Herbal Apothecary: Decoctions
I've been wanting to post this for a while, but I have to be honest, I'm feeling a bit drained from everything on my plate. I keep having this one thought....run to the woods and never come back. I know that this statement may seem a bit much, but, I'm sure you can all relate to having a moment at one point in time where you just wanted to escape.
Well, when I do finally lose it and run into the woods at least I'll know how to make a decoction ;)
Anyway, let's get back to why you're obviously here.....
Decoction, derived from the Latin word decoquere meaning to boil down or away, is a liquid preparation using fresh or dried herbs by boiling them for a specific period of time for optimal extraction.
Let me just say that if you can boil water, you can make a decoction. However, where people fail in making decoctions, rather, learn what constitutes a proper decoction, is knowing the type and part of herb to use in this type of preparation.
The purpose of a decoction is to secure active constituents of a herb without destroying them. Therefore, decoctions are preferred for harder parts of the plant like roots, barks, stems, seeds and berries. These are the only parts of a plant that should be going into your decoction in the beginning stage of your preparation.
The more dense parts of the plants should be boiled the longest and added first while more delicate herbs containing volatile compounds should be added only when the decoction has been removed from the heat, exactly as you would when preparing an infusion.
To extract the most medicine out of your herb, it's helpful to break down the cell walls of the plant by grinding or crushing whole parts and soaking the cut parts prior to boiling. Although, it's not always necessary for all parts.
Roots/Woody Mushrooms: Cut into thin slices
Bark/Wood/Stem: Cut into small pieces or shave bark, depending on the part needed
Seeds/Berries: Lightly crush
Aerial parts (leaves, flowers): Add last, not necessary to break down
Side note: When storing your herbs, ensure that they are in whole form. The more they are broken down, the less of a shelf life they will have. Only break your herbs down before using them if necessary.
Decoctions are made for immediate use and can typically last up to a week in the fridge but preferred by Herbalists to be consumed within 24-72 hours if taking as medicinal dosages. Therefore, it's best if you are taking your decoction for wellness that you prepare a fresh decoction every 1-3 days.
Another suggestion for keeping your decoction fresh is to store the preparation in single dosage glass bottles. This avoids opening the large batch each time you need to take your dose and therefore subjecting it to more air and potential degradation.
Also, if you're ok with a little alcohol or want to make a party decoction, adding 1 tablespoon to every 4 ounces will help preserve it as well. The same amounts are applicable when using honey as a preservative, although some people prefer to add less. It all depends on your taste!
To make your decoction you will need:
- Pot with lid
- Herb(s) of choice
Side note: The liquid you choose to make your decoction in is up to you, the most common is water. However, there are some herbs that are more soluble in fatty liquids and some extract better in cold water instead of warm or hot.
Place 25 grams of dried herb or 75 grams of fresh herb into a pot
Pour in 500 mL of cold water. I use cold water to ensure that I am gradually bringing out the constituents of the herb
Slowly bring to a boil. Keep your decoction covered at all times through this processes
Once boiling, decrease heat and slowly simmer for approximately 15 to 25 minutes. If the parts being used are harder then this time will increase. Use your judgement by the the color of the water
After decoction time is complete, remove it from the heat. It's at this point you want to add in your more delicate parts of the plant, if so, cover and let steep. Otherwise, you can remove the plant material and squeeze it out or as I like to do, leave it until it cools in the liquid and then squeeze it dry
Strain the liquid to store in a large glass or several single serving jars
Optional: Re-use the plant material. A water, heat it up and start the process again. This will be a lighter version of what your original decoction is but I like to do this to get every last bit of medicinal goodness out!
And there you have it, a decoction. Although everyone has their own way of creating a decoction, the premise is the same for each.....the gradual extraction of hardier parts of a plant.
Have fun with it! Explore different combinations and recipes!!
Ninetta (Nina) Savino