How to decoct Chinese Medicine?

Learning how to decoct Chinese medicine has become less important. Many Chinese formulas have been made into tablets and many are also available in powder form.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of Chinese formulas are still not available in either tablets or powder, which means that they need to be decocted.

Moreover, herbal formulas that have been decocted are readily absorbed and take effect more quickly, which is beneficial for acute disorders. In order to produce the best therapeutic effects, formulas should be decocted according to established methods.

The best crockery to use

The pot used for decoction should be made of something other than iron or bronze in order to prevent chemical changes; usually, an earthenware pot is used instead.

The best crockery to use are those made of ceramics as they will not have any chemical reaction with the drugs. As they conduct heat slowly, the medicine will not get burnt and stick to the bottom of the pot. Stainless steel and glass pots will also do. But you must not use bronze, aluminium and iron pots. These metal pots will have chemical reactions with the drugs and affect their effectiveness. They may even cause side-effects!

The way to decoct Chinese medicine

Place the herbs in the pot, add cold water just enough to cover all the herbs and then add one more cup, so that the water will be about half an inch higher than the herbs.

Stir a little bit and let the herbs soak in the water for about 20 minutes. Then bring the water to boil; as soon as the water begins to boil, reduce the heat to low, both to keep the water from overflowing and to prevent its premature exhaustion.

During the course of decoction, the pot should be covered and not opened too frequently in order to retain the volatile constituents of some herbs.

The quantity of the water used varies with the herbs and the heat, because some herbs absorb more water than others and thus need more water for decoction and high heat consumes more water than low heat.

Before decoction, herbs should be soaked in water for about 20 minutes to make them soft and moist. The same water should be used for decoction to prevent any loss of the herbs' potency. The total decoction time depends upon the herbs being decocted. For instance, herbs for inducing perspiration can be decocted over high heat for less than 10 minutes after the water starts boiling and herbs for strengthening the body, traditionally called tonics, can be decocted for as long as an hour over low heat. After decoction, the herbs are strained.

When a Chinese patient gets a prescription from a doctor, he or she usually brings it to an herb shop for filling. The clerk at the herb shop will wrap up the herbs in small paper bags and give instructions for each bag to be decocted two to three times for oral administration. Normally, each decoction is to be taken all at once as one dosage, usually in one or two cups and two dosages are taken a day. The same bag of herbs can be decocted in the morning and then again in the late afternoon.

Sometimes it may be necessary to decoct the heavy or hard herbs, like wood or roots, over low heat for 10 to 20 minutes first, so that their constituents will become fully soluble in boiling water.

Clinical experiences have shown that such heavy herbs can be decocted repeatedly to produce good results. After heavy and hard herbs have been boiled for 10 to 20 minutes, add the aromatic herbs and then the very light herbs, such as leaves and flowers, which should be decocted for only about five minutes or so in order to prevent evaporation of some constituents like essential oils.

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