Herbal Definitions: Decoction, Infusion, Infused/Infusing/Infuse, & Herb Infused Oil

Herbal Definitions: Decoction, Infusion, Infused/Infusing/Infuse, & Herb Infused Oil

I have noticed a lot of confusion online with the different herbalism preparations and terminology, so I thought it would be helpful to define a few common terms that are used in herbalism.

For every herb, it is better to use certain herbal preparations over others, since different solvents extract different chemical constitutes. Every preparation has its own properties, usage, dosage, constitutes, shelf life, and safety considerations. Therefore it is important to use the correct terminology, so you make sure you are getting accurate herbal information. And it’s also essential to make the right preparation, so the herb will work in the way that you want it to work.

Decoction Definition
Elderberry decoction is made by simmering elderberries in water.


Decoction is a term that we (qualified herbalists) use to describe a certain type of strong medicinal tea. In decoctions, water is brought to a boil, and then the roots, bark, seeds, berries, and other harder or coarser parts of plants are simmered in the water for several minutes. NOTE: there are some exceptions, as it is better to make an infusion instead of a decoction for certain herbs, even if they are the roots, bark, etc.

The amount of herb and length of simmering time for decoctions depends on the herb and which herbalist you ask! I personally like to simmer for anywhere from 20-30 minutes to an hour or more, depending on the herb. Decoctions are made with greater amounts of herbs than regular beverage tea (what most people think of as ‘tea’, which is the beverage that is drunk only for flavor and enjoyment), and the herbs are simmered in water. Decoctions use water to extract the herb’s chemical components.

Infusion Definition
Nettle nourishing infusion is made by steeping nettle in water for at least 4 hours.


This is the term that I have noticed the most confusion about, since I have seen many people use this term to mean every type of herbal preparation.

In herbalism, the term infusion refers to a specific type of herbal product: is is essentially a strong medicinal tea. Infusions use water to extract the herb’s properties. To make an infusion, flowers, leaves, and other delicate parts of plants are placed in water, and infused for several minutes. Usually the water is boiled and the pot is taken off the heat before infusing the herbs in it, but sometimes we make cold infusions, in which herbs are infused in cold water. Infusions are made stronger than regular beverage tea: infusions are made with larger amounts of herbs and infused for longer periods of time. Different herbalists will recommend different amounts of herbs and steeping times for their infusions. I personally steep my herbs anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours or more, depending on the herb and what type of infusion I am making: such as regular  ‘infusions’ or the even stronger ‘nourishing infusions’. 99% of the time, when an herbalist uses the term ‘infusion’ we mean steeping in water to make a strong medicinal tea.

Infuse, Infused, And Infusing:

Infuse, infused, and infusing refer to the process of steeping or soaking. These terms can be used for all types of herbal products in which you steep herbs in some sort of solvent or medium. Examples of solvents and mediums that herbs are soaked in include water, oil, alcohol, glycerine, honey, and vinegar.

For example: ‘I have infused the herbs in a carrier oil for several weeks to make a macerated oil’. ‘I have only been infusing the herbs in water for twenty minutes to make an infusion’. ‘I love to infuse herbs in different mediums to make all types of herbal products!’

NOTE: Do not confuse the terms infuse, infused, and infusing, with the term infusion.  There is a difference in meaning between the terms. In herbalism, most of the time, the term infusion refers to a specific herbal product (a strong medicinal tea), while the terms infuse, infused, and infusing can be used for any herbal product.

I will be speaking more about the confusion with the word infusion in a future article. (The link will be posted here when the article is released).

Herb infused oil definition
Herbs, such as rose petals, are soaked in a carrier oil to make an herb infused oil.

Herb Infused Oils, Herbal Infused Oils, Or Macerated Oils:

Herbs that are infused in a carrier oil go by many different names, including herb infused oils, herbal infused oils, or macerated oils. You can replace the herb’s name for the word ‘herb’. You can also drop the word ‘infused’ or ‘macerated’. For example: rose macerated oil, vanilla infused oil, lilac infused oil, oregano infused oil, calendula oil, and St. John’s wort oil. Herb infused oils are used in natural perfumery too.

In herb infused oils, it is a carrier oil (a fat) that is used to extract the herb’s chemical constitutes. For herb infused oils, you can use any carrier oil you like to infuse it in. I personally infuse anywhere from a few hours to several hours to a few days to 6-8 weeks or longer, depending on the herb, if it’s dried or fresh plant material, and which method I am using to make the herb infused oil (cold or warm).

For some great information, directions, and recipes on herb infused oils, see my lilac article (which discusses how to infuse fresh aromatic lilac flowers in a carrier oil, using the cold method) and my vanilla article (which explains how to infuse dried vanilla beans in a carrier oil, using the cold method).

NOTE: As I write more articles on infusions, decoctions, and herb infused oils, I will edit this article in the future to add the links to the other articles.

Resources: For more information or if you have questions about aromatherapy, herbalism, formulating, perfumery, and eco living, please join Plant Alkemie’s Facebook group and Plant Alkemie’s Facebook fan page.  And check out more articles on Plant Alkemie’s website:  http://www.plantalkemie.com. You may also leave questions about these herbal definitions in the comments of this article.

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