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The ways of abstraction for the active principles of the vegetables, parts of the plant or simple herbs, is called decoction even though, sometimes, this can follow another procedure which is called maceration. Maceration sees the rest of the herb in a little cold water for at least two hours before they are poured into boiling water and let it boil altogether. In the other cases, you only have to mix the herbs in cold water and then put it on the fire, when it reaches the boiling state, you let it boil for a period that could go from five minutes to hours, depending on the characteristics of the plant. Just leave the fire slow otherwise you could burn it too fast.
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It is during the boiling process that the drug parts get together with the water, mixing each other and releasing elements. The following step is the decoction when the unwelcome parts get left out of the final product. Decoctions are used mostly in the popular medicine because phytotherapy is mostly concentrated on extracts and other herbal remedies. Sometimes people do a double decoction which consists in boiling for a first time the herbs, and then substituting the liquid to make the herb boil again.
Do not confuse decoction with infusion or herb teas. In fact, although they are all valuable methods and procedures, they each have their own characteristics and purposes. The difference lies in the way of preparation, but also in the result that you are willing to get. Letting the water boil and pouring it into a cup leaving the herb in infusion gets a different result from boiling the water together with the herbs that have to release their active principles because they are contained in the hardest parts of the herbal plant. Just ask for help if you think you could mistake yourself.