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?

Chemo Side Effects Reduced With Chinese Herbs, Says Yale

Chemo patients helped with Chinese herbsThis remarkable research conducted at Yale University is incredible news for Americans.  Asian societies, on the other hand, have used these Chinese herbs for generations and understand that boiling peony root, with licorice root, red dates and skullcap root can help the gastro-intestinal tract especially when one is suffering from diarrhea.

The recently announced research proved a drug made from four traditional Chinese herbs, dubbed PHY906, countered the side effects of chemo in rats.  The researchers decided to give the mice, who were on a chemotherapy drug which has side effects of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, this blend of natural herbs.   Not only did the four Chinese herbs improve the mices symptoms of diarrhea but it simultaneously cut the cancerous tumors growth.

 “This combination of chemotherapy and herbs represents a marriage of Western and Eastern approaches,” said lead researcher Dr. Yung-Chi Cheng.

A study such as this and so many others, are slowly beginning to open up American minds to the incredible health benefits of Chinese herbs. I found it interesting to listen to the interview with Dr. Cheng. He states that the four herbs must be used in combination and cooked together.  Used individually, they did not perform the same function. He says, “deletion of any of those herbs, you have a different impact on three biological endpoints.”  This is exactly what Chinese medicine textbooks have told us for years. It is the combination of herbs cooked together that create the synergy and provide the valuable healing medicinal action.

The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has become a core component in  treating cancer patients. Diarrhea is one of the major side effects of the cancer drug irinotecan.  According to  Dr. Yung-Chi Cheng this herbal remedy is based on the formula which was first established 1,800 years ago and is also known as Huang Qin Tang. It was historically used and still is used today for treatment of diarrhea and GI disorder[s].  The popularity of natural herbal medicine has been expanding each year in America as more studies like this are published.

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.

Real Definition

Real definition of Chinese herbal medicine sleep aids
   What is the real definition today of Alternative Medicine?  
   25 years ago it was TM.
    20 years ago it was Chiropractors.
    15 years ago Ayurvedic Medicine and Yoga.
      10 years ago it was Acupuncture.
        5 years ago it was Chinese herbal medicine and Homeopathy and now?  The best      definition may just be all of the above plus: Reflexology, Aromatherapy, Spiritual Healing, Qi Gong and Tai Chi, massage, raw food diets and just about anything else you can imagine.

Today the different possible ways to find health and wellness are as creative and as they are unconventional. The U.S. Government funded National Institute of Health is spending millions of dollars every year funding studies on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, so they must believe the tides are shifting from our “conventional medicine”.  
Why are the tides changing you ask? Alternative medicines focus on the whole person not just the disease symptoms. People are becoming mistrustful of  pharmaceutical companies as reports surface on the inherent dangers and adverse effects of  prescription drugs along with the increased cost.  Thirty years since the war on cancer was declared, no cure is in site.  People are turning their hope for cures and better health to Alternative Medicines where practitioners spend time with their patients and often include help with the emotional trauma of their disease. Something our conventional medicine can no longer afford to offer in a medical system based on insurance reimbursements and medicare funding.
As this tide changes we also find a return to our roots. Quite literally roots, barks, berries, leaves and all parts of nature are part of the new "alternative" health trends. We can now find just about any plant/herb in a bottle and on a store shelf.   Health food stores are popping up even in rural America. Costco sells row upon row of health supplements and vitamins. Herbal medicine is come back in vogue and is the trend rather than the exception.
This new definition of what is alternative is changing as we speak. Although we may not have a clear definition of Alternative Medicine it is becoming anything but alternative.

Children’s Tylenol Recall

McNeil Consumer Healthcare (the makers of TYLENOL®)  are recalling  many of their children’s Tylenol common cold and allergy medications.  Two dozen varieties of their products are voluntarily being pulled off the shelf because of a possible bacterial contamination.

By Rene Rodriquez, L.Ac.

Johnson & Johnson McNeil is taking precautionary steps to urgently and voluntarily recall some of the Tylenol product line after an internal lab test found bacteria in the raw material that went unused in the making of their product. According to the Associated Press, the company reported that although the bacteria B. cepacia was found in a portion of the raw material that went unused, none of the bacteria was found in the finished product. “It was decided, as a precaution, to recall all product that utilized any of the raw material manufactured at the same time as the raw material that tested positive for the bacteria,” the company.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that B. cepacia is a human pathogen found in soil and water and is often spread from contaminated medicine and devices. The effects of the bacteria can range from person to person and the symptoms can range from none at all to serious respiratory infections, especially in those with weakened immune systems or chronic lung diseases.

Although the CDC says that the bacteria is relatively harmless to healthy individuals, it reports that in 2005 several states reported clusters of pneumonia and other infections being caused by B. cepacia found in contaminated mouthwash. B. cepacia can also spread from person to person contact, contact with contaminated surfaces, and exposure to it in the environment. As a result of the bacteria being found by Johnson and Johnson McNeil, nearly two dozen varieties of Tylenol are being recalled as a precautionary move, including Children’s Tylenol Suspension 4 oz. Grape, Infants’ Tylenol Grape Suspension Drops 1/4 oz. and Children’s Tylenol Plus Cold/Allergy 4 oz. Bubble Gum. To find out if you possibly own a contaminated Tylenol product, the lot numbers for any of these can be found on the bottom of the product’s box and on the sticker that surrounds the product’s bottle. For a full list of the recalled products and lot numbers, please visit Tylenol’s web site by clicking here. Concerned parent’s and consumers alike are urged to call Johnson and Johnson McNeil’s consumer call center at 1-800-962-5357. When things like these happen, I usually get many patients who want to try a natural alternative route when dealing with a cold or flu.

I always urge my patients, especially those with children, to always use their best judgment in trying to decide whether to first try natural remedies before resulting to using synthetic medication and always in conjunction with their natural health care provider. As a parent and a natural health care provider, I understand this can be very difficult at times, especially when your child wakes up coughing and with a fever in the middle of the night and the only place open is the 24-hour pharmacy down the street where all you find are aisles of synthetic medication containing dyes and chemicals that you rather not use if given a choice. My best advise to people who are interested in trying natural remedies is always plan ahead. This will give you plenty of time to do your own research and decide what’s best for you and your family, so you don’t feel so helpless at two in the morning when you don’t want to use a synthetic drug, or can’t because, like has happened with the Tylenol product, there’s a possible contamination with bacteria.

Start by investing in a natural remedy book, or ask your family and friends of any natural remedies they know of, then present these to your natural health care provider so that he/she can assist you in helping decide what might be best for you. Planning ahead also means taking your health in your own hands. During cold and flu season, begin limiting the amount of sugar intake, especially the products that contain high fructose corn syrup or white refined sugar. This means avoiding junk food and alcohol as much as possible. Also, stay hydrated with good clean artesian well water.

Another thing I recommend is to stock your medicine cabinet with natural herbal formulas, nutritional supplements, and homeopathic remedies targeted at fighting infections and keeping your immune system healthy. These can include natural remedies, such as Grapefruit Seed Extract, Belladonna, Yin Qiao San, and nutritional supplements, such as Vitamin C, Zinc, and Vitamin D. These are just some examples of the variety of natural products available that are very effective in reducing fevers and curbing the side effects of the common cold or flu, and also supporting your immune system.

Most importantly, make an appointment with your natural health care provider to learn more about which of these natural remedies or nutritional supplements will best work for you and help you develop an approach for understanding when to safely use these with synthetic drugs, or alone.