One of the benefits of working with herbal infusions and decoctions, plain old herbs+water, is how versatile they are. Don’t believe me? How could that be good for anything more than just drinking, you ask? Here are fourteen creative and practical ways to use herbal infusions and decoctions that you can experiment with yourself!
Make a quart of double strength infusion or decoction and add it to your bath water. Soothing nervines work well for this, but so do astringent herbs for vein health like white oak (things like varicose veins or hemorrhoids), herbs for circulation (Except NOT cayenne. Bad idea. Your sensitive places will thank you for leaving this one out.), herbs that can help with bruising or sore muscles (mugwort is excellent), or even a bath of healing herbs for postpartum care.
Make a Compress
Dip a clean cloth into your infusion and lay the cloth on your skin. This is technically called a compress. Compresses can be soothing against the forehead during fevers or headaches, over the eyes for related complaints, over small areas of the body with skin problems or injuries. . .it all depends on your choice of herb.
Sponge the infusion/decoction over your body. This can be a useful way to apply as a summertime, midday refresher; when taking care of someone who is too ill to bathe in the shower or tub; or for cooling off during hot flashes or fever. Again, you will want to select an herb appropriate for your circumstances- peppermint for summertime, yarrow or elder if someone is ill, catnip for fevers are all ideas of herbs that might work.
Soak your hands or feet in it. Because foot baths are nice to pamper yourself, or they can be the best thing ever if you are struggling with foot care problems like fungal infections, blisters, etc. Same thing with hands. A few ideas: mugwort is lovely for tired feet and legs (and also good for nail health if you are dealing with fungal infections), rosemary or bay is invigorating, plantain is soothing and healing for sores or blisters.
Gargle with it. Sage is one of the ultimate herbs for this use, but marshmallow is a soothing choice, too.
Use it as a mouthwash.While you're at it, you could try sage, white oak, or sumach berries as a "swish" or mouthwash for gum health.
Use it as a hair rinse for scalp and hair health. Rosemary and peppermint are lovely for increasing circulation to the scalp, or you could try chamomile (for blondes), hibiscus (for red heads), or sage (for brunettes) depending on your hair color.
Mix it with honey to make a syrup. One part infusion/decoction and two parts honey does the trick for an insanely simple syrup recipe. Keep it in the refrigerator for best shelf life and use within three to six months.
Use it in your neti pot. Believe it or not, prickly ash, goldenrod, Oregon grape, or other allergy-season allies are good candidates to add to your neti pot! Just make sure to strain the infusion through a coffee filter- herbal grit up your nose is uncomfortable.
Put in a spray bottle and use as a spritz to help deter bugs. I didn't get a chance to experiment with this yet, but I have plans for a beauty berry, yarrow, and catnip blend that I want to try for gnats and mosquitoes.
Use it as the base for a fancy herbal beverage. Add sparkling water, fruit juice, or other flavorful ingredients to concoct the perfect herbal mocktail! They can end up oh-so fancy. . .and really, really, tasty. Hibiscus, ginger, mint, and fresh lemonbalm are some of my favorites for this one.
Freeze it into ice cubes. Suck on them, use them to cool your drink, or apply them to bug bites/ sunburns. (Don’t leave them in contact with the skin for more than a few seconds at a time though. Frostbite is no fun!)
Make Herbal Candies/Lozenges
Add sugar and apply heat to make herbal drops or lollipops. You’ll want a basic candy or cough drop recipe to follow the first time, and a good candy thermometer. For molds, you can use a spoon or your finger to make little drop sized indentations a thick layer of powdered sugar. After you’ve done it once you’ll be impressed with how easy it is!
Create a base for soup stock. Mineral rich herbs like nettle and oatstraw, or herbs that can be eaten as greens (like plantain) work well as a nutritional boost for soups and stews. Add a pinch of seasoning herbs like sage or thyme to your infusion, too, if you so desire.
Obviously, not every herb is going to work well in all 14 applications. But they are still well worth knowing and adding to your herbal bag of tricks. A little creativity and novelty can go a long way!
All the Best,