Using herbs: Teas versus tinctures

Neal's Yard Remedies

Neal's Yard Remedies

Writer and expert

Herbs can be used in many ways, often as a cup of herbal tea, however tinctures are a lesser-known way to use herbs that may be a better choice for you. Let’s explore the differences so you can decide which is right for you.

Making a herbal tea – infusions & decoctions

A tea is an infusion of herbs, either fresh or dried, that is used to support wellbeing. This could be a herbal teabag popped in a mug, a single loose herb to address one particular wellbeing concern, or a personalised blend of loose herbs addressing a plethora of concerns.

Infusions use the soft parts of herbs like flowers, leaves, small seeds or parts you can crumble in your fingers. It’s just like making a regular cup of tea: your chosen herbs are popped in a pot or a tea ball with freshly boiled water and left to brew for 5-10 minutes before drinking.

When it comes to sturdy, woodier parts of herbs like roots, barks and chunky seeds, they’re treated differently. They need constant heat to ‘open the herb up’ releasing its benefits – this is called decoction. Decoction involves simmering gently in a pan with water for around ten minutes, before straining to drink.  Ideally the tea should be covered as it infuses in both methods, trapping the volatile oils for their wellbeing benefits.

For both infusions and decoctions, a standard dose is a teaspoon of herb or herbs per person, but a good herbal book like Healing Herbs gives individual herbal recommendations.


If making a herbal tea sounds a bit complicated or time consuming, herbal tinctures may be just the ticket. They’re a concentrated extract of one or several herbs , using alcohol and water to extract the herbs beneficial properties. They’re usually added to water, but you can treat them like a tea using freshly boiled water to evaporate off some of the alcohol. Tinctures can be used singly or in combination for a multitude of wellbeing concerns.

Should I choose a tincture or tea?

There are no rules– herbs are very versatile and the way you use them can be adapted to suit your lifestyle.

Ceremony forms a large part of drinking a herbal tea. It’s a mindful and relaxing experience. Setting aside a few minutes to boil the kettle and prepare the teapot, seeing the herbs, inhaling the aroma as you pour hot water over them, and then savouring the taste are all part of the experience. On a more practical level, herbal teas increase hydration and can be enjoyed by youngsters and adults alike, with the dosage tailored depending on age.

Needing a kettle can be a disadvantage of herbal tea. Although flasks or cold tea can be carried around, sometimes it simply isn’t practical especially if you’re away from home or are short on time. Another factor can be the taste of herbs: they range from delightfully floral like pink rose, chamomile, lavender, lime flower and lemon balm, to bitter roots, seeds and barks, like dandelion, burdock, milk thistle and cramp bark. Whilst bitter and pungent tastes are beneficial to normal digestive function, they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea!

Tinctures are handy: the standard dosage is much smaller, varying from a few drops up to 5ml or more. They’re diluted in water and can be drunk quickly – appealing with some of the more pungent and bitter herbs.

They’re also convenient: several herbs can be blended in a single bottle, meaning there’s no need for kettles and bags of herbs. It’s all very quick and easy, so ideal if you’re travelling, working away from home, rushing around or simply don’t want to make herbal tea. They’re great for acute concerns like winter ailments, period pains, digestive grumbles and so on, partly due to ease of use, but also because herbal tinctures are far more concentrated than herbal teas.

However, a downside of tinctures may be the alcohol they contain. Whether due to health concerns, religion or using for children, in these cases herbal teas may be the best option.

The versality of tinctures and teas means you can match them to your lifestyle, individual needs and particular situation. Tinctures are often the best option while short on time or out and about, while herbal teas are great when you’re at home and have a little time to indulge in the ceremony of preparing them.

You can order both dried herbs and tinctures online, or pop into a store where the team will help guide you to a selection of herbs. If your concern is complex, long-term, you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or on prescription medication, you can book in a personal consultation with a qualified herbalist in our Therapy Rooms.