Decoctions provide the benefits of 6-30 dried herbs in one hot concentrated drink. Decoctions provide immediate and substantial change within a few days for non critical conditions. Decoction courses once begun may be customized to the patient as the condition changes, as symptoms subside and cease. Only by decoction is it possible for a formula to advance day by day, week by week, progressing from one phase to another until disease is eradicated.
Decoctions were a primary method of ancient therapy. Ancient text, Shanghan Lun, detailed conditions and their corresponding formulas which were then varied to each manifestation of the disease and which progressed in keeping with the way the disease changed. Decoctions in this text were intended to be used for a day or a few days with the expectation that the patient would be in a different status within a few days.
Chinese hospitals and independent pharmacies continue to offer decoctions cooked up on the premises for patient convenience. The decoction of herbs in this manner allows for mass treatment of the range of ailments, from wind invasion cold to chronic ailments for which no medicine exists.
For minor ailments, 3-10 days of a decoction formula are sufficient. Decoctions taken for more critical conditions may range from 1-6 months and may be continued and modified as needed.
For the majority of commonly used herbs, the dosage range is 6-15 grams for a one day dose with an average of about 10 grams per day. Some herbs are used at considerably lower or higher dosages routinely. Some herbs are used in much higher dosage for certain applications. Decoctions are commonly made up of 8-16 ingredients, with an average of about 12 ingredients. A decoction of about 120 grams of crude herbs is usual (e.g. 12 ingredients x 10 grams per ingredient). For a one week supply of herbs, this translates to nearly 2 pounds of dried herb materials. When treating serious ailments, the dosages may be increased by approximately 50% so that a one week supply comes from nearly 3 pounds of herbs.