As any good cook knows, different foods require different cooking times. The same situation exists when it comes to cooking herbs. Traditionally herbs were formulated and cooked based on the requirements of the ingredients. Sometimes that meant that herbs were cooked in water, sometimes they were soaked in wine, and at times used raw. It depended on the specifics of the herbs and the needs of the patient.
There are some general rules of thumb when it comes to cooking traditional herbs. Roots, twigs, bark and most animal products are cooked for a relatively long time. This is because of the density of the materials and the difficulty in extracting the important ingredients out of the herbs. Leaves and flowers are often added to a decoction very late and cooked for a very short time. These delicate herbs get their power from aromatic oils that easily evaporate away so the cooking time is kept to a minimum.
Some herbal formulations call for various rocks, minerals and shells. These types of materials provide a heavy nature to the formulas. They also do not dissolve in water very well. As a result these types of materials are often cooked first and for a very long time. This imparts calcium, iron and other minerals into the water and provides a specific type of solution in which to prepare other herbs. It is important to note that well water that is high in mineral content may be inappropriate for the preparation certain formulas, because the minerals in the water would have undesirable affects. For the same reason, herbal formulas are traditionally cooked in ceramic pots to avoid leaching metals like iron into the final herbal formula.
Like a gourmet chef that pays attention to every little detail, the traditional herbalist also knows how to get the most out of the materials that are used to create the end product. Many large herb companies, like other conglomerate food manufacturers, don't always pay that close of attention. The resulting herbal formula may not have the quality that would be expected. Many companies do not cook any of their formulas, much less cook them properly. The patient should always get the best available advice as to what herbs are appropriate, and whether they were prepared properly.
— David Bock
This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"
David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066