Nourishing herbal infusions are a rich source of bioavailable phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and protein to improve your health and beauty – firming skin, strengthening bones and generally helping you to look and feel better without expensive supplements. This is true no matter what your health problem as with natural medicine, what heals one thing, heals all things.
I have been imbibing these drinks, usually a quart a day, on a pretty regular basis for about 4 months. I learned about this great idea when I stumbled on “New Menopausal Years, The Wise Woman Way: Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90” by herbalist Susun Weed in a used book store. This book contains a lot of useful information for anyone who is interested in a positive approach to healthy, natural aging. In the book, we learn which herbs are best used as nourishing herbal infusions and which are best used as tinctures or as a simple tea (the aromatic ones, like mints).
The story that convinced me to give this a try was that of a woman reversing her osteoporosis simply with the regular use of these infusions. Soon after starting to drink about a quart a day of these infusions of nettle, oat straw, cleavers and red clover, I noticed that the connective tissue disease I suffer from had improved. The fibrous nodules that I have in the arches of my feet (Plantar Fibromatosis) were smaller and less painful. The aching pain in my hands (Dupuytren’s Disease) was practically undetectable. Other benefits I have noticed include a new ability to jump up and down without any negative consequences, so just from that, I can tell my tissues have strengthened. I have more energy and feel more calm. My hair is starting to thicken up (I lost a bunch after my long water fast) and become more shiny. My skin is firm with a nice, healthy glow and my lines even seem to be a little diminished.
What are nourishing herbal infusions and how are they made? Herbal infusions are NOT teas. A herbal tea uses a very small amount of herb per cup (usually a teaspoon) and it is steeped for perhaps 20 minutes or so at best, which is fine for an afternoon drink to enjoy. For real medicinal benefits, however, nourishing herbal infusions are steeped for much longer and you use a great deal more dried plant material. Herbal infusions consist of large amounts (1 oz.) of the dried herb, steeped for a long time (4-8 hours or overnight) in boiling water. Canning jars are the ideal vessel for this since they are not going to break due to the very hot water. Pour the boiling water over the dried herbs, put on a tight lid and let steep. Fresh herbs do not work for this as drying the herbs renders the phytochemicals and minerals more accessible.
Once they have steeped for at least 4 hours, preferably longer, you pour them through a fine mesh stainless steel sieve and then squish out all the liquid with the back of a silicone spatula (or with your clean hands if you wish). You can re-use the damp herbs for a second brew, but the nutrients will be less. The infusions will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge. If they go off before you consume them, they are great for watering your plants, so don’t discard.
Not all herbs are suitable for preparing herbal infusions – they need to be free from volatile oils (all mints fall into this category), glycosides, alkaloids and resins. However, if you want to add up to a teaspoon of a volatile herb (such as mint or lemon balm) to a jar, to improve the flavour, you can do so without poisoning yourself. Here are the recommended, most nutritious herbs regularly used by Susun Weed:
- Nettles: nourishes the adrenals, kidneys, skin, hair & blood vessels
- Oat Straw: good for bones, calming to nerves, longevity
- Red Clover: hormone support and anti-cancer properties
- Linden Flower: highly anti-inflammatory, it soothes lungs & digestive tract, great for colds/flu
- Comfrey: healing to bones, skin, mucus membranes BUT this one is controversial for internal use, despite potential benefits! It is not recommended for internal use due to pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the roots of wild comfrey that can cause liver damage. Many herbalists disagree, including Susun, who says that the commonly sold cultivated variety of comfrey (Symphytum uplandica x) is usually mislabelled as wild (Symphytum officinale). She says that Symphytum uplandica x is safe and proven by extensive use by many including Susun and her partner for over 25 years. I have also heard the opposite with regard to the type of plant. Anyhow, this is one that you will have to research thoroughly and decide for yourself whether you want to use or not. Even though it is the root of the wild Comfrey plant that contains most of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause harm to the liver, the leaves may contain some as well, so comfrey must be used with caution. It is not recommended to be taken internally, but some herbalists, including Susun feel it can be safe – Susun and her partner have used the cultivated type of Comfrey (often mislabelled as in their infusions for decades with no problem. Mountain Rose Herbs has this to say about Comfrey:
Comfrey leaf has been used since Roman times, dating back thousands of years. This herb has been utilized in folk medicine throughout Europe and North America and has been widely cultivated as a garden medicinal specifically for its reputation for healing various external wounds. Much debate surrounds the safety of comfrey due to various parts and preparations containing potentially toxic alkaloids. It is important to understand that the part used, species, and time of harvest all come in to play when determining the safety of this herb. A large body of traditional use supports its safety and efficacy if used intelligently and cautiously. All that being said, obviously this herb needs to be used internally, if at all, with extreme caution. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have a serious health condition, any herb should be taken with the advice of a qualified health practitioner.
I like my drinks warm, so it is good to know that gently re-heating the infusion is okay, but you can also just drink it cold. I love the taste of oat straw, which is mild and sweet, but the others aren’t that pleasant. I just try to get them down without lingering too much.
I also sometimes make infusions from the following:
- cleavers: great for lymphatic circulation & skin; it is also specific to my genetic, connective tissue disorder (Dupuytren’s, Plantar Fibromatosis/Ledderhose)
- burdock root: detoxifies body systems including liver, kidneys & lymph; great for skin
- yellow dock: a tonic for low iron
Alternate different types on a daily basis. I tend to use Nettles the most and alternate that with any of the other types. Try to drink at least one quart per day.
You will need large amounts of herbs to make the infusions, so try to find a retailer that sells in bulk at wholesale prices. In the U.S., Frontier Herbs is a good source. It is quite common for individuals to spend over $100 a month on supplements but herbs are comparatively cheap, with these infusions (1 quart daily) costing only about $1 per day.
Make sure you buy yourself a scale, since the amount of herb that constitutes an ounce varies wildly in volume from just a few teaspoons (yellow dock) to almost the whole jar (red clover blossoms).
I got a nice little one with a “tare” function for about $15 at Canadian Tire, but I have seen them at both lower and higher prices.
I like that the jar sits nicely on it, it doesn’t take up a lot of storage space, uses ordinary batteries and matches my kitchen to boot!
The “tare” function means that you can zero the scale after putting the jar on there without doing any math – always a good thing in my opinion! I use wide mouth canning jars (a dozen for about $13 Canadian) and a metal funnel (at Dollarama here in Ontario f0r $4, not sure why they call them dollar stores any more) so I can easily pour the herbs into the jar. I love the canning jars for food storage and multiple other uses, so they are a great deal. I also got the large glass jars to store the loose herb at Dollarama for $2 each.