Directions for making a Chinese herbal decoction

Chinese Herbal Medicine Preparation


Chinese Herbal decoctions are essentially herbal teas in which a variety of herbs such as leaves, root, berries or minerals are soaked in water then boiled to extract the therapeutic active constituents.

Herbs are a very complicated and effective form of medicine, and many individual herbal call for specific cooking times and instructions. Listed below- I have made a very vague outline of how to make a Chinese herbal decoction, but please follow any instructions given to you by your healthcare practitioner or herbalist.

The best type of pot to use while cooking herbs is ceramic, glass (pyrex) or porcelain, yet while not preferred stainless steel will works as well. Make sure you have a lid that fits too. It is best to avoid materials such as aluminum, cast iron, and teflon, as these materials can interact and alter the properties of the formula.

Herbal teas and decoctions should be drank warm, or at room temperature, never straight out of the fridge or microwaved. Herbs are best taken a few hours before eating, unless other wise specified. Certain formulas, such as ones that help promote sleep or calming the Shen are best taken 1-2 hours before bedtime.

Basic Steps to making a herbal decoction

* Please note that some herbs may be labeled, as short/long cook. If certain herbs are labeled as long(pre) cook, please follow these instructions for them first before adding in other herbs.

  1. Soak- Place all content into your sauce pot, and cover with room temperature filtered water about 2 inches above herbs. Allow these herbs to soak for one hour – overnight.

  2. Boil and Simmer- Bring the water to a boil, cover and then turn down the heat to a low simmer. The cooking time is specific to the herbs/formula you are working with, but as a general guideline the average time is about 30 minutes. Leave the lid closed while cooking to perserve the aromatic quality and volatile oils.

    1. ie. Tonifying herbs tend to be cooked longer, around 45 minutes, and aromatic herbs need a shorter cooking time like 5-10 minutes

  3. Strain- This first batch of “tea” is then strained out from the herbs after they cool slightly and placed into a glass jar, mason- like jars work great for this. The decoction can be strained through a metal strainer or cheesecloth.

  4. Reboil and Simmer- Refill the pot with water covering the herbs about 2 inches and repeat above instructions. This allow to extract the full potency of the herbs. Combine these two batches after the decoction cools.

  5. Drink- The flavor of the herbs is a very important part of its medicinal qualities, even though sometimes it may be quite strong or unusual. Decoctions can be watered down slightly to help, or honey may be added to certain formulas. Honey will change the flavor and might alter the properties of the formula so remember to check in with your herbalist or Chinese medicine practitioner about this change.

Please remember to listen to all instruction given by your healthcare practitioner when preparing herbs. This is just a guideline. Herbs are very powerful and need special attention. Please do not hesitate to ask if you have any questions for me.