Herbal Pharmacy
Making Decoctions and Syrups 
by Susun Weed

In your herbal pharmacy you transform fresh and dried plants into herbal medicines.
Learning to identify and use the common plants around you is easy and exciting, beneficial and safe. Making your own medicines saves you money if you follow the Wise Woman tradition of using local herbs, free for the taking.

Even one day's work in field, forest, and kitchen can provide you with many years' worth of medicines. When you make your own, you know for sure what's in it, where it came from, when and how it was harvested, and how fresh and potent it is.

Dried herbs are best for the infusions recommended in this book. Stock your herbal pharmacy with your own foraged or cultivated dried herbs; expand your resources and experiment with new herbs by buying dried herbs from reputable sources.

Fresh herbs are best for the tinctures and oils recommended in this book. If you can't make your own, buy from sources who wildcraft or grow their own herbs to use fresh in preparations.

Whether you buy or make your own medicines, remember, herbal remedies may not work or may work incorrectly if they aren't prepared correctly. Read this chapter carefully; it contains easy to follow instructions for every remedy and preparation mentioned in this book [Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year].


Herbal Decoctions and Syrups

Decoction, or simple decoction, is my term for an infusion which has been reduced to one-half its volume by slow evaporation. A double decoction is an infusion reduced to one-fourth of its original volume. Some herbalists use "decoction" to refer to what I call an infusion; others use it to mean something closer to tea.

Decoctions keep longer than infusions if carefully stored under refrigeration. Decoctions are more potent than infusions; this makes them invaluable when dealing with children and animals. The smaller dose is more easily administered.

Decocting is an excellent way to prepare an herb with a terrible taste, such as Yellow Dock root, so it can be consumed without gagging. Adding a bit of some nice tasting brandy or liqueur to decoctions enhances the taste and the keeping qualities.

Decoctions of roots and barks are often prepared; decoctions of leaves, flowers, or seeds are rarely prepared. Since decoctions are made by evaporation, the volatile essences are water-soluble vitamins in the leaves, flowers, and seeds are lost in the process.

I always make decoctions when I have to be in the same room as the stove for the entire evaporating time. With such a low heat, decoctions rarely burn, but if you become involved in something else, there is the danger of reducing the liquid to a scorched nothing. For a pint of infusion (two cups), about an hour is needed to reduce it by half.


Making a Decoction

  • Begin by straining the plant material out of the infusion and discarding it.
  • Measure the liquid.
  • Heat the liquid until it begins to steam; this is before it simmers and long before it boils.
  • Stand right there and watch for the steam to start rising. When it does, turn the heat down very low.
  • Steam until the liquid is reduced to half or one-quarter of what it was in the beginning. A little stainless steel pan with measuring marks on the side is of invaluable assistance in this process, but you can also judge by the mark left on the side of the pan as the liquid level falls. Or you can measure it.
  • Pour the decoction into a clean or sterile bottle.
  • Label with the contents, strength, and date. Example: Simple decoction of Witch Hazel bark, Dec. '84.
  • Optional: Add one tablespoon of brandy or spirit per four ounces of decoction.
  • Cap well
  • Cool at room temperature, then store in the refrigerator. Some decoctions may keep for as long as a year, others ferment and sour within a few months.
    Dosage: A simple decoction is four times as potent as an infusion. One cup (8 ounces) of infusion is equal to one-quarter cup (2 ounces) of a simple decoction. Use up to one tablespoon for an infant.
    Double decocting increases the strength of the infusion by a factor of sixteen (four times four). So the dose equivalent of one 8 ounce cup is only one tablespoon (1/2 ounce). The usual infant dose is half a teaspoon of double decoction.


Making a Syrup

Add sugar or honey to any type of decoction, and you have a syrup. The extra sweetness makes some herbs more palatable, soothes the throat, and can improve keeping qualities.

How much sugar or honey should you add? The exact amount is determined by weight. A standard for syrups is an equal amount, by weight, of sugar and decoction.

One cup (8 fluid ounces) of water or decoction, weighs half a pound (8 ounces). So one cup of decoction requires half a pound of sugar.

Honey is about twice as sweet as sugar. Use a quarter of a pound (4 ounces) of honey to every cup of decoction. One level tablespoon of honey weighs about one ounce.

  • Add the sweetener to the hot liquid
  • Increase the fire until the brew just comes to a boil.
  • Pour the boiling hot syrup into a bottle and cap it. Sterilized bottles reduce the risk of producing unexpected herbal fermentations. But the boiling liquid kills many yeasts in the bottle.
  • Optional: Add one tablespoon of brandy, vodka, etc. to further stabilize the syrup.
  • Store the syrup in the refrigerator once it cools. Syrups keep for 3-6 months.

Depending on the herbs in your original infusion, you can make a cough syrup (Comfrey root and Wild Cherry bark), an iron tonic (Yellow Dock and Dandelion roots), a soothing syrup (Valerian root), or any other medicinal syrup.

Dosage: Generally, one teaspoon of syrup is a dose for a 125-150 pound person. The dose is repeated as needed, up to 8 times daily. Use a half teaspoonful for 60-75 pound children and a quarter teaspoonful for 30 pounds or smaller.


Summary of Syrup Proportions

  • Begin with one pint (16 ounces) of infusion
  • Reduce the liquid to half its original amount (8 ounces).
  • Add an equal amount, by weight, of sugar (8 ounces or 1/2 pound), or half the amount, by weight, of honey (4 ounces or 4 tablespoons).

Green Blessings.
Susun Weed

this excerpt from:
Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year
 by Susun Weed


Author's Bio: 

Susun Weed is the voice of the Wise Woman Tradition, where healing comes from nourishment. She is known internationally as an extraordinary teacher with a joyous spirit, a powerful presence, and an encyclopedic knowledge of herbs and health. Ms. Weed restores herbs as common medicine, and empowers us all to care for ourselves. For free ezine, on demand radio, recipes, resources, online courses and much more, go to: www.herbshealing.com

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Susun Weed is the author of the Wise Woman Herbal series, including: Healing Wise, Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, New Menopausal Years, Breast Cancer? Breast Health, and Down There Sexual and Reproductive Health the Wise Woman Way. Learn more at www.wisewomanbookshop.com site includes hundreds of books, CD’s DVD’s digital downloads, and educational opportunities.

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