Decoction – What is a Decoction – Medicinal Preparation Method

What is a Decoction?

what is decoction

Cinnamon, a bark, is an example of an herb that would need to be decocted to extract the essential oils.

Decoction, simmering herbs in water,  is the best method used to extract the medicinal properties and healing elements from coarse plant material such as heavy leaves, stems, roots, rhizomes and bark. By simmering or boiling the mixture, the extraction process is completed. Most methods of decoction also involve mashing or pressing the material before, during and/or after its preparation.

A decoction is the name of the resulting liquid obtained in this process. Decoctions have been in use for several centuries.


Difference between a Decoction and an Infusion

What is decoction growing and using herbs

This picture shows Turkish coffee beginning to boil. Decoction was once the preferred way to make coffee. Coffee is now generally prepared by percolation.

A decoction differs from an infusion, method in which most teas are made, in that the decoction is simmered for a period of time and an infusion is steeped. A decoction is more likely to include several parts of a plant, unlike a tea which often focuses on one part such as the flower or leaves.

The decoction process allows more oil-soluble chemicals to be released into the water than does an infusion.


Basics of Decoction

what is a decoction

The roots and leaves of the Aristolochiaceae plant, a common weed in tropical Asia and Africa, is used to treat insect bites and parasitic worms. Its’ thicker leaves and stem would benefit from the decoction process.


After the plant material is harvested, the ingredients (roots, leaves, stems, rhizomes, etc.) are crushed or mashed to begin the process of breaking down the plant material so that it will release the essential oils and other medicinal properties.

Depending on the decoction being created the material is simmered or boiled in water anywhere from 10 minutes to one hour.  Once the plant material has been boiled or simmered, it liquid is strained to remove all plant material.


Widely Used Decoction Methods

Various malt beverages are created using the decoction process because this process releases the full flavor of the grains used. This process enhances the taste and aroma of the malt beverage. Although, technology allows this process to be more streamlined, many breweries continue to use the more traditional method of extraction.

Other Uses for the Decoction Method

This extraction process can be used to make coffees, teas, and tinctures. Bouillon or stock is made when this process is applied to meats and vegetables.

Photo Credits: Photo 1 (cinnamon bark), Photo 2 (coffee), Photo 3 (Aristolochia)

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