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Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine

Traditional Chinese Herbal Recipes

Herbal tea is one common form of delivering                              therapeutic ingredients into the body.
Herbal tea is one common form of delivering therapeutic ingredients into the body.

Traditional Chinese herbal recipes deliver therapeutic ingredients to the body. The following page includes recipes for two common forms of herbal medicine.

How to Make a Traditional Herbal Decoction

The strongest herbal medicines are in the form of decoctions. A decoction is a concentrated herbal tea made by boiling herbs in water. Making a decoction requires some patience, and drinking one requires a tolerance for very strong tastes and aromas.


To make a standard decoction:

  1. Place the herbs in a pot, preferably one made of ceramic or glass. Stainless steel is an acceptable alternative, but never use iron or aluminum because they have a tendency to react chemically with the herbs. Aluminum is also a toxic heavy metal, so it should not be used for any type of food preparation.
  2. Add 3 cups of cold water to the herbs. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium heat and continue to boil the herbs until 1 cup of liquid remains (approximately 20 minutes).
  3. Strain this liquid and set it aside. This is one dose of herbal medicine.
  4. Add 2 cups of water to the previously cooked herbs (they have already absorbed water, so they need less). Boil them again until 1 cup of liquid remains.
  5. Strain this liquid and add this second dose to the first.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 to make a third dose. Mix the doses thoroughly so you end up with 3 cups of concentrated decoction.
  7. Discard the herbs, preferably in your compost pile.
  8. Take 1 cup of decoction three times a day for an acute ailment or one cup per day over three days for chronic conditions.

The reason for making three 20-minute decoctions instead of one 1-hour decoction is simple. Some of the herbs in a formula will likely contain volatile aromatic oils as their active ingredient. These volatile oils can be captured in a 20-minute boiling, but they will be lost by the end of an hour. On the other hand, it might take a full hour to fully extract the medicinal constituents in hard roots. For this reason, combine all three doses and then separate them again into three equal doses to ensure that all three doses have the same balance of constituents and flavors.

How to Make an Immune Tonic Soup

A number of tonifying herbs in Chinese medicine also strengthen the immune system, in addition to their other valuable functions. Of these, a few have a bland or slightly sweet taste, making them suitable as ingredients in soups. Incorporating medicine with food is quite a common practice in China, and it is especially useful with children or adults who don't like to take herbs in other forms. The most commonly used tonic herbs in a soup stock are Astragalus root, Codonopsis root, Dioscorea yam, and lotus seed. The following simple recipe makes about two servings.

  • 10 grams Astragalus membranaceus root (huang qi)
  • 10 grams Codonopsis pilosula root (dang shen)
  • 10 grams Dioscorea opposita yam (shan yao)
  • 10 grams lotus seed (Nelumbo nucifera) (lian zi)
  1. Boil the herbs in 6 cups of water until half the liquid is gone.
  2. Remove the Astragalus and Codonopsis and add some kale, carrots, potato, shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, or other vegetables in season.
  3. Continue cooking until the vegetables are soft, and remove from the heat.
  4. Mix in some miso according to taste. The yam and lotus seeds should be soft and edible at this point.

These herbal ingredients can be adapted to any soup recipe; simply boil them and remove after about 30 minutes. The remaining liquid can be used as stock in your favorite soup recipe.

For more about traditional Chinese medicine, treatment, cures, beliefs, and other interesting topics, see:


Bill Schoenbart has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) since 1991, when he earned a Masters degree in TCM. He teaches TCM medical theory and herbalism at an acupuncture school in California, and also maintains a clinical practice.

Ellen Shefi is a licensed massage technician, licensed acupuncturist, and registered dietician. She is a member of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, the American Herb Association, and the Oregon Acupuncture Association.