At its fundamentals, a decoction is a preparation made by boiling plant material in water. If infusion is the good cop of medicine making, decoction is the hard hitting bad cop. So, it’s used mostly for tougher plant materials, such as roots, seeds, barks, and hard berries. For example, dandelion and echinacea root both need to be decocted to make a medicinal tea.
Time and Temperature
General guidelines for decoction are to simmer your herbs for 20 minutes-1 hour. The timing really depends on the type of herb and how long you can stand to wait for your medicine. For you impatient herbalists out there, remember the longer you leave the herbs in the water, the more medicine you tend to extract.
However, don’t cook your herbs so long or with so much heat that you run out of water. Many a good cooking pot has been lost to the medicine making gods because a burner was left to run too long.
A few tips for preventing this are to keep a lid on your pot (which is good for keeping aromatic properties in anyway), or to use a crockpot. Crockpots not only give a nice steady simmer, they are also more forgiving of forgetful medicine makers.
But What About Leaves and Flowers?
If you want to make yourself a nice cup of chamomile tea, decoction is probably not the method for you. Remember, infusion is the method more often used for delicate plants parts, such as leaves and flowers.
Leafy material can also be boiled, but they tend to lose their aromatic properties, which are often the very ones your looking for. Imagine peppermint tea without the aroma-really, what's the point?
However, if you’re just dying to add some rose petals or mint to your dandelion root tea, but don’t want to lose the aromatics, no problem. Simply wait until your decoction is ready, take it off the heat, and add your leaves or other flowery bits. Bad cop, then good cop:)
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