Herbal Apothecary 101: Herbal Decoction

| June/July 2009

  • Health made simple: A few herbs and you in your kitchen, preparing medicines with simple techniques as ancient as time.
    iStockphoto.com/Mona Makela

Makes about 1 quart

The amount of plant material will vary depending upon which plant you are decocting. Usually, the proportion is 5 parts medicinal herb to 100 parts water, but the amount of herb varies based on what form it takes. Dried seeds generally are rich in essential oil, so you need about 2 tablespoons. (An example is fennel seed, which would require 2 to 4 tablespoons per quart of water.) When dealing with roots, on the other hand (an example is gingerroot “coins”) you would want about 1 cup. Another factor is volume; some herbs need more like 2 cups. Rosehips, for example, need about 2 cups because they are hard-skinned and full of seeds. 

If this sounds like it involves some guesswork, that’s probably accurate. You might have to experiment a little to find just the right combination. But playing in the kitchen is half the fun.

• Generous 2 tablespoons to about 2 cup roots, bark, berries or seeds
• 1 quart water

1. Prepare roots, bark, berries or seeds as necessary. For instance, if using fresh gingerroot, peel the root and slice it crosswise into thin “coins.” Rinse any gritty or dirty plant material before using. If using bark or hard, dried root, it is easier to get the medicinal virtues from the material if it is cut or pounded into smaller pieces.

2. Bring water barely to a boil in a nonreactive saucepan and add the prepared plant material. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. For really hard plant parts, you may need to simmer for up to 1 hour. Keep an eye on the water; you may need to add more if it is reducing considerably.

3. For a hot beverage, strain if necessary, taste it for desired strength and serve; sweeten if desired. If using for a compress, you will most likely want to strain it and keep it warm as needed.

Susan Belsinger and Tina Marie Wilcox use herbs every day in and around their homes and greenhouses. Some of this article’s information and recipes are from their book The Creative Herbal Home (Herbspirit, 2007). 

Click here for the original article,  Herbal Apothecary 101 .

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