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How to Make a Chinese Herb Decoction

Cooking Chinese herbs can be confusing, especially as different formulas are sometimes cooked in different ways. However, in general, Die Da (injury) formulas often use the same cooking procedures, so the instructions that follow on how to make a Chinese herb decoction should work for most formulas in the Die Da Category.



To make a Chinese herb decoction you are basically using a reduction cooking process: reducing the amount of water you add to the herbs down to a concentrated liquid through slow cooking. This process extracts the substances from the herbs that create the medicinal effect.

When you look at a standard Chinese herb formula that requires decocting, the dosage listed is generally for one packet – or one dose – of herbs. The usual dosage is one packet per day, for one or more days, depending on the formula and the situation.

The instructions below are for a single packet of herbs.

Use a stainless steel, ceramic, clay or glass pot. Aluminum, tin or iron pots should be avoided.

Step 1: For one pack (one dose) of herbs, put the herbs in a stainless steel, ceramic or glass cooking pot with 4 cups of water and let the herbs soak for 20-30 minutes.

Note: If you wish to cook several packets of herbs at the same time, increase the water accordingly. Ex: 2 packs of herbs = 8 cups of water; 3 packs = 12 cups: etc.

Step 2: Turn on the burner and bring the water to a rolling boil. Once boiling, turn the flame down to a simmer and cover the pot loosely so that steam can escape.

Step 3: Simmer the herbs for 45 min to an hour.

Step 4: Take the pot off the flame, strain the liquid into a container (a large, heat-resistant Pyrex glass measuring cup is ideal) and save. You can now throw the cooked herbs away.

Drink the resulting liquid while it is warm.

Herbs that need to be cooked longer, and/or herbs added after cooking:

Occasionally in a formula there are one or more herbs that need to be cooked longer than the others. If so, these herbs will be separated out into a separate packet and marked accordingly (ie cook second).

Step 1: Put the first packet of herbs into the cooking pot, soak them and cook them for an hour as directed above in Steps 1 and 2.

Step 2: After the first pack of herbs has cooked for an hour, add the remaining herbs and simmer for another 45 minutes to an hour.

Step 3: At this point, add any herbs that can only be cooked for a short time (if included, these will be separated out and marked as such) and cook the entire mixture 5-7 minutes more. Herbs like Sha Ren, Hou Po, Rou Gui and Mu Xiang should only be cooked five minutes as some of the active ingredients are volatile aromatic oils that burn off after 5-7 minutes.

Step 4: Take the pot off the flame, strain the liquid into a container and save. You can now throw the cooked herbs away.

Step 5: Once drained, stir in any powders like San Qi that should not be cooked, or herbs that are dissolved in the hot liquid such as E Jiao). If included, these will be separated out and marked. If flowers or leaves like Xin Yi Hua (magnolia flower) or Bo He (mint leaf) are in the formula, they are added to the cooked decoction only at this time – steep them in the cooked decoction for 10 minutes.

If necessary, strain the decocted liquid again.

Drink the resulting liquid while it is warm.

If you have cooked two packs of herbs at the same time, divide the resulting volume of liquid in half (ie: you have 2 doses). Drink half (one dose) and store the rest in a glass or porcelain container in the refrigerator. If you cooked three packages, divide the liquid into thirds (3 doses), drink one third (one dose) and store the rest, and so on. The next day, when it is time to take the next dose, heat up one dose of herbs until it is warm and drink it. It can also be drunk at room temperature, but should not be drunk cold.

Dosage: Generally, unless directed otherwise, you are drinking the decocted liquid generated by one pack (one dose) of herbs.

Basic Considerations:

  • Do not add sweeteners to herbs.
  • Drink herbs while hot, on a relatively empty stomach – half an hour before a meal, an hour after a meal, or anytime in between meals.
  • Store uncooked bags of herbs in a cool dry place.

Adverse Reaction: If you have an adverse reaction, stop taking the formula and contact your practioner.

Bad Taste: Many herb formulas are bitter in taste, especially Die Da formulas. Here are some ways to deal with the bitterness:

  • Let the herbs cool until lukewarm and drink quickly.
  • Hold your nose while drinking herbs.
  • Let any sediment settle and then drink the liquid only or strain out the sediment.
  • Chase the formula with some raisins or sweet dates to get the taste out of your mouth if it really bothers you.
  • Rinse your mouth or brush your teeth after taking the herbs.
  • Divide the formula into smaller amounts and sip it throughout the day.
  • Over time, you may find the herb taste more familiar and less bitter.