Bulk Herbs and the Power of Decoction

A Post for Practitioners

(but you can read it even if you’re not one)

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When people think back to the origin of our medicine, images of people searching the forests and fields for special plants and minerals that could cure pathological conditions is certainly part of the imagery. Those ingredients, broadly referred to as herbs even though many of them are animal parts or minerals, became the cornerstone of the internal components of what would evolve into Chinese Medicine today. Indeed, the use of powerful herbs is not unique to East Asia and not even unique to pre-modern people. Some assessments put over 80% of modern pharmaceuticals have their origins in compounds derived from plants and animals. Searching for balance or counterbalance in the natural world is perhaps one of the most unifying characteristics of human beings across all cultures and all times.

As a contemporary practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I lean heavily on the knowledge of our predecessors and on the refinement of their craft that is represented by the literal millennia of case studies and commentary on those case studies that form the bulk of the classical basis for modern practice. I look to formulations of different herbs that have been tried and found effective in clinical practice nearly every time that I want to help a patient with their different problems and wellness limitations. And when I finally put together the treatment plan for those conditions, I almost always reach to whole plant medicine. In the same way that I want to eat whole foods as close to their form in nature as possible, so too do I want to build remedies that are as close to the natural world as possible. Our bodies are evolved to process and utilize that which it understands and it struggles to make use of that which is unknown or unrecognizable.

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Yet we all know that patient compliance is often a challenge when prescribing herbal medicine. Cooking herbs into medicinal tea can be time-consuming for people and confusing for patients to navigate on their own. Even patients with the time and intention find themselves forgetting to prepare herbs or using methods that don’t yield the most potent solution. So in our pharmacy we decided to cut out the compliance middleman and do the work ourselves. Using filtered and mineralized water, Root & Branch will cook your patient’s herbs for them to make sure they get the most potent brew to help resolve their ailments.

We use electric pressure cookers to decoct herbs in our shop. We have experimented extensively with cook times, temperatures, and water levels to create a process that produces potent extractions. We are able to maintain the volatile components of short boil herbs by condensing them back into the decoction or by using a more traditional “add at the end” method. If you use our decoction services, please specify “add at the end” when building your formula if that is your preference. All of our decoctions leave the shop in sanitized, reusable, tempered-glass jars that keep those decoctions food safe in the refrigerator for as many as 10 days.  But please adhere to the “Best-Buy” date in your patient’s herb packet.

Important Points about Decoction Service at R&B

 1.) Because of food safety concerns with shipping, decoction Service is only available for patients who are able to come to the pharmacy in person to pick up their cooked herbs.

2.) R&B cooks  1 day’s herbs (usually also one bag) into one (1), 16oz jar of finished decoction. Dosing therefore is usually 1/2 jar (8oz) per dose, 2 times per day. Exact volume will vary depending on the herbs in a formula and the number of days being cooked. IF YOU NEED EXACT VOLUMES FOR YOUR PATIENTS, you may want your patients to cook their herbs at home.

3.) In order to guarantee that decoctions are fresh and safe to consume, R&B CANNOT decoct more than 7 days worth of herbs at a time (i.e. no more than seven jars of decoction at a time).

4.) From the time payment is received for herbs, it usually takes 2.5 hours for the herbs to be cooked, cooled, and packaged. Please advise your patients accordingly. They will receive a text notification that there herbs are ready for pick-up.

5.) Decoction service costs $3.00 which pays for a portion of the jars and carriers, as well as the labor to wash, sanitize, and restock the equipment