He Shou Wu eeTee
Most botanicals are woody and fibrous. The woody fiber (cell walls) generally makes most botanicals difficult to digest. Thousands of years ago, humans discovered that cooking, making teas, decoctions and soups with water and/or alcohol improved the potency and efficacy of the foods, beverages, tonics and medicines they consumed.
When a botanical is boiled in water or extracted in alcohol or other solvent, the constituents of the botanical are released from the fiber that contains them and are dissolved into the liquid medium. The resulting “tea,” or paste is highly assimilable. Also, it is much easier to consume because the material has been “reduced” to a much smaller volume and yet the potency is higher. Without the extraction, the body would have to do a digestive “extraction” of the materials bound to the fiber, adding much stress to our GI tract. Since we do not have the digestive tract of a ruminate, this “extraction” method is not very effective, nor is it efficient.
Of course, the technology back then was primitive, relying on simple stove boiling to break down cell walls. Amazingly, extraction technology has not changed much even during the industrial-scientific era - it is just performed on a much larger scale. We still rely on the application of heat to a tank of solvents such as water or alcohol for several hours until the constituents of the raw herbs have been released into the hot solvents.
However, the traditional heated extraction has its downsides besides its benefits.
- It is not suitable for extracting heat sensitive substances such as protein, amino acids, essential oils and enzymes.
- Starch and saccharides of low molecular weight can gelatinize and become cohesive under heat, preventing the effective release and extraction of active ingredients.
- Substances with no or few pharmacological effects can be released simultaneously.
- The heated process accelerates the oxidation process.
- It can result in polymerization and decomposition of active constituents.