Delve into the delightful world of delicious decoctions

Hi there. Are you looking forward to the next instalment of my making herbal remedies series? I hope you are!! I always enjoy making things with herbs. In the 12 years of learning and discovering more and more about herbal medicine I will always come across and learn new things. There is a lifetime of learning in any field of study that a person chooses…. and I love nature so I see herbalism as an extension of this.

happy summer solstice

Just to digress slightly… Happy Summer Solstice ūüôā merry¬†meet and merry greet to everyone. I hope that you have a wonderful celebration on today’s happy occasion.

Back to the topic at hand. Last time I shared how to make herbal infusions. This is a simple way of preparing herbs yet it is very effective. Decoctions are very similar to infusions – the key to understanding which method to use is:

“Always make an infusion with herbs, leave and flower. Decoctions are for parts which need a¬†bit more power.”

Decoctions are used to extract the herbal goodness from berry and root. The hard, woody parts of a plant. Which as you are aware can also include bark, gums and resins.

Liquorice root is a typical example of a herb which is better being decocted instead of infused

Liquorice root is a typical example of a herb which is better being decocted instead of infused

Where as an infusion is made by pouring boiling water over a herb and steeping them for 5 – 10 minutes you need to get the pans out for a decoction. It is where you boil up either fresh or dried bark, root or berry in a pan. The tissues of the hard plant parts are softened by boiling which helps to extract all of the virtues of the herb that you are using.

If a herb is mucilaginous and this is a virtue which helps it to support health and wellbeing then it shouldn’t be decocted¬†as this will destroy this action. This applies to marshmallow root, comfrey and slippery elm (which is powdered bark). Generally aromatic herbs will lose their volatile oils through decoction – therefore they should also be infused instead. Peppermint, fennel seeds and valerian root are all aromatic herbs which rely of the volatile oils to support the physiological actions they have on the body.

It makes the extraction process easier if you chop the herbs which you are using up. The more surface area the herbs have the easier it is to extract the active constituents into the boiling water. Something that we were taught in science and which we use without being conscious of it when we are cooking and baking in the kitchen.

Decoctions are immediate preparations similar to infusions and should be used within 24 hours of making them. Therefore only make enough for a day’s worth of herbal use. I use decoctions to make delicious teas, to add herbs into creams which I make, to add to the bath, for a hair rinse and if I have any of the decoction left over I like to water it down and feed it to my plants (indoor and out) as the goodness which will support us in our health and wellbeing was originally used to support the plants health and wellbeing – therefore infusions and decoctions make great plant foods. Just be careful not to upset the plants by feeding them their own family!! They will be as upset as we would if this happened to us!!

It's not weeding.. it's harvesting.  All parts of the blackberry can be used.  It needs to be washed but then the root can be decocted.

It’s not weeding.. it’s harvesting. All parts of the blackberry can be used. It needs to be washed but then the root can be decocted.

Dandelion root is a fantastic herb which is great in a decoction. As is yellow dock, willow bark and blackberry root bark. All of which are medicinal plants which grow around Grimsby and Cleethorpes (as well as globally) and tend to be abundant or classed as a weed and therefore are safe to harvest without affecting the ecology of the area.

Try to use 25g¬†of herb with roughly 500ml¬†of water as a rough guideline of ratio’s for decocting unless otherwise specified.¬† If you have time allow the herb to sit in the water and soak for a few hours prior to boiling it up.¬† This isn’t essential though.¬† Always cover the pan with a lid to contain any volatile elements which are released though the heating process.¬† Bring the herb to a slow boil and then reduce the heat and allow them to simmer for 10-15 minutes.¬† The harder the plant material the longer the simmering time of extraction is required.¬† Once you have boiled the herb, if possible press the plant material using muslin cloth to ensure that you are getting all of the plant goodness.



What it health?

Marigolds, seem as sunshine herbs are great for boosting both mind and body

My favourite quote is by Mahatma Gandi “Health is true wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” But what is health? I know from observing people that it is taken for granted when people are healthy and sorely missed when it is gone!! Whilst studying to be a herbalist at University I was taught that our health is a great way to look into a persons past – this is because our health is the result of all of our actions and their consequences in life. I know that this sounds a bit drastic but when you boil it all down it is essentially true too!


Roses can revitalise and uplift your spirits when taken as a herbal medicine – although the same can be said when we receive them too!

Health arises from a harmony with nature, our health isn’t just our actions but also our response to the changing seasons and the tides of time. Health therefore isn’t something which is achieved but something which is constantly worked on. The ideal state of happiness and health is still achievable but it isn’t so much a goal as a lifestyle choice. Our mind can affect our body for example: depression can lower the immune system. The same is true that our body can affect our mind – if we are lacking in certain nutrients then we can experience confusion, poor memory, irritability, lethargy and several other issues which we attribute to our thoughts and emotions.

When you look at the body in detail it is constantly changing, biochemical reactions are constantly occurring, cells are dying, new cells are being made to replace them – we are not who we were a year ago as practically every cell in our body will have been replaced!! Change is constant and because we are living beings we can survive and function effectively if we can easily adapt to change. Some of us struggle with this which causes stress which in itself has a detrimental effect on the body.


Meditation is a great way of stilling the mind and reducing the mindless chatter that occurs.

Hippocrates is deemed the founder of modern medicine, a lot of his philosophies regarding health are FINALLY being accepted again. “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” If we do replace every cell in our body on a regular basis then it stands to reason that we are what we eat. If we eat a lot of bad foods then we will end up feeling bad. Simples’! He also viewed health as a balance. This Hippocratic doctrine of harmony is only just re-entering the scientific arena. In Hippocratic teachings it is taught that both health and disease are under the control of NATURE and natures laws. Health and disease reflect the influence exerted by the environment and our way of life (our lifestyle). Health depends on the state of balance and equilibrium among the various internal factors which govern the mind, body and soul. This balance of health is only reached when we live in harmony with our environment.


Reconnect with nature to be more in harmony with it. It’s amazing how great you can feel after spending time outdoors

Love your planet, love your community, love your neighbours, family and friends and most of all love yourself! As a herbalist I use herbs and plants, gifts from Mother Nature to help to support your health and wellbeing and bring it back into balance. Health also required action on the part of the one being healed by assessing their lifestyle including their thoughts, diet and routines.

Spring into action and grow

The raspberry leaves are starting to bud this year :)

The raspberry leaves are starting to bud this year ūüôā

There is nothing quite as connecting as getting your hands in some mud, in a world where we walk about with shoes on all the time (rubber soles are insulators) we can become quite disconnected to our planet. If we each planted a tree would there really be an issue with global warming? Why not plant five? Or one a year at least on Earth Day (April 22nd). A pip from an apple will grow into a massive tree which will supply our children, our future generations with delicious food. As we are near the end of Gardening Week I wanted to discuss ways in which you can grow fruit/veg and herbs without it costing the earth.If money is an issue please do not give up before you have started, if you buy fruits and vegetables to eat then you already have access to free seeds… save the inside of peppers when you cut them up and allow them to dry out. The seeds can now be planted to grow pepper plants which will taste so much better than the ones you bought in the supermarket originally…. and they will be organic (if you don’t spray them with horrible chemicals that is). Seeds can be harvested from apples, oranges, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, passion fruit, melons, strawberries and raspberries.

I can hear you shouting at the screen saying “They are food plants not herbs!!” You are right, but in the famous words of Hippocrates “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”. Our diet has a huge impact to our health. We literally are what we eat.

Growing raspberries is an excellent example of getting delicious food AND herbal medicine from one plant. Raspberry is a native plant to the UK although it isn’t found in the wild any more ūüė¶ (I hope you can prove me wrong on this one!!). It is a delicious fruit which is quite pricey to purchase from the supermarket but easy to grow in your garden or in a pot. The fruit tastes ten times better and as a bonus the leaves are medicinal. Herbalists use the raspberry leaves in herbal tea blends. They have an affinity with females and help to tone and tighten the womb and uterus – great if you have experienced a miscarriage and would like to ensure it doesn’t happen again. You can drink a tea of the leaves in the lead up to you trying to concieve another baby – preferably 1-3 times a day for three months. You can add delicious tasting herbs to the tea to suit your taste if required.

You can even go to poundshops and pick up raspberry canes for £1!!  Poundshops even stock vegetable seeds, herb starter kits, strawberry root stocks, blueberry, gooseberry and current canes too!!

Grow your own blueberries? I don't mind if I do!!

Grow your own blueberries? I don’t mind if I do!!

Seeds are quite cheap and offer the opportunity to grow your own herbs. If you get bored staring at a pot and waiting for it to sprout you could always set aside a small plate or bowel with moistened cotton wool pads. Place your seeds a space apart on the cotton wool pads and keep dry, you will then get to see the seeds sprouting, once this occurs you should pot them into compost so that they can continue to grow. This technique is a bit like the cress egg heads that were completed in junior school.Supermarkets offer packets of fresh herbs – these are plants which have been forced to grow quickly, you can always separate the packet into several pots of soil and allow them to develop into maturity. Once they have established they can be planted outdoors. Parsley is classed as an annual herbs but several of the plants I have grown have lasted for two years instead of one, which is an added bonus.

You don’t have to spend money on expensive plant food either! A plants food source is cellulose – or starch. Potatoes and rice are full of starch. If you have cut up potatoes to make a meal for yourself/friends or family – save the water that you used as it will extract starch and be an excellent plant food to both water and feed your plants with. Same with rice – soak rice before boiling and save the white water from soaking. If you drink herbal teas, use the tea bag again to make a weak brew, dilute till it is a similar colouration as wee and pour over your plants. They will love you for it.

Hate weeding the garden? Do you know that alot of the plants you dig up may actually be medicinal? Dock roots, dandelion herb and root, nettle herb and root, plantain, chickweed, shephards purse, bramble leaf, bark and root… all can be turned into cosmetic and medicinal products. Don’t see it as weeding, look at it as harvesting ūüôā

Gardening is an excellent form of therapy – its doesn’t have to cost alot and as well as the emotional, mental and physical benefits of nurturing a plant into maturity you also get to either eat it or make cosmetics or medicine out of it too!! Free therapy but you get tomatoes!! Walks in the outdoors (generally in the Autumn) will give you the opportunity to harvest seeds – yarrow grows in the middle of Grimsby town centre and also along Cleethorpes coastline. The seeds can be collected in the autumn.

Can’t wait till them? Sage and Rosemary are excellent plants which grow together very well, they are also both great plants for vegetative propagation – this is taking a cutting (roughly 2″ long), planting it in a pot of compost and watering it for several weeks to create a new plant. If you know someone who has either (or both) of these plants in their garden already the majority of the time if you ask nicely they will not mind if you take a cutting (especially if it is established and large) and you can grow your own plant ūüôā Both smell divine, are great to use in cooking, can be added to baths, made into a tea and used to support your health and wellbeing.

Great eh? I think so ūüôā Happy Gardening Week everyone

Does our environment afffect our metabolism?

I was asked on twitter whether our external environment has an impact on our metabolism.  I feel that the answer is YES.  Our health and wellbeing is made up of numerous factors which includes physical.  Physical not only includes our internal environment and the numerous biochemical reactions which are occurring every second of every day but also our external environment, the ecosystem, altitude, weather etc.

I live in a quaint little county of England called North East Lincolnshire Рour weather is usually wet and cold, last year there was no real summer but it rained and rained.  I am aware of a number of people within the area who experience chronic otitis media (water trapped behind the ear drums), colds, coughs, sinusitis, irritable bowel syndrome and many other health issues which can all be described as wet and cold in nature.

Let me explain, as a herbalist I was trained to understand the six tissue states. I was taught about the body from a biochemical level upwards but in order to offer holistic health care¬†you have¬†to understand and identify the different patterns that the body presents to you in order to reveal the underlying imbalances.¬† One of the reasons why it is fantastic to become more in tune with your own body!! Peope can be so disconnected from what their body is signalling to them…. are you one of these?

From the historical origins of Greek humoral medicine four qualities were identified: hot, cold, dry and wet, these qualities can be used to describe the tissues within the body.

Hot, excited tissue states benefit from sedatives which can cool the tissue and restore balance.  Heat disperses and makes things lighter, thinner and more porous.

Dry, atrophic tissues within the body require moisture.  Dryness hardens things reducing pliability and preventing things from passing through them.

Too much moisture in tissues can cause a damp congested state which need the fluids to be reduced to restore balance.  Dampness and moisture can soften things making them more pliable; water also flows which can take up substances.

Cold tissues can show depressed activity and may need stimulant herbs to restore heat. Cold aggravates, condenses and packs things together.

People can be understood by their qualities, personality traits in relation to the four qualities have been developed any include: Powerful Choleric (dry and hot), Phlegmatic (moist and cold), Popular Sanguine (hot and moist) and Melancholy (cold and dry).  From the micro to the macro everything can be looked at having different degrees of these qualities.

These qualities can even be used to study inert objects, a new dimension is therefore introduced when looking at living beings such as ourselves.  The four states are complicated by the degree of tension ranging from constricted to relaxed.

If tissue is over-relaxed, astringents can be utilised to constrict and tone the flaccid tissue.

Constricted tissues show a lack of movement, relaxants can release the tension in the tissues and restore the flow of fluids around them.

When we think of our metabolism we think of how well we burn up our food and whether or not it is easy or hard for us to lose/gain weight.  Metabolism actually relates to the biochemical transformation of one substance into another form.  Most transformations within the body are helped by enzymes which are produced within the body and are specific molecules which work like a lock and key to support metabolism.

Factors which can affect our metabolism include the quantities of enzymes present, our body is maintained at a certain temperature through a process called homeostasis.  Without this many cells would die and the enzymes in our body would not work well.  There is an optimum range of pH and temperature in order to ensure that the enzymes are efficient in their role within the body.  Both have a minimal range without having drastic consequences on our health but our pH levels can vary depending on the foods which we eat (preferably they should be in season) and our organs.  The stomach is more acidic but the intestines function better in an alkaline environment.

Certain food additives, dyes, herbicides, insecticides, alcohol and cigarette smoking all affect metabolism.  Depending on where you source your food your could be contributing to a change in your metabolic rate.

When a herbalist looks at the body, it is as a whole; how the patient relates to the environment around them is taken into account, this includes the tissue states.  Our health is the culminative result of our actions and our environment.  Cold foods such as salad which are in season in the summer cool our bodies when it is required (depending on where you live) due to the hot nature of summer. In the winter our instinct to warming hearty dishes helps to heat our body and is supportive of the season.  Hot steaming stews, mulled wine, cinnamon and spices meals and puddings are prefered in the winter.  Eating out of season puts added stress on your body Рeating salads in the winter is only going to make the body work harder (requiring more nutrients) to heat the body (because of the season) and also because of eating food which naturally depresses activity.

What do you think about this subject?