The Quick Guide to Herbal Preparation Terminology

“Try the tincture of….”

“Make a decoction of the seeds….”

“Enjoy the tisane 3 times a day…”

With plant medicine growing in popularity in natural living circles (or those curious about natural living), the abundance of information can be - well - confusing. That is just one reason why I recommended finding and bookmarking herbalists websites. Get the information from the people who have dedicated their life to it.

Anyways, this post was designed to give you a brief overview of what the different preparations are. For making them, I recommended attending one of my Introduction to Herbal Medicine Making Workshops (next one is in March 2019)

The Quick Guide to Herbal Preparation Terminology

1) Tinctures and Extracts

This is where the constituents of a plant are extracted in alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin (sometimes call glycerites). This is a very common herbal preparation and very user friendly. Doses are usually taken in drops, dropperfuls, or mL.

An extract is the same thing BUT in this country the FDA has taken the term “tincture” and claimed it for drug purposes. This is why you will see the word extract on what bottles in the store.

Vinegar extracts and glycerites usually require higher doses than alcohol extracts for a few reasons. We don’t use glycerites at all.

2) Tea, Tisane, Infusion

This is one of our oldest herbal preparations. The humble water extraction. All three words mean basically the same thing - water extraction, usually boiling water poured over the plant matter. Steep time will vary, but if it isn’t listed, it can be safe to assume 10-15 minutes for herbs but for tea (black, green, white etc), its only a few minutes 2-5 depending.

3) Decoction

This is also a water extraction; however, this is for our seeds, barks, and roots. This begins by placing the plant matter (notice how they are all hard - not leafy) in water. You then bring it to a boil. This will help to soften the hard exterior. Once its at a boil, its turned off and steeped for at least 20 minutes.

I have seen people say you boil the plant matter for 20 minutes but I believe that cooks the plant matter and you don’t want to cook it.

4) Infused Oil

This is an extraction in oil. There are many ways to do this and it can be used on its own or as the base for a salve.

5) Salve

A mix of oil and wax. There are options for vegans who don’t want to use beexwax and it one of my favorite topical preparations.

6) Poultice

A mass of herbs that have been crushed, bruised, cut and wet with water. This is a topical application for wounds, muscles, bruised etc. A common one - great for kids - is a spit poultice of plantain. Its easy to recognize and then get to chew it up and place on the wound. Some people don’t like it for the saliva part - but kids love to use it and it works

7) Compress

This is a piece of fabric that has been soaked in an infusion or decoction and places topically. It can be uses for wounds and muscles but it can also help more lymph and support the body for fevers. I love compresses.

8) Syrup

Another self explanatory preparation - made by creating an infusion or decoction then honey, glycerin, or even molasses sometimes, are added creating a syrup! Delightful way to take medicine.

9) Oxymel

This is a blend of honey and vinegar. Both can be previously infused with other herbs to create a really beautiful food as medicine based preparation.

10) Essential Oil

While not a preparation that many can make at home, its important to list because its quite popular.

This is an extraction of volatile oils on a plant - through steam distillation, CO2 extraction, or a solvent extraction (usually called absolutes).

I rarely use them myself and I talk about the reasons why HERE

11) Hydrosol

This is the other product of steam distillation. Plant water - which still contain trace amounts of volatile oil. This has a much higher safety factor than essential oils and is more sustainable in terms of plant matter needed to make it.

12) Flower Essence

This is a vibrational essence meaning the plant matter (flowers but not limited to only flowers) are placed into a container of water and the vibrations from the plant - which we all carry vibrations - are held in the water. It is then preserved with alcohol or vegetable glycerin. That makes the mother essence. It can then be diluted to stock or dosage bottles.

Because its not an extraction of phytochemical constituents, flowers can be used that many times are avoided because of toxicity concerns.

13) Homeopathic pellets

While not an herbal preparation, I am listing it here because sometimes herbs we use in plant medicine are used in homeopathic medicine as well - which might be confusing.

Homeopathic remedies also use an energetic memory to treat whatever ails you. The theory for homeopathy though is that you take a plant that would give you the symptoms if you used that whole plant. Belladonna - for instance will give you a high fever if you ate the plant (a small amount that is) but in homeoapthic form, its used for high fevers that come on suddenly.

You can make them yourself but that is not my branch of alternative medicine so its beyond what I can write.

14) Pastilles

This is a mixture of powdered herb and honey - formed into little balls to be eaten.

15) Capsules

This is pretty straightforward but mentioning here because you can make them fairly easily. Its not my preferred form of taking herbs so you won’t see them talked about much here on the website.


Keep in mind that herbs tend to have a preparation that best extracts their medicine and that some need two different preparations put together to get the most from them. This is why a workshop is always a good idea. There is so much information at workshops - more than you can imagine. Its also why I recommend reading information from herbalists. Many of us learn these from other herbalists and through all our course work (which includes phytochemisty). I am compiling a list of great resources written by herbalists so keep checking back in!

This list isn’t exhaustive either. I am sure one got left out but I tried to make sure I was including some of the most used preparations. If you have a question about a preparation you saw, let me know!