An herbal decoction is a means of extracting the medicinal benefits from the tougher parts of herbs, such as roots, bark, hard seeds and berries. The word decoction is derived from the Latin decoquere, which means to boil down, or boil away. The herbs are covered with cold water, brought to a boil, and then simmered for 15 minutes or longer.
Unlike delicate plant parts like flowers and leaves that need only be steeped in tepid to hot water to yield their medicinal benefits, tougher plant parts can withstand higher temperatures without loss of volatile constituents.
You can use fresh or dried herbs to make a decoction. When using fresh herbs thinly slice roots, shave bark and woody stems and cut into small pieces. Pound or grind hard seeds and berries to break down plant cell walls to release more of their active properties. If you are using dried herbs let them soak in cold water before bringing to a boil.
To make a herbal decoction you will need:
- Dried or fresh herbs
- Stainless steel, ceramic or glass pot with a lid.
- Use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs, or 2 teaspoons of fresh herbs, per cup of cold water. (Dried herbs, which have had their water content extracted, are more concentrated than fresh herbs. As a general rule of thumb you can use double the amount of fresh herbs to dried herbs in a recipe or conversely half the dried to fresh herbs.)
- Place the herbs in a pot, pour on cold water, cover with a lid and let stand for 5 to 15 minutes or up to a few hours, to allow for the complete extraction of variable soluble constituents both in cold and hot water.
- Bring to a slow boil.
- Reduce the heat and simmer for fifteen minutes or longer —the harder the plant material the longer the simmering. Making a decoction can be like making a stew in that you start off with the toughest parts, later adding less fibrous seeds or berries that likely require less simmering.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool to drinking temperature.
- Strain the herbs and serve.
If you want to combine with more delicate plant parts you can pour the strained decoction over fresh or dried herbs and infuse for 5 minutes or longer. Click here to learn how to make an herbal infusion.
Your decoction can be stored in a cold place for up to 48 hours but is best used within 24 hours.