Winter Wellness with Decoctions & Tonics

By / Photography By Keri Mahoney | January 05, 2016
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Harnessing Natural Plant Medicine

Decoctions of roots, seeds, berries, mushrooms, and bark find their place next to elixirs and potions in folklore the world over, imbuing characters with spells, healing, and vitality. Dehkok- shun—the word itself reads like conjuration clouds wafting out of medieval apothecaries. In fact, decoctions are a bit of magic, an herbalist’s deeper harvest that—with a little help from the honey jar and liquor cabinet—can transform into supplemental tonics.

Herbalist Jenna Kulp of Misty Meadows Herbal Center in Lee, NH, biographies decocting and tonic-making: “Before tinctures [or extracts] were widely used, people were making ‘brews’ that would be bottled and used for a month or so. These were simply very strong teas, or decoctions, made more stable with the addition of honey, molasses, and even sometimes wine.”

Profiling the decoction as a “flavorful and robust beverage,” Jenna clarifies the difference between tea and this first step toward tonic-making. While tea steeps plant matter in water brought to a boil and leaves the infusion to sit for a matter of minutes or even overnight, decoctions simmer. The constant heat extracts isolated properties, “harnessing the plant’s medicine in a more effective way,” explains Jenna, who offers this general guide to decocting and tonic-making:

• fill a stainless steel or glass pot with 1 quart water per 1 ounce plant matter
• over very low heat, simmer mixture uncovered down to half, e.g. 1 quart down to 1 pint
• strain plant matter from liquid and discard to compost

To soften bitterness, make your tonic:
• add 1 cup raw honey to each pint of still-warm remaining liquid
• for preserving, optionally add 3-4 tablespoons of brandy per cup of tonic, up to 8 tablespoons for very long storage

Once the process is familiar, Jenna encourages creativity: “Play around with plant ratios and infused honeys, and if preserving with alcohol, try different kinds.” Tonics can even jump from the medicine cabinet to syrups and cocktails. Jenna likes drizzling a berry tonic over pancakes or ice cream and shares her favorite addition to sparkling water: one quarter cup tulsi tonic, which is a decoction of the tulsi plant that Jenna preserves with honey and “a bit of tulsi extract as the alcohol component.” For a more traditional health supplementation during these winter months, Jenna suggests these ingredient ideas from one of her family’s go-to seasonal tonics:

• elderberry—vitamin C, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties
• chaga and reishi mushrooms—anti-histamine, immuno-modulating, life-enhancing properties
• autumn olive berries—lycopene and antimicrobial properties (do not compost these as their bush is invasive, despite the berries’ wonderful health benefits)
• rosehips, cinnamon, and fennel—flavor and respective vitamin C, blood sugar balancing, digestive support properties

Happy mixing and simmering!

Article from Edible New Hampshire at
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