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I started making deep decoctions out of necessity. Recently graduated and too broke to set up my own dispensary, I had to find a way to give my patients the medicines they needed. Fortunately, I have access to a remarkable little shop which is at the heart of the local community. Alongside all the usual fare found in any independent wholefood retailer (the brown rice and dairy-free ice lollies, the kamut flour and organic sauerkraut) they stock nearly 300 herbs, from agrimony to wild yam, from Achillea to Zanthoxylum. This wonderful local asset allowed me to supply my patients with the dried herbs and instructions for how to make teas and decoctions. While this works well for some folks, others need the convenience of the nasty tasting medicine in a brown bottle. Further than this, the official Brown Bottle seems engender in some patients a trust in the process of becoming well that a bag of dried herbs cannot give.

During training, we were taught how to make decoctions, and told that a well-made decoction will last for a good while if it’s concentrated. It occurred to me that I might try to make some for my patients. I had a few patients who would not – or could not – take alcohol, and this was more incentive to attempt a decoction process.

I can’t recall all the steps between the idea and the process that I now employ. Once I’d decided to use herbs in this way, it was almost as if the process was teaching me, or as if I was remembering it as I went along. With each new batch, a realisation or understanding came to me that felt like a recollection.

It now seems perfectly obvious to me that these deep decoctions are very nourishing and sustaining for the body; that they are closer to food than to medicine and therefore they are assimilated and used by the body very readily. There being no alcohol, there is no physiological tax, no price to pay by the liver.

While a decoction is brewing or reducing, my whole house is filled with the smell of it. A friend who encountered this rich incense remarked that the medicine was like a spell for my home. And of course the inverse is also true: while imbuing my home with all the magic in the brew, it is also absorbing energy and mood from my home. So long as all is well in my home, all is well with the brew. For this reason, I try to avoid making decoctions when I am unwell or out-of-sorts.

It has been said that whenever a patient takes a medicine provided by a herbalist, they are remembering and once again receiving the supportive attention they experienced in the consultation. I try always to imbue my medicines with my hopes for the enhancement of the healing journey for my patients.

This is a time consuming process. It is no good at all for acute medicine. But in most cases, I can ask my patients to be patient with me, and they seem to like the idea that I am cooking up a special brew for them, made for them alone, something made in my kitchen, to which I have paid close attention for several days.

I treat acute problems with teas, tinctures, and with the promise that I will make a deep decoction to treat the underlying problems.

Results are often remarkable. My star patient was told by his doctor after a set of results: “This simply doesn’t happen”.

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