WANT TO BREW (DECOCT) MEDICINAL HERBS?
Follow These Easy Steps
You’re all in. You’ve joined #TeamHolisticWellness and you’re ready to try adding medicinal herbs into your diet. But where to start? Medicinal herbs have been used for thousands of years in Eastern Medicine to treat all kinds of illnesses. So whether you’re trying to get pregnant, ease IBS symptoms, or just get glossier hair, there’s likely an herbal treatment for you.
While the bags of tea you buy at the grocery store could have some positive effects, TCM herbal prescriptions have to be prepared with high quality herbs at home. This is because in many cases, you’ll be prescribed an herbal mix, or several herbs, that will work together in the decoction to bring about the desired effects.
So what is a decoction? Simply the fancy term for the process of extracting the healing essence from the herbs into simmering water. With the advice of your TCM practitioner, your prescribed herbs, and a few simple kitchen tools, you can brew your own herbal remedies right from home.
What Do You Need to Prepare Medicinal Chinese Herbs?
If you want the best results possible, you’ll need to use the right kind of container. While many tea kettles and pots sold today are made of metal, you’ll want to avoid these when cooking medicinal herbs. Metals can actually react with the herbs and change the effects, either weakening the therapy or producing negative side effects after ingestion. In TCM, it’s believed the best and safest results come from using a ceramic or glass teapot.
You’ll also need something to strain the herbal mixture with. This can be a mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or teapot lid attachment. A sealable tupperware or glass jar are also good to have on hand to store your herbs after use, as you can (and have likely been prescribed to) brew multiple batches of your mixture with the same herbs. This is because the first round of brewing is believed to heal us on a superficial level and works its way further in, affecting the qi and blood with each additional brew. (It also accesses constituents that rely upon longer cooking for bioavailability.)
Steps to Decoct Medicinal Herbs
The basic process of brewing, or decocting your medicinal herbs is actually pretty straightforward and similar to how you might have made other teas at home. It’s important to note that each herbal treatment can have varying elements and may require very different amounts of time to brew. You should always follow the specific instructions given to you by your TCM practitioner to ensure your herbal treatment works as intended. These steps simply outline the basic steps of decoction.
Pour water over the herbs so that there are two inches of coverage. Leave to soak at room temperature for at least 1 hour before moving forward.
Turn heat on to bring the water with herbs to a rolling boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer. Be sure to leave the lid on your container during the cooking process. Otherwise, important oils can evaporate, reducing the benefits of your decoction.
Cooking time can vary, but somewhere between 20 to 30 minutes is fairly common. When the instructed cooking time is up, remove your teapot from the heat. Note be sure to add any additional herbs at the instructed times during the cooking process.
Strain out your herbs from the liquid with a metal strainer, cheesecloth, or your teapot lid. Save the herbs for additional brewings.
This is one day’s dose unless you are told differently. Ask your practitioner whether you should drink it in divided doses or sip at it all day.
If your TCM practitioner suggests adding honey, berries, or other elements to your decoction, you can add them now.
How Long Does it Take to Cook Medicinal Herbs?
Like we mentioned above, the cooking times can vary depending on the medicinal herbs you’re using, and your specific condition. When you visit your TCM practitioner to get your prescription, they will let you know about the cooking time required. As a general guideline, however, there tends to be set time periods for different groupings of herbs.
For example, an aromatic herb will likely never brew for longer than 5 to 10 minutes and are added to a decoction at the end of the cooking time. Aromatic herbs are those that have flavorful and savory scents like rosemary, sage, lavender, and lemon balm. Diaphoretic herbs can be cooked for slightly more time, around 10 to 15 minutes. These herbs include angelica root, coptis, mint, chamomile, and calendula. Tonifying herbs like ginseng and atractylodes must be cooked for far longer, between 40-50 minutes. Any non-plant medicinal herbs that come from bone, shells, or minerals will need much longer to decoct and often should be added 20 to 30 minutes before other ingredients.
What Do Medicinal Herbal Decoctions Taste Like?
Most herbal mixtures tend to be highly concentrated and have strong tastes. You can expect some bitter flavors as well as an earthy, natural taste. If a decoction is too strong for you, it’s not uncommon to dilute the mixture with water and drink the prescribed amount over several cups rather than one. Conversely, using less water will get it over with faster. The flavoring of some herbal mixtures are also able to be enhanced with natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or fresh fruits, but ask as sweet flavors have their own medicinal effects..
Don’t let the bad reputation on the flavor side of things turn you off, though. Many people adjust quickly to the unfamiliar taste and end up even liking it! If you want to make changes or additions to your herbal mix, be sure to consult with your TCM practitioner first.
When to Take Herbs
In most cases, TCM experts suggest taking your herbal mixtures between 30 minutes to 1 hour before eating food. This allows the herbs to digest and be processed by the body without interference. If for some reason the herbal mixture causes an upset stomach or irritation, then you might be able to take the herbs 1 to 2 hours after you eat. Some herbal mixtures, particularly those meant to tonify, might be prescribed to be taken on an empty stomach. Any formula designed to aid in sleep or calming is likely to be suggested to take shortly before bed time.
Your condition and its intensity will determine how frequently your TCM practitioner might prescribe you drink your herbal remedies. It’s rare that you’ll drink a decoction once and never need it again, though, so get comfortable brewing herbal teas at home. If you’re taking any medications, you should consult with your healthcare team to determine the timing of taking your herbal remedies and medications.