Which Herbs for Decoction?

Know which herbs are best to use for Decoctions

White Willow Bark

We have talked in part one about one or two of the herbs requiring the method of Decoction to extract the herb's constituents.

As well as tree bark, berries, and seeds, another part of the herb can also be useful when making Decoctions; the root or rhizome.

Often taken for the same thing, roots and rhizomes are different.

Roots of a herb are a part of the plant, usually spreading out underground, although in some plant roots can be above the ground, although these tend to be ornamental house plants rather than herbs.  Remember: a herb is anything of a vegetative nature that can be of use.  Most well-known house plants don’t fall under this category although this is not a definitive statement.

In most herbs, the roots are beneath the ground, they absorb water and other constituents, and store food materials for the herb.  Roots also tether the herb to the ground, preventing it from falling over, look to the roots of a tree in high wind, they may move slightly but providing the tree is healthy the roots will fasten the tree to the earth.

Rhizomes are underground branches that grow horizontally on or just under the surface of the earth, and which are capable of producing shoots and roots from its nodes.

Rhizomes are most commonly produced by perennial, herbaceous species of plants that die back to the ground at the end of the growing season, and must grow a new shoot at the beginning of the next season.

Rhizomes are capable of storing energy, usually as starch, which is used to fuel the regeneration of new shoots.

Some Rhizomes are the part of the herb that holds the constituents required for Herbal Healing such as Ginger, Turmeric, and Galangal, these are not only used for healing but are used as a spice.  These Rhizomes are usually imported and are not grown in this country, but are of great use when considering what their constituents can do.

Ginger, Turmeric, and Galangal are not herbs that are usually grown in Britain, but they are relatively easy to get hold of and can be of use when considering Herbal Medications.

Ginger is: a peripheral circulatory stimulant, a carminative, an anti-flatulent, antitussive, and antiemetic.  It’s a rubefacient, diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic, adjuvant, sialagogue, expectorant, and an antiseptic.

Can be used for: Poor circulation, chilblains and cramp, nausea, sore throat, diarrhea, travel sickness, and a ginger biscuit first thing in the morning is recommended for anyone suffering from morning sickness.

Made into a Decoction, Ginger can relieve colds and indigestion.

Turmeric is: an anti-inflammatory, a cholagogue, stomachic, antioxidant, and antibacterial.

It can be used for:  mild digestive problems and rheumatic conditions.  Inflammation, rheumatic and arthritis.  It is an appetite stimulant and protects the lining of the stomach.  Turmeric is also a valuable remedy for high cholesterol and can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Galangal is useful for promoting the digestion process, reducing constipation and vomiting.  It can improve blood circulation, especially in the hands and feet, thereby improving oxygen supply to these parts of the body.  It is used extensively throughout the East to calm nasal infections, coughs, and colds.  It is also used effectively as a mouth freshener, removing bad breath.

Roots can be an important part of the herb where Herbal Medications are concerned.


Other herbs that benefit from an extraction method of Decoction include:

Burdock root

Burdock Arctium lappa radix

This is the common British herb that is the sticky bobs of childhood memories.  The root is particularly useful as an excellent blood purifier and detoxifier.

It has an ancient history as a reliable herbal aid for blood disorders, ulcers, and tumors.  It also nutritionally supports joints and other skeletal tissues as well as the urinary and respiratory systems. It promotes glandular and hormone balance and removes accumulations and deposits around the joints, expelling toxins from the blood through the urine.

It is helpful for dyspeptic complaints, liver and gall bladder problems, neurological disorders, syphilis and throat, and chest ailments.  It is also an appetite stimulant and can control blood sugars and blood pressure.

A decoction of Burdock root can be used as a skin and face wash, especially useful for sufferers of acne, insect bites, burns, eczema, impetigo, boils, and rashes.


Comfrey root Symphytum officinale radix

This root herb was banned a few years back but can either be grown or it's still on sale from most good herbal suppliers.  A Decoction of Comfrey root can close a wound so fast, that if there is any infection in the wound at all, the skin is in danger of sealing over the wound so quickly it can seal in the infection.  This is why the herb is on the ‘banned list.’

But a good Herbal Medication user will know this and will make sure that before Comfrey root is applied, the wound is clean of infection first.

Comfrey root is used topically (on the skin) it is not taken orally.  One of its older names is ‘knit bone’ coming from the herb's ability to bring together both bone and skin and heal quickly.  Comfrey’s Latin name of Symphytum from the Greek word smyphis, meaning ‘growing together of bones’

Used for sprains, fractures, and wound healing.

A herb well worth some research.


Dandelion Root Taraxacum officinale radix

Dandelion can be found everywhere in the wild, in fields, hedgerows, country lanes, as well as in many gardens where it is considered to be a weed.  If you see the suffix radix to a herbs Latin name this means ‘root’

But the root of Dandelion has been used for thousands of years as a herb with many uses.

Dandelion’s constituents include: taraxacin, tannins, phytosterols, volatile oil, choline, asparagine, inulin, pectin, phenolic acids, vitamins, and potassium.

Its actions include: bitter, mild laxative, digestive and hepatic tonic, Cholagogue, and diuretic.

Dandelion root is a gentle liver tonic, and is used to treat inflammation and congestion of the liver, along with gallstones, hepatic jaundice, congestive dyspepsia, and constipation; chronic joint and skin inflammations.  Dandelion is well known for its beneficial qualities to the digestive process, it also has an aperient effect.  The white sap from the root can be applied directly to warts.


Echinacea Echinacea angustifolia radix

Echinacea Root

A long-used herb that has at last been recognised by science for its use against the common cold, influenza and for generally boosting the immune system.  Root and rhizome are used.

Constituents include: volatile oil glycoside, humulene, caryophyllene, echinacerine, and phenolics.  Inulin, betain, resins, and sesquiterpene.

Actions – Echinacea root is an Immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, vulnerary, antiseptic, anti-microbial, antibiotic, anti-allergic, lymphatic tonic.


Licorice Glycyrrhiza glabra radix 

A well-known and easily found sweet shop favorite, but its uses for coughs and throat infections are perhaps not so well known.

Constituents include glycosides, saponins, flavonoids, bitter principle (glycyrmarin) volatile oils, coumarins, amino acids, oestrogenic substances, glucose and sucrose, starch, tannins, gums wax.

Actions – expectorant, antitussive, demulcent, spasmolytic, anti-inflammatory, adrenocorticotrophic, anti-allergic, and is a mild laxative.

Licorice is excellent for bronchial catarrh, bronchitis, catarrh, and coughs.  Chronic gastritis, peptic ulcer, and colic.   Licorice is fifty times stronger than sucrose, which encourages the production of hormones such as hydrocortisone.  This helps to explain its anti-inflammatory action as well as in stimulating the adrenal cortex after steroid therapy.

It produces a highly viscous mucus over the stomach wall and reduces gastric acid, it is also used to lower blood cholesterol levels.

Its anti-inflammatory action means it is a useful herb for arthritis and rheumatic diseases.


Marshmallow Root Althaea Officinalis radix

Mallow, or sometimes known as Marshmallow is another sweet-shop favourite, although its properties go way beyond sitting in a bag waiting to be toasted.

Mallow Root’s constituents include:  mucilage, tannin, pectin, asparagines.

It is a demulcent, diuretic, emollient and a vulnerary.

Mallow Root is indicated for: gastritis, gastric or peptic ulceration, ulcerative colitis, enteritis, inflammation of the mouth or pharynx, respiratory catarrh with an irritating dry cough, cystitis; locally for varicose veins and thrombotic ulcers. Specifically indicated in gastric or duodenal ulcer.

This list is by no means finite, there are so many herbs where root or rhizome can be useful, it would take up many pages to list them all, but you now have some idea of the range of healing benefits that we don’t always see but are so useful when considering herbal medications, especially those requiring the extraction method of Decoction.

Tree barks include White Willow and Birch, Alder, Apple, Beech, and Cedar, again not a definitive list but enough to get you thinking.

Seeds include: Mustard, Cumin, Flax, Pomegranate, Hemp, Sesame, Sunflower and Pumpkin, not a definitive list.

Seeds can improve any diet, a snack, a topping for salad, or an addition to soup, bread, curries or stir fry.

Berries include: Hawthorn, Elderberries, and Juniper, again not a definitive list.  Also worth mentioning are berries we take for granted such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc. etc. added to any diet their health-giving benefits are worth noting when considering the Holistic.

The Hawthorn Tree deserves a mention here as its berries have the ability to control blood pressure.  If blood pressure is too high (hypertension) the Hawthorn berry will lower it; too low blood pressure (hypotension) and the Hawthorn berry will raise it.  A normaliser, a stabiliser and well worth pointing out to you.

Hawthorn tree in blossom