Cold water infusions versus hot water infusions – which is better?

One of my newsletter subscribers recently asked me: “Why do you use cold water when making a cleavers infusion?”

At the time I didn’t have an answer. I had simply taken the old herbals at face value. Surely those old medieval plant healers knew what they were on about?

So I went hunting, only to find that the cleavers cold water infusion recipe appears to have originated from the 13th-century Physicians of Myddfai. Who lived around Carmarthenshire in Wales.

Now I am all for taking the advice of people who lived a long time ago, yet some of the advice of the ancients is also a load of old codswallop and has no scientific validity whatsoever.

So what to do over this cold water infusion predicament? When is it better than a hot water infusion? So I went digging deeper.

Richo Cech in his book Making Plant Medicine says:

“Some herbs, such as marshmallow and blessed thistle, lend their active principles better to cold water than to hot. This is usually due to the presence of mucilage or bitter principles that are denatured, to a certain extent, by boiling water.”

If Cech is correct then it would make sense to infuse cleavers in cold water due to its bitter principles.

James Green in his The Herbal-Medicine Makers Handbook suggests using cold water infusions when:

“The herb contains a valuable volatile constituent (i.e. essential oil, frequently found in blossoms and leaves)… The desirable principles are readily soluble in water of ordinary temperature (such as Slippery Elm bark, Marshmallow root) or would be deteriorated by high temperatures (such as Wild Cherry bark)… The herb contains a constituent that is not desired and not readily dissolved by cold water (such as safrol in Sassafras root bark, or the tannins of Uva ursi).”

My wonderful friend and medical herbalist extraordinaire Alex Laird (who is also the author of Root to Stem: A seasonal guide to natural recipes and remedies for everyday life), told me:

Cold water infusions are a delicious way of creating scented water with highly volatile oil-rich plants such as rose geranium, lemon balm, rose or even mint, as the natural smell and taste of the oil passes into the water unchanged by heat. Leave them to infuse for an hour or more for best flavour.”

Something else to consider when infusing cleavers in cold water is this.

Maybe it is simply the fresh green smell of the plant that we are trying to take in because cold water preserves aroma. An aroma that gets lost when using hot water.

The idea is that all our senses need attention when it comes to using plant medicines for health and wellbeing, and not just focusing on physically drinking and consuming them.

So smell and aroma are deeply important to health and wellbeing. That would make sense if you believe in aromatherapy, which is part of herbal medicine, and used clinically in hospitals and care homes…..

One to ponder.


  1. I fill a pint pot with folded long fresh cleavers add off the boil water, leave covered until just warm and drink through the plant. Plenty of fragrance remains and the colour is delightful.

  2. How would you go about preserving this for a longer period of time, or would you make it as and when? I understand it changes once it flowers and therefore less edible, is that right?

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