Distillates, Hydrosols, Tinctures, Syrup’s & More.

Distillates and Hydrosols:

The aromatic liquids that remain after essential oils have been distilled from plants.
We use distillates in herbal preparations, in spritzers as a skin freshener, and if we are sure of the source {if we make them ourselves or know the maker}, in culinary recipes and beverages. If the distillate is made with a non-culinary herb-for instance, clary sage-we do not ingest it.


Plant extracts preserved with diluted alcohol or glycerin.
The folk method for tincturing is to cover a single, powdered dried herb with 80-proof vodka or other spirits in a clean, labeled glass jar. Fresh, crushed plant material should be covered with 90-proof alcohol because the water contained in the fresh plant dilutes the tincture. The tincture is shaken twice daily. The herb macerated for two days to six weeks. The amount of time is determined by the texture of the herb {whether it is root, bark or leaf}. Hard, dense plant materials like roots and bark generally take longer than dried leaves.

Infusions, Decoctions

Health made simple: Prepare medicines in your kitchen, using a few herbs and simple techniques as ancient as time.

The Basics: Infusions, Decoctions


A beverage made from herbs.
The words simple and tisane were used in the past to describe a beverage made with herbs {usually a single herb rather than a combination}. To make an infusion, steep or soak herb leaves or flowers in water heated to just below the boiling point. You also can infuse herbs in juice, milk, cream, alcohol or vinegar to extract plant’s flavors or active constituents. Heat the liquid barely to a boil, drop in leaves and/or flowers, cover the vessel and allow herbs to steep for 3 to 10 minutes. Strain the infusion and drink hot or cooled to room temperature. It is best to use the infusion on the day it is prepared; otherwise, refrigerate it after it has cooled to room temperature and use it by the next day. Although it takes longer, infusions can be prepared without heat by steeping the herbs for 4 to 6 hours. Keep refrigerated and use within two days of preparation.


A beverage of cured tea leaves {Camellia sinensis} infused in boiling water. Tea has mild stimulant and tonic properties. {A tonic invigorates and/or strengthens the body.} Tea contains the alkaloid caffeine and is astringent because it contains tannins “Herbal tea” refers to any of numerous aromatic and/or medicinal plants infused in water to make a tea-like beverage.


Made by boiling the harder parts of plants such as roots, bark or berries {rather than leaves or flowers} to extract flavor or an active constituent.
For a decoction, the proportions usually are 5 parts medicinal herb to 100 parts water. The cooking time varies depending on the plant; it generally is 15 minutes to 1 hour. For instance, a softer root like fresh gingerroot decocts for about 20 minutes, while a hard bark or root, or dried berries, might take up to an hour to soften. Decoctions can be taken hot, warm or at room temperature. Once cooled, refrigerate and use within 24 hours.
Tip: Do Not Decoct These Herbs:
Some plants valued for their volatile oils, such as mint and rosemary, don’t lend themselves to decoction because their oils will be lost in the decoction’s steam. The mucilage of such herbs as senna and slippery elm is rendered useless in boiling water. If these plants are to be used with other herbs, add them after the solution has been removed from the heat and let the mixture steep briefly.

Herbal Infusion.

Sometimes we prepare a herb infusion with a single herb or flower.
However, we also use a combination of two or three herbs to make a blend.
To prepare 1 cup, quarter the recipe.
Generous 2 cups packed fresh herb leaves and flowers
1-quart water
1. Rinse herbs if they are dirty and pat or spin them dry. Bring water barely to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan and then remove from heat. Add herb leaves and cover.
2. For a beverage, steep for about 5 minutes, taste it for desired strength and serve, or let steep for a few minutes more. It can be steeped for up to 30 minutes, but keep in mind that the longer the herb is infused, the more starches and tannins will be extracted from the herb into the solution, which can cloud the infusion and give it a bitter taste.

Healing Tonics.

The concept of using tonics is as old as herbalism itself.
To tonify is to nourish, strengthen, and increase the vitality of the body and internal organs.
Rather than waiting until you become ill and then trying to fix the problem, tonics offer the proactive step of strengthening and building up the body.
Herbs have the profound ability to promote health, and herbal tonics have the unique ability to nourish, fortify, and balance the major organ systems of the body. Tonic herbs are herbs that are nutritive and vitamin-and-mineral-rich. These plants are usually appropriate for long-term use since they work slowly and steadily to strengthen the body and its organ systems.
Some tonic herbs have an effect on specific organ systems through their nutritive action, while others have certain constituents that strengthen and tonify.
For instance, hawthorn contains flavonoids that fortify the heart and enhance circulation, and ginseng’s saponin glycosides tonify the adrenals.
To enhance the immune system, build the blood, tone the digestive tract, balance the hormones, strengthen the heart, and nourish the nerves.

Herbal Syrup.

Herb syrups are wonderful flavor essences.
Add them in place of the liquid in cakes, pie fillings, and sorbets, or drizzle on fruit. Brush them on pound cakes, cupcakes, muffins or bread just out of the oven.
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
About 8 to 10 herb sprigs or a large handful of leaves
1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Place over moderate heat and bring to a boil; stir to dissolve sugar. Add herbs, bruising the leaves against the side of the pan with a spoon. Cover, remove from heat and let stand for at least 30 minutes.
2. Remove leaves and squeeze them into the syrup to extract their flavor. Pour into a clean bottle or jar and label. This syrup can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for about 4 weeks.
3. If you want to keep the syrups for a while, pour them into jars or bottles, leaving at least an inch of headspace, place on the lids, and label. We freeze them for up to 1 year. Remove from freezer the night before using and allow to thaw, or place the bottle in a bowl of warm {not hot} water to thaw more quickly.

The syrup can be re-frozen if you don’t use it all.Makes About 2 Cups.

Medicinal Syrups.

Medicinal syrups often are prepared with sugar or honey, usually at a proportion of 2 parts sweetener to 1 part liquid, or sometimes in equal parts.
The liquid usually is an herbal concentrate-an infusion- and is then reduced by simmering, which evaporates the water and thickens the liquid. The sweetener helps preserve the herbal extract. Sometimes a little alcohol, such as brandy, is added to aid preservation.
Syrup has the advantage of being sticky, which helps the medicine adhere to tissues longer than an infusion made with water. The syrup is the usual medium for cough remedies. We also use syrups for beverages and in recipes. For these, we tend to use less sweetener and more water, therefore they are less concentrated and of a thinner consistency. Use honey or maple syrup to naturally sweeten an herbal syrup. If you are looking for strong herbal flavor, consider that both honey and maple syrup have their own dominant taste and can overpower mild-flavored herbs like lemon balm. Stevia leaves can be used to sweeten an infusion; however, this mixture will not thicken or become syrupy like honey or sugar. All syrups should be kept in the refrigerator.

Tip: Caution!

Those with impaired immune systems should not use immune-stimulant herbs, except under the guidance of a qualified health professional. Also, beware of echinacea allergies; it is a relative of ragweed.

Time-tested Herbal Aids.

White willow bark is one of the oldest home analgesics, dating back to 500 B.C. in China.
Modern research confirms old-time wisdom, showing it helps back, osteoarthritis and nerve pains.
Willow bark contains apigenin, salicin, and salicylic acid, which provide anti-inflammatory analgesic and anti-neuralgic actions. At the end of a four-week study of 210 individuals suffering from back pain, reported in the American Journal of Medicine in 2000, 39 percent of those who had received 240 mg of salicin daily were essentially pain-free, compared to 6 percent of those given a placebo.
Individuals with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip also are helped. Willow bark can be purchased as standardized extracts and teas. If you have access to white willow and wish to make your own, collect bark from a twig {never the main trunk}. Use about 2 teaspoons of bark to a cup of water; boil, simmer for 10 minutes and cool slightly. Because salicin concentration is low and widely variable in willow bark, you may need several cups to obtain the equivalent of two standard aspirin tablets.
A word of caution:
Willow should not be given to children, due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, nor used by individuals with aspirin allergies, bleeding disorders, or liver or kidney disease. Willow may interact adversely with blood-thinning medications and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Also, willow tends not to irritate the stomach in the short term, but long-term use can be problematic.
Peppermint is a famous antispasmodic for digestive cramps, while its essential oil is used as a local topical anesthetic in commercial ointments {Solarcaine and Ben-Gay, for example}. Germany’s Commission E authorizes the use of oral peppermint oil for treating colicky pain in the digestive tract of adults. However, peppermint oil shouldn’t be used for colic in newborn babies, as it can cause jaundice.
Several double-blind studies of individuals with irritable bowel syndrome demonstrate peppermint can significantly relieve painful abdominal cramps, bloating and flatulence. In the largest study, reported in the Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers administered either enteric-coated peppermint oil or a placebo to 110 individuals three to four times daily, 15 to 30 minutes before meals, for four weeks. The study found peppermint significantly reduced abdominal discomfort.
Take a 0.2- to 0.4-ml enteric-coated peppermint capsule three times daily. {Enteric coating prevents stomach upset.}
For mild stomach discomfort, try a tea from fresh or dried peppermint leaves. The menthol in peppermint relaxes the muscles. Its antispasmodic and analgesic effects also can help relieve headaches, possibly including migraines, when applied to the forehead or temples-dilute about 3 drops of essential oil in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
 Delicious rosemary has pain-relieving, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Safety First with Essential Oils

  • Keep out of reach of children.
  • Do not take internally or put in ears, eyes or other mucous membranes.
  • Pregnant and nursing women should consult with their health-care providers before using essential oils and herbs.
  • Do not apply to babies or children without professional consultation.
  • If you suffer from serious medical conditions, do not use without medical supervision.
  • Do not use undiluted on the body.
  • Always wash hands and surfaces after working with essential oils.
  • When making essential oil products and remedies, use a well-ventilated room, wear chemical-resistant gloves and be aware that extended exposure may result in headaches or nausea.
  • Use whole milk, mayonnaise or vegetable oil to dilute spills; then remove with soap and water.
  • Many are solvents and will deteriorate plastics and finishes on furniture.
  • Essential oils are flammable; keep them away from open flames.

Source: Distillates, Hydrosols, Tinctures, Syrup’s & More.

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