When we speak of infusions we mean making a common tea. Take an amount of herb, pour boiling water over it, and let it steep. An infusion can be made with cold water, as a sun tea, or by using boiling water.

A basic formula for making an infusion is to use one teaspoonful of dried herb or two teaspoons of fresh herb to the cup of water. Pour the boiling water into a cup with the herbs (a tea ball may be used), cover, and let steep for 15-30 minutes. When making a cold infusion or sun tea, let the herbs remain in the water 1 to 4 hours before straining.

We use infusions with herb parts out of which the medicinal qualities are easy to extract, such as leaves and flowers (example: peppermint leaves or passion fruit flowers). If we were to simmer or boil these sensitive parts of herbs, we would have their valuable healing chemicals in the air of our kitchen, but not in our cup of tea.

When we want to make a tea out of the harder parts of plants, such as the twigs, branches, barks and roots, then we make a decoction.


A decoction is also an herbal tea, but it is designed for the harder parts of herbs such as the barks, roots, twigs, berries, fruit, nuts, etc. With these parts of herbs, an infusion may not extract all the medicinal properties; they are locked into the harder parts of the plants. Therefore, we need to apply more heat for a longer period of time.

A basic decoction is made by adding 1/2 to 1 ounce (1 to 4 tablespoons) of dried herb to 1 1/2 pints of cold water (the extra 1/2 pint covers the evaporation in boiling). It is best to let the herbs soak and re-hydrate in the water up to 12 hours, if you have the time, and then slowly bring it up to a boil. Let it simmer between 10 and 30 minutes.

For infusions, decoctions, and any other herbal preparations you make that require water, it is best to use the emptiest water. Your first choice would be distilled water; a very close second would be reverse osmosis, and then filtered. Mineral and spring waters are very saturated (full) with minerals and, therefore, dissolve less plant chemicals than the empty waters.

Fomentations (compresses)

A fomentation is basically an herbal infusion or decoction applied externally using a piece of cloth, gauze, or towel, always using natural fibers such as cotton or wool.

Fomentations can be made with any liquid at any temperature but generally we use a hot herbal tea made with water. Other possibilities are to make the fomentation with various oils (castor oil, olive oil), apple cider vinegar, diluted essential oil, or fresh fruit or vegetable juices; use your imagination.

To make an herbal tea fomentation, you first make an infusion or decoction as previously described. Then, dip a piece of cloth in the solution; the size of the cloth should be in proportion to the area of the body you want to cover. Wring out the excess liquid and apply this cloth to the affected area of the body. You may wish to keep the tea hot in order to keep dipping the cloth back in it and reapplying it when the cloth gets cool; this can be done every few minutes. Also, a heavy towel placed over the fomentation will help it retain its heat.

A nice way to increase circulation to an area is to place an ice cold wet cloth or ice pack on the area for 2 to 8 minutes followed with an application of the hot fomentation for 5 to 10 minutes.

You may decide at some point to leave the fomentation on for a longer period of time (like overnight). In this case, you may want to cover it with other towels or even plastic to keep the area warm and wet. Even a hot water bottle can be applied over the fomentation to keep it warm. Over the years my patients have come up with thousands of ways to keep poultices on all night from ski caps on the head to elastic ace bandages. Use your imagination.

Fomentations are wonderful hydrotherapy and with using different water temperatures you have a wonderful aid for increasing blood flow and circulation. Fomentations can be used for stiff or torn muscles, burns, cuts, bruises, scrapes, broken and cracked bones, internal organs, glandular areas, general pain, etc.

Castor oil fomentations are great eliminative routines. Oil-soaked cloth, usually hot, can be placed over the liver, kidneys, intestines, appendix, lungs, etc., and will assist in elimination.

Using hot water or liquids in a fomentation relaxes tight muscles, draws blood to the surface of the skin, increases circulation in that area, and opens up congestion. Heat is also drawing and aids in pulling impurities from the body. One of my favorites to use is cayenne and ginger with other herbs to really increase the blood flow to an area.

A cold fomentation constricts the blood flow and circulation to the area and drives the blood deep below the surface. It can soothe discomforts caused by too much heat (burns, sunburns, inflammation, etc.) and also increase circulation to reduce unwanted swelling and pain.


A poultice differs from a fomentation in that, instead of applying the herbal tea, oil, or juice to the body, we apply the actual herb itself. This could be in a very simple way, by just “bruising” an herb leaf and applying it to the skin.

The most common way is to mix dried herbs together, in a finely cut or powdered state, add water, apple cider vinegar, or some other liquid to it to form a paste; then applying this to the skin. I have found that adding 1/4 to 1/3 of a mucilaginous herb powder, such as slippery elm inner bark powder or , flax seed, or wheat flour makes a much nicer consistency and will also adhere better.

Poultices are great for just about any problem but are mostly used for wounds. When using a poultice on a “hole” in the body or a deep wound, not only would you want to have cleaned and disinfected the area before applying the poultice, but also have added some anti-infection herbs to the poultice such as goldenseal, or, my favorite, garlic (it does burn a bit) or tea tree oil.

Another general rule of thumb on a wound is that, once the poultice is dried, it may look like some of it is gone or has been absorbed into the body; don’t clean the remaining poultice off unless you absolutely need to recheck the wound. Just add a new poultice over the old one and keep “feeding” the area.

There are other types of poultices, especially a drawing one like Plantain , Comfrey and Acacia leaf poultice , that you will want to change frequently. A drawing poultice removes impurities and poisons out of the body and can be more effective if changed 1 to 3 times a day.

But generally, once a poultice has dried on a wound, I consider it a part of the body, just like a scab. It will come off when it’s time.

As a poultice dries, it becomes more and more pulling. To increase the pulling power you can add drawing herbs and even bentonite clay. One of the powerful  herbal poultice is fresh aloe vera leaf gel; it adds soothing and healing qualities, helping your body repair itself 2 to 10 times faster than normal.

Besides herbal poultices, vegetable poultices have also been used widely over the years with potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, garlic, cucumbers, and a  wide variety of greens. Cayenne, ginger, mustard and horseradish have all been popular for use in heating and stimulating poultices.

Healing and soothing poultices made from slippery elm, marshmallow, aloes, horsetail, lobelia, and mullein can be used extensively. Seed and grain poultices have also been used over the years (oats, barley, flax, etc.) with very soothing effects.

Let’s not forget fruit poultices. Bananas, figs, apples, papayas and melons all make excellent poultices. Last but not least is plantain. It grows in most people’s yards and is a classic for everything from bites and stings to blood poisoning.

Suppositories, Boluses and Pessaries

Suppositories, boluses, and pessaries are basically herbal poultices used internally. They are generally made with a mucilaginous herb base like slippery elm or an oil base like coconut oil or cocoa butter. They are inserted into body openings (vagina, rectum, nasal opening, cars, mouth, etc.) to distribute their herbal power to internal areas.

In making your bolus, you will want your herbs FINELY powdered so the bolus will be as smooth as possible. You will want to add something to the mixture to give it a slippery consistency.

A soft bolus can be made by adding aloe vera gel to your herbal mixture. Aloe vera when mixed with water has a great soothing, healing, and nutritional properties. If you desire a harder bolus, as is sometimes preferred in the rectal and vaginal areas, coconut oil works the best.

Take a jar of coconut oil and place the jar in a bowl of hot water. In a short time the oil will melt; Depending on your air temperature, it may already be in a liquid state.

Mix the melted coconut oil with the finely powdered herbs you choose into a dry pie dough consistency. Shape and form the herb mixture into the size and shape of the suppository you desire. (This can vary greatly depending on the area in which they are to be used and the size of the individual.)

Place the individual boluses on a piece of wax paper, stainless steel, or glass plate and refrigerate them. Refrigeration will make them hard. When you want to use one, take it out of the refrigerator, hold it between your fingers for just a few seconds (the coconut oil will begin to melt) and insert the bolus. Use some olive oil to lubricate the area of insertion first.

When the bolus is inside of the body, the body temperature will cause the coconut oil to melt rapidly and the herbs will be dispersed.

Suppositories are commonly used for rectal cleansing, hemorrhoids, vaginal infections, irritation, inflammation, and problems with the whole reproductive area.

Douches and Enemas

Douches and enemas are liquid injections into the vagina and rectum, usually in the form of infusion or decoction, vegetable, nut and seed oils, or aloe vera gel.

These injections can be used to wash out a bolus, to cleanse the area, and to supply the area with herbal, medicinal, and nutritional properties.

Rectal injections can be extremely important. In some cases, when a person cannot accept liquids, food, and medicinal agents orally, they can be fed through a bowel injection.

Herbal Syrups

A syrup is basically an infusion or a decoction and, sometimes, a tincture to which maple syrup, vegetable glycerine, honey, or sugar has been added. These substances are added mainly to preserve the solution, but also give the liquid a thicker, stickier, and more coating consistency and make it much more palatable to children..

You can make a very strong syrup by simmering down your decoction to less than its original amount before adding the syrup. If you “slowly” simmer your decoction down to 1/2 its original amount, you have what used to be referred to as a 3 power decoction. If you simmer your 3 power decoctiondown to 1/2 this amount you will have a 7 power decoction. By adding raw honey to this you have 3 8c 7 power syrup.



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