How to decoct raw herbs
The purpose of steeping or decocting raw herbs in a formula is to draw out the therapeutic constituents of the herbs in to the water.
The Tea Pot
The recommended container is ceramic or glass, and it is important that it has a lid. You should avoid metal or cast-iron teapots as Chinese herbs can react with the metals altering their therapeutic properties, or worse, have negative effects. If you must use a metal container, use stainless steel.
Room temperature spring water or purified water are the best choices for cooking herbs.
Before cooking, pour about 2 liters of fresh water over the herbs; make sure that the water covers all of the herbs. Let the herbs sit for 30 minutes to an hour, and they will absorb some of the water. This will facilitate the extraction of the active ingredients during the process of decoction.
1. One time cook
After Soaking the Herbs, cook the herbs on a high stove setting until it boils. When it boils, lower the setting and continue to cook the herbs for another 20 to 30 minutes.
There should be about 750 ml of liquid from the cooked herbs. Pour the liquid into a glass container then divide into two cups. Drink one cup of tea in the morning and one cup in the evening.
2. Cook the Same Herbs a Second Time
The most common and cost-effective method of brewing a decoction is to decoct the ingredients twice.
Pour about 2 liters of fresh water over the herbs. cook the herbs on a high stove setting until it boils. When it boils, lower the setting and continue to cook the herbs for another 20 to 30 minutes. There should be about 500 ml of liquid from the cooked herbs.
Re-cook the herbs using 1 liter of water. Immerse the herbs and let the mixture sit for about 5-10 minutes. Cook again on a high stove setting until it boils, then lower the setting and continue to cook the herbs for another 20 to 30 minutes.
Once again, there should be about 250 ml of liquid from the cooked herbs. Pour the liquid into the glass container containing the first cup and mix well.750ml of liquid divide into two cups. Drink one cup of tea in the morning and one cup in the evening.
- Aromatic herbs are cooked for no longer than 5-10 minutes and should be thrown in to the decoction at the very end of cooking. If cooking the herbs more than once, be sure to add fresh aromatics to each batch.
- Diaphoretic herbs are cooked no longer than 10-15 minutes
- Tonifying herbs are cooked between 40-50 minutes
- Bone, shell, or heavy mineral substances take longer to decoct and should be cooked 20-30 minutes longer than other herbs. Crush them (if possible), soak them separately, and then cook them for 20-30 minutes before adding the other herbs.
Do not lift the lid of the teapot when cooking as the volatile oils can evaporate and escape.
Straining and Drinking the Tea
Once cooked, strain the herbal concoction through cheesecloth, a metal strainer, or with the lid of the teapot.
The taste of Chinese herbal teas can be quite unpleasant to some people, but with time the patient will usually build an affinity for the formula they are drinking, especially if it is well suited for them. If necessary, the tea can be watered down and consumed in a few cups versus just one. Honey can also be added to sweeten the formula, but do this only with the consent of your TCM Practitioner, as it can change the properties of the formula.
Herbs That Requre Special Care
Some herbs are cooked separately
Rare or expensive herbs such as Ginseng should be sliced and decocted separately for 2 to 3 hours to extract the maximum benefit from the herb and avoid interaction and absorption from other herbs. This will also prevent overcooking the other herbs in the formula.
Some herbs come wrapped in cloth or as packets
Very small substances such as powders, seeds, and some flowers should be wrapped in cheesecloth or a small bag so they can be decocted with the rest of the formula without creating turbidity or discomfort when drinking the tea. A good example of this would be Xuan Fu Hua.
Some herbs are melted
Gelatinous or viscous herbs such as E Jiao or Yi Yang should be heated gently to melt them slowly and to not char the substance.
Aromatic or fragrant herbs are added last
Herbs with volatile herbs such as Bo He should be added to the decoction approximately 3 to 5 minutes before the cooking process is completed.
When To Take Herbs
Herbal formulas are best taken 1 to 2 hours before or after eating to allow for maximum
digestion and absorption of the herbs.
- If there are substances in the formula that irritate the gastrointestinal tract, the formula can be taken 30 minutes to an hour after eating.
- Tonifying formulas should be taken on an empty stomach if possible.
- Sedating or spirit calming formulas should be taken 2 to 3 hours before bed time.
- This is just a guideline. Herbs are very powerful and need special attention. Please remember to listen to all instruction given by your healthcare practitioner when preparing herbs.