The Higher Potency of Commercially Pressure-cooked as Opposed to Home Stove-top Decocted Medicinals
Blog by Bob Flaws
For years, we at Blue Poppy Herbs have been saying that the difference in potency of commercially manufactured Chinese herbal extracts as compared to the same herbs cooked at home by patients on their stove-tops is not simply their different extract ratios. Without having any actual proof, we have intuitively said that we believe our herbal extracts are yet again 25-50% more potent above their 10 times higher extract ratio than the same formulas cooked at home. Now we have some proof to back up that belief. In the November 2008 (Vol. 5) issue of the RCHM Journal (the journal of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine in the U.K.), there is a very interesting interview with Mazin al-Khafaji, one of the premier practitioners of Chinese medicine in Europe. In this interview, Mazin touches on the differences in potency between commercially pressure-cooked Chinese medicinals and those decocted at home on the stove-top. (The herbs in Blue Poppy Herbs internally administered formulas are all pressure-cooked and not simply boiled.) Here’s what Mazin has to say on this issue [punctuation added]: Follow up: There is considerable research and clinical data from trials in Chinese hospitals to endorse the benefits and superior results of decocted herbs under high pressure as opposed to them being cooked on a stove at home. The high pressure and temperature-controlled decoction method extracts significantly higher proportions (as high as 30-40%) of the active ingredients of the herbs, thereby making the formula much more powerful and effective and enhancing the synergistic effects of the ingredients. For example, one study by the Zhe Jiang Chinese Medicine Research Institute (reported in Zhe Jiang Zhong Yi Za Zhi, Vol. 9, 2005; Weiqing Liang, Junxian Zheng, Jinbao Pu, Kemin Wei) looked at a variety of components, such as flavonoids, alkaloids, [and] polysaccharides, extracted in order to compare potency of the traditional method of decocting the herbs on a stove with the high pressure method when using the decoction machines. When they looked at the flavonoids, for example, extraction rates in ingredients where flavonoids are considered an important component of the medicinal effect, they found the following: Shan Zha: Pressure-cooked = 0.0765% Stove-top decoction = 0.0456% Mai Dong: Pressure-cooked = 0.0651% Stove-top decoction = 0.0356% Gan Cao: Pressure-cooked = 0.787% Stove-top decoction = 0.563% Chen Pi: Pressure-cooked = 3.22% Stove-top decoction = 1.71% Zhi Mu: Pressure-cooked = 0.378% Stove-top decoction = 0.221% Huang Qi: Pressure-cooked = 0.365% Stove-top decoction = 0.233% When alkaloid extraction rates were measured in ingredients where alkaloids are considered an important component of the medicinal effect, they found the following differences: Chuan Xiong: Pressure-cooked = 0.04% Stove-top decoction = 0.025% Gan Cao: Pressure-cooked = 0.28% Stove-top decoction = 0.19% Xu Duan: Pressure-cooked = 0.19% Stove-top decoction = 0.091% Mu Xiang: Pressure-cooked = 0.094% Stove-top decoction = 0.045% In the same article, Mazin also discusses why herbs decocted together as a single formula are more effective than simply adding together separately manufactured extracts of the same ingredients: The heat applied acts as a catalyst that binds the various active ingredients together, thus forming a myriad of new substances that are literally more than the sum of the original parts. In essence, a chemical reaction takes place when the herbs are cooked, and new synergistic actions between the ingredients are then produced, which is where the true magic of herbal medicine comes into play. You can usefully draw a parallel with [the] cooking of food. Imagine the result of taking the desiccated ingredients of a recipe and simply adding water to rehydrate them. You certainly won’t end up with the same flavors that you would if you cooked the ingredients together from the beginning. All the ingredients of Blue Poppy Herbs formulas are cooked together just as Mazin has described.