What are Herbal Decoctions Anyway?

Ever Heard of a Decoction?    

Does it conjure up images of a witches brew?


Decoction literally means to concentrate the essence of a substance by heating or boiling, especially a medicinal preparation made from a plant.

This is exactly the method of preparation Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses to extract or release the chemicals stored in botanicals used for medicinal purposes. 


In fact, this was the way I was first introduced to Chinese herbal medicine.  I visited a Licensed Acupuncturist/Doctor of Oriental Medicine whom I was referred to me by my OB/GYN.  Yes, I was extremely fortunate to have an alternative minded OB/GYN who understood just enough about herbs to refer me to a professional.  I was 9 1/2 months pregnant.  (A small exaggeration, but this is how I felt.) The baby was overdue and there were no signs of labor.  I wanted a natural, gentle way to encourage my body into labor.  Rather than experimenting with a bottle of capsules my doctor insisted I see a Licensed Acupuncturist/Herbalist for a safe herbal prescription.


After a lengthy visit with the Chinese Medicine doctor,  I had my bag of roots, barks and berries boiling in my kitchen.  I cooked them as instructed. The correct word is actually, “DECOCTED”. This is generally boiling them at the appropriate temperature, for a certain amount of time, with a set amount of purified water. I drank them for three days and on the third day I went into labor.  Ok, the baby was due anyway but this was my introduction into Chinese herbal medicine.  It’s been over 20 years since I decocted my first Chinese herbs.

Herbal decoction methods have been used throughout the ages. Before the industrialized revolution built factories to produce herbal medicine into capsules and pills, people boiled herbs. Today we still have many traditional cultures which use herbal medicine the “old fashioned way”.   Boiling a pot of roots, bark and berries and then drinking the water left behind is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 


The question remains, is drinking a pot of herbal medicine a better, faster, more effective way to use herbs than swallowing a handful of pills? 


The answer is without a doubt YES!   The average size of pills and capsules are very small and can hold only about 1/2 a gram of herbal extract. 

Even if the herbal extract is at a very high concentration, 1/2 gram per capsule (about 1/4 tsp)  is a very small amount to get a desired effect from the herbal medicinal.  Most encapsulated bottled products recommend taking 2-3 capsules once or twice daily.  This equals an extremely small dose of raw herbs or decocted herbs.  Practically speaking pills and capsules are fairly easy to take, that is, until you have to take 20 or so pills a day.  


Drinking your herbal medicine not only allows the chemical components from the plants to be more readily bio-available, it is also the way your body understands receiving nourishment.   Research has been conducted on the dissolution of herbs in our body.  Dissolving herb granules in hot water or decocting them allows the solvents to release their effect immediately thereby working more quickly in the body.  Whereas, herbal medicine combined with fillers such as dextrin in capsules or pills, (also used to prevent clumping), need very hot,  near boiling water to dissolve. This high dissolution temperature of dextrin inhibits the fast absorption.


With so much information available on the use of decoctions, it’s hard for me to choose a pill or capsule over granule medicinal herbal extracts.   Besides, who would want all those fillers in capsules and tablets anyway?

Chinese Medicine and Consumer Transparency – Where Do Your Herbs Come From?

I realized it’s been a year since I posted an article about transparency of herbal products on the market today.  Much has changed with new GMP (Good Manufacturing Process) laws and much has stayed the same.  I decided to re-post this while talking with a client about what to look for in the best Chinese herb products on the market.  It will always be a buyers-beware market. You must do your homework when shopping for supplements. The first order of business is to check out the manufacturer.  If you would like our Free Special Report on:  “What you need to know about Chinese Herbs before you buy” just sign up for our news letter and you will receive it FREE.  Or click here.  Enjoy this article about transparency and what we’ve done to help provide you with the most information possible about our herbal products.

Crystal Clear = transparencyAs I make my way through the murky waters of the internet today, I found the most refreshing words, like a crystal clear lake in the middle of the  mountains that you just happen upon on a back country hike.  The words were these:  “Directions to Standard Process” Now I don’t usually name any companies in my blogs or support and certain supplier and I  truthfully have no connection with Standard Process (a supplement manufacturer), but that’s not the reason to mention them here.  The reason is simple.  Wadding through all the supplement/herb suppliers on the internet I’ve never seen these words before. Directions,  they are advertising directions to their factory on a map of Wisconsin and even more incredible, a tour of their factory. It’s unheard of!

This is exactly what we need in this industry.  Transparency is more than a word.   It is an action that companies need to take for consumers to have real faith in their products.   PAC Herbs along with Standard Process has done this and more.  Both our websites  announces  to  the public, “take a tour of our  facilities”.   Standard Process says  “hairnets and lab-coats are provided  and please wear rubber shoes”.    If that’s not the gold standard what is?   It simple doesn’t get more transparent than that. Since our factory is in Taiwan, and it’s a bit of a trek for most of us to follow the “Directions to PAC Herbs factory”. Rather than  lose transparency  because of  distance, I have brought our factory tour to you, via internet and video.   

I’ve also added a Google Earth link so you can easily find our factory via cyberspace and zoom right in. Our factory video is on our home page so in approximately  three minutes you can take a tour, no lab-coat or hair net needed. You can even do it barefoot. A company that’s been around as long as Standard Process (since 1929) has learned the value in allowing customers (and potential customers) complete access. I’m impressed with their transparency and continue to follow their lead.  This is a must for our industry.  Consumers  want access these days, not only does it make us feel special,  like we’re a celebrity cutting right through to the front of the line. More importantly,  transparency helps educate consumers and allows them to  purchase the best products for their health needs,  rather than a cheap imitation product that’s barely effective. Herb and other supplement manufacturers who choose to keep those “Directions”   from their websites are missing a golden opportunity to increase their own credibility,  or do they have something to hide?

Herbal medicine suppliers talk about cGMP processing rules and regulations but unless you know  where they physically are manufacturing the goods how can you know or trust their products.  The herbal/supplement market suffers greatly from lost credibility.  PAC Herbs takes a different direction. We’ve contracted with the most reputable herbal processing manufacturer in the world, KPC, Kaiser Pharmaceutical Company, to produce our products. (not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente) We have actively chosen to be transparent about our factory, location, operation and it’s history, to give you the confidence that our Chinese herbal  products are the best on the planet.  

Check out the KPC  website, learn more, you’ll find it a refreshing change from most herb suppliers who prefer to leave those “directions” conspicuously missing.

Herb & Vitamin Fillers – is there a recommended dose?

pill questions markLabels on most herbal products in the US provide little to no information regarding  the amount of fillers ie. starch, otherwise known as excipients.  Excipients are  inactive substance used as a carrier or any ingredient that is added to adjust the intended dosage. Often excipients are used to  achieve a uniform  5 to 1 herb ratio.  (Basically a diluents).  Excipients are also used to improve administration such as making capsules or  pressed pills.

Currently, there is no technology to make capsules or pressed supplements without using these fillers. Current FDA labeling requirements for dietary supplements do not require the manufacturer  to list the amount of excipients. This leaves room  for lots of speculation and ambiguity regarding the strength of the products.  How much product in the bottle is filler and how much is vitamins and/or herbal extract? There is no set answer for this question simply depends on the manufacturer  and many are not disclosing this information on their labels.  

Gel-Caps and individual packet herbs are the only modalities which do not need to contain excipients.  There are over 750 additives (includes excipients) which  have been approved  by the Food and Drug  Administration (FDA) for  our food & supplement products. Excipients  toxicity and safety has been a controversial subject for more than a decade. Some research suggests excipients destroy immunity by bursting T-Cells and block nutrient uptake. This topic is too broad to discuss here.   I mention this, only to bring awareness that the issue exists. 

There are compelling reasons for these theories and  further  research is clearly warranted.  There is simply too much we don’t  know about  how excipients interact in our bodies. Excipients usage in Chinese herbal products ranges anywhere from 35% to 50% of a 100 gram bottle of extract, the same percentages apply for capsule herb products.  Dextrin is a common excipients along with non-GMO potato starch or  corn starch (corn is the most genetically altered food).  Again, the amount of excipient  used is  not currently required on product labels. Advantages of adding excipients are they extend the shelf life of Chinese herb products. Chinese Herb tea pills were traditional made without  an excipient.

The natural clumping of  the herbs was beneficial in this delivery system.  Unfortunately the shelf life is very short. Remember herbs are natural products and without preservatives they do turn rancid when exposed to air.  One side effect of adding excipients has turned into a benefit  for  people who prefer  to swallow their herb granules by  placing granules  on their tongue and swallowing with water. The use of  excipients makes this easier by reducing the natural stickiness of  the herbs.