help you to keep track of your health


Preparation of Chinese herbal medicines – decoction

Although herbs can be prepared in many ways including oils, liniments, pills, capsules, tablets, ointments etc.  - decoction (tea) and medicinal wine are the most popular and most functional methods for Chinese herbs consumption.

In many countries, tea is considered as one of the beverage choices. However in China, tea is a major beverage that is not only considered as refreshment but therapeutic and life-sustaining.

Shen Nong, is an ancient legend figure who first introduced tea-drinking. He's also the one who wrote the earliest text available about Chinese herbal medicine. So in China culture use of herbs for healing is always related to the technique of decoction, which is like brewing tea. Decoction is particularly effective for acute disorders, because herbal tea is quickly absorbed into bloodstream and become effective in healing.

Although preparation is simple, there are still something to remember:

  • Never cook a decoction in metal pot. Use porcelain, Pyrex, enamel or glass. Because metal can adversely affect some herbal constituents. You can find those special porcelain pot for decoction in most Chinese herbal shops.
  • When preparing a decoction, bring the water to a rolling boil first and then add the herbs; This is to extract the therapeutic properties of the herbs.
  • Always simmer the decoction over a low flame.
  • Never store the decoction using plastic containers.

Instruction for preparing a decoction in general:

  • Immerse the herbs into a required amount of room-temperature water for half to one hour.
  • Bring that required amount of room-temperature water in a large pot to rolling boil. Add the herbs again, stir, and return to a boil;
  • Lower the heat to simmer and cover the pot until rolling boil;
  • Simmer over a low flame with partial lid on and wait until certain amount of water reduced to certain amount of water - depending on the directions. For example, "3 bowls of water reduced to one" is a common directive.
  • Remove the pot from heat with the lid on, and allow the cooked tea to cool.
  • Strain off the herbs and discard them, or boil twice in order to extract all its goodness - as directed by the doctor.
  • Place the herbal tea into a glass container if necessary. It could be stored in the refrigerator for about 10-14 days. Avoid using microwave to heat it back up, though.

For those who're too busy to boil the herbs, they can tell the herb shop to boil for them for a small charge, and keep it warm until the customer comes back.

(sources: Chinese Herbal Medicine made easy by Thomas Richard Joiner, Streetwise Guide: Chinese Herbal Medicine by Wong Kang Ying and Martha Dahle)