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Herbs (Cooking and Drinking)

The Kind of Container

The best container is ceramic. Glass and non-reactive metal (such as stainless steel) are okay. It is important that you need a teapot with lid. Materials to avoid include cast iron or aluminum, which may interact with Chinese herbs then causing chemical reactions that can alter the therapeutic effect of the herbs, so you should avoid using them.


In ancient times the source of the water used in the tea was an important issue. Some teas required water from a spring; others called for water collected during a rain. Nowadays, any drinking water is acceptable.


Soak the herbs. Place the herbs into the water. The water should cover the herbs by about 2 centimetres (two or three cups of water should be okay). If you have enough time to do the preparations before cooking, you can soak the herbs for half an hour or even one hour. In this way, the herbs can absorb the water completely.

Bring water to a rolling boil. Then, turn down the fire to a low simmer.

General speaking, you should simmer the herbs for 30 minutes in the first boiling and for 20 minutes in the second boiling. There are several variations in the time necessary to cook herbs. It depends mostly on the kind of herbs you’re cooking. Diaphoretics are cooked for no more than 20 minutes. Aromatics herbs should be only put into cooking in the last 5 minutes. For tonic herbs, 40 to 50 minutes is appropriate.

Don’t lift up the lid, especially with aromatic herbs as the volatile oils can evaporate out of the mixture very easily.

Drain the herbs and drink the liquid (not the sediments)

If you find the taste disagreeable, then your tongue is working right:) However, if you find the taste so unpalatable that you don’t drink it, then you need to do something to make it more drinkable. The best way to change the terrible taste is to add three or four slice of raw ginger when cooking. Some people add a little honey or sugar to sweeten it. But be careful too much ginger, honey or sugar will change not only the taste but also the nature of whole formula, so ask for me, your herbalist before you do so. After some time, your body begins to know the black/brown liquid is really good to you, and then the taste will be okay.

Re-cook the same herbs a second time. Normally it needs two cups of water and 20 minutes for cooking. To get a better effect, you should drink the herbal liquid twice a day (in the morning and evening). That means for one pack of herbs, you should cook them twice and drink twice. You can do the two cookings at the same time and then mix the tea together to ensure each cup of tea has equal treatment effect. That is, if you do the cooking in the evening, you drink one cup first, and then in the next morning, instead of 20-minutes’cooking, you just reheat another cup and drink it.

Exceptions to the rules above

Herbs cooked for longer than 20 minutes. Some herbs are from minerals so that they require more time to leach out their therapeutic ingredients. Examples of these herbs are Mu Li (Oyster) and Ci Shi (Magnetite). In the first boiling, they need to be cooked 20 to 30 minutes before others. Simply place them in the water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, then add the rest of the herbs and cook for another 30 minutes. But in the second boiling, normal length of cooking (20 minutes) should be okay.

Herbs cooked for periods shorter than 20 minutes. Aromatic herbs are often used to relieve the patient with common cold or stuffed nose. Examples of aromatic herbs include Bo He (Peppermint). These herbs (usually wrapped separately) contain volatile oils that come out very quickly, and evaporate out of the decoction if steeped too long. Hence, they should be cooked only for the last five minutes.

Cooked Separately

Expensive herbs such as fine Ginseng can be cooked separately for longer periods of time. This allows one to get the maximum amount of therapeutic effect from the herb without overcooking the other herbs in the formula.
Powdered herbs. Some herbs come in powdered form. With these herbs, you simply add the appropriate amount to hot water, stir, and drink. Some herbs that are especially expensive are powdered to make more efficient use of their properties with the minimum cost.

When to take your herbs?

Generally, as a rule, it is best to take your herb tea half an hour before eating, on an empty stomach. This provides the best absorption of the ingredients of the herbs.

Tonic formulas are best taken on an empty stomach.

Shen (mental movement) calming formulas (for insomnia, etc.) are best taken two hours before sleeping.

Formulas for heat syndromes can be taken at room temperature or chilled. If drinking an herb tea at room temperature tastes bad, it should be consumed warm. Formulas for cold syndromes can be taken warm or hot.

If you are taking some western medications at the same time, there should be fifteen minutes interval between them.

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