On Decoctions, Infusions and Macerates

He shared with his wife the curious but unshakeable conviction that
anything with herbs in it was safe and wholesome and nourishing.
- Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum.

Herbs. What would we do without them? We would eat much worse meals, that's for sure. Strangely enough, no sensible substitute exists in this world of wonders for a good handful of aromatic herbs when it comes to seasoning. And it's not just about making the food taste better, but also about facilitating digestion, adding nutritional value and so on. And, of course, a kitchen witch without at least some rudimentary knowledge in herbalism is just someone who has a strange inclination to cook by candlelight.
So, what is the easiest way to administer Yourself something "safe and wholesome and nourishing"? Well, first You should know whether it is, in fact, safe. I do not advise drinking even a mild wormwood infusion unless You have knowledge to prepare it exactly right and experience to back the knowledge up. Same goes for making absinthe, but since this is an alcohol extract I will let it pass for now.
Herbal extracts that use water as the main solvent are the easiest to prepare and safest to consume (with some exceptions such as the aforementioned wormwood), so they are very useful at home. Roughly, they can be divided into a few categories:
Those are extracts that are prepared by boiling the herbs over a determined period of time. The ingredients are longer exposed to high temperature, which facilitates the solution of medicinal substances. Prolonged boiling also softens the harder ingredients, allowing easier access to their contents. For those reasons, decocting is a good method when dealing with hard, dried herbs, such as buckthorn bark or fennel fruit*.
The most common method of herbal extraction, infusing is done by submerging the herbal ingredients in boiling water and then discarding them after an appropriate interval. Most dried herbs, be they leaves (tea, mint, melissa), flowers (tilia, chamomile, hibiscus) or whole plants ( St. John's wort, horsetail, throw-wort), can be administered this way. Infusions are easy to make, cheap and usually are mild enough to be safe, even when overdosed. Of course, there are exceptions, but whoever drinks an infusion made with poisonous herbs only has themselves to blame. After all, knowledge on the matter is easily obtained nowadays.
Possibly not the best name for this technique, but I have never heard of another. In herbalism, maceration is the way of extracting herbs by submerging them in water in room temperature. Similar to tinctures, which are made with alcohol, herbal macerates are prepared and then left for some time, during which the desired substances are to dissolve in the water. The period is usually ten hours, since there is nothing to prevent the mixture from spoiling.
Maceration is useful when dealing with ingredients which lose their properties in higher temperatures.
Herbalism is an ancient science, and the volumes written on the subject are still, mostly, about basics. However, when faced with health problems, You might cherish this knowledge: sage infusion can be a potent disinfectant, and fennel decoction is a good friend to anyone who suffers from internal cramps.
The world is full of interesting things, and "grass" is one of the most complicated and fascinating ones. To Your health!
* Alliteration not intended.

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