How to Cook a Decoction

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Kaia Drinking HerbsMany of us living in the North American Midwest did not grow up with the aroma of Chinese herbs cooking in our kitchens or peering over our grandmother’s shoulder as she decocted the medicine we needed. For us, the very word “decoction” may not even have been part of our vocabulary.

At Inner Ecology™ we want to ease your introduction to what may be a new healing practice for you. As a patient, you are likely to receive individualized instructions from your herbologist regarding how to decoct your raw herbs. Here we’ve provided a general step-by-step overview for you. It is a recipe of sorts, except you don’t need to worry about gathering the ingredients; at your herbologist’s request, we’ll do that part for you!

“I had no idea what to do with my herbs when I carried them home the first time from Inner Ecology. A friend generously prepared them for me that evening, as I felt unsure. But my relationship with the herbs transformed the moment I drank my first dose. The intense pain I was suffering melted away and my respect for the herbs grew. I decocted the next batch myself, taking pleasure in the gorgeous colors and shapes, and in handling the plants directly. I have enjoyed savoring the freshness and consistency ever since.
“And I still look forward to experiencing the potent interaction between the herbs and my system each time, even as my reasons for taking the herbs, and therefore the type of herbs my practitioner has prescribed me, have changed. I have been a tropical field biologist for decades and for years have admired the knowledge and use of plants by indigenous peoples.  It’s been wonderful to experience first-hand that expertise and deep care in Inner Ecology.”
Debra Moskovits, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President
Environment, Culture, and Conservation (ECCo)
The Field Museum

“I look forward to the weekly ritual of decocting my herbs and my daily ritual of drinking my tea. It’s a time for me to slow down and reconnect with myself. I feel like this is my time and take full advantage of it and enjoy every step of the decocting process. I replay this simple ritual every two or three days and love it. When I travel to a destination without a kitchen of my own, I take granules and miss the ritual of creating something for me.”
Sue Strow

What Is a Decoction?

A decoction is a liquid extract made by boiling herbs in water. Making a decoction is like making tea, but the end result is stronger, because the herbs are simmered in water instead of just steeping.

What Do I Need to Cook a Decoction?

pouring water into potAlways use glass, ceramic, or stainless steel cookware and utensils. Don’t use anything made of plastic, aluminum, or coated with a non-stick substance. You’ll need:

  1. Water, preferably filtered
  2. Stovetop or slow cooker
  3. Large pot with lid (about 3 quarts)
  4. Strainer
  5. Bowl
  6. Liquid measuring cup
  7. Timer

If your formula contains herbs that require separate decoction, you’ll also need a small pot with a lid (around 1 quart).

Cooking a Basic Decoction

Before you start, read all the instructions you received with your formula.

  1. pouring herbs into potRemove any herbs packaged in small, labeled bags. These herbs require special preparation; see Special Preparations for more details.
  2. Place all other herbs (including herbs in sealed teabags) into a large pot. Add enough water to cover, and soak them for 30 minutes.
  3. Check that the herbs are still covered with water. If not, add enough water to cover them again.
  4. Cover the pot and bring the herbs to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 30-60 minutes, according to your herbologist’s instructions.
  5. Pour the decocted liquid through a strainer into a bowl. Gently press the cooked herbs in the strainer with the back of a spoon to release the remaining liquid. Do not pour the liquid down the drain; it is your medicine!
  6. Straining DecoctionIf your herbologist wants you to decoct the herbs twice, then repeat steps 3 through 5. Soaking is not required for a second decoction.
  7. Once you have decocted your formula the recommended number of times and reserved the liquid decoction, discard the dregs.
  8. Measure the total liquid to calculate your dosage. For example, if the bag of herbs you decocted is supposed to last for 3 days, and the resulting decoction measures 4 cups, each day’s dose is 1 1/3 cups (4 cups/3 days).
  9. Let the decoction cool, and refrigerate it in glass containers. Be sure to drink it at the temperature your herbologist recommends (usually at room temperature or warmer).

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