disturbance.
Dandelion infusion can be made from the green leaves of the dandelion plant. This herb is quite bitter. Many enjoy this herb in a cold tea. It is very supportive of the liver so is great to consume during any form of detoxification process. Dandelion is also very high in vitamin A (higher than carrots! – 14,000IUs in just 100g of leaves). The leaves of the dandelion plant also act as a diuretic. They contain anti-inflammatory properties as well.
Fennel is very high in volatile oils and the seeds should be slightly crushed before using to release these oils and make them more accessible. Fennel acts as a carminative, soothing digestion in times of stress. It relaxes the intestinal walls and allows any gas or discomfort to pass more easily. Fennel seeds have trace amounts of minerals.
Rosemary is high in volatile oils and flavonoids, making it a great herb for an infusion. Rosemary has been shown to work as a nervous system relaxant. It has also been linked with improvements in memory, vision and mental clarity and has been shown to improve blood flow. Rosemary tastes great with a variety of fruit (orange, strawberry etc).
Ginger is very useful as a digestive tonic. It is “carminative”, meaning it can help to calm digestive disturbances such as cramping or gas. It also helps to stimulate digestion by increasing saliva production so it is helpful to drink before or after eating. Ginger is also considered to be hepatoprotective (protective of the liver). It is anti-inflammatory, helping to combat systemic inflammation issues and is complementary to an anti-inflammatory diet. I like to peel and chop first before using for infusions.
Flowers and berries can be used to make an infusion. Elderberry is an herb known for its powerful immunoprotective properties. It is wise to consume elderberry syrups and infusions when you begin to feel ill with a cold or a fever. It also has a diuretic effect. The flowers contain anti-catarrhal properties, meaning they help to remove mucous from the body in times of sickness. It is very high in vitamin C.
Nettles are a very nutrient dense leaf used to make tea. They are an abundant source of calcium, manganese, vitamin K, vitamin A and fiber. They are a diuretic and act as a detoxifier in the body. It is important to drink nettles in small amounts as some people experience a sensitivity or allergic reaction.
Unlike most other infusions, licorice can be infused by adding the root to water. Licorice is great for anyone suffering from stress. It acts as an adrenal tonic, either strengthening or weakening the action of the adrenal glands depending on what the body requires. Licorice is also a hepatoprotective, supporting the liver in times of need. It has been helpful in many cases of gastric ulcers.
**** Please note that herbs are used as medicine in certain cases and people can have adverse reactions to them. When trying them for the first time please try small amounts and keep them separate.