Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c

The mineral content of herbal decoctions

by Paul Bergner

Medical Herbalism 07-31-97 9(2): 6-8

Herbal traditions throughout the world have used infusions and decoctions of herbs since the dawn of recorded medical history. In North America, at least since the time of the Eclectics, paralleling the scientific interest in pharmaceutically active constituents, we’ve seen increasing emphasis on tinctures and concentrated extracts, and a downplaying of beverage forms of herbs in clinical practice. This shift from decoctions and infusions to more or less sophisticated solvent extracts may suit those practitioners who emphasize the drag-like qualities of herbs but may omit some of the most important health-building constituents — the minerals.

Mineral deficiencies are epidemic now in the developed countries, due to food processing and the gradual demineralization of the soil from modern agricultural practices. In the United States, the average woman does not consume the recommended dietary allowance of calcium, magnesium, iron, or zinc, and the diet of the average male is deficient in magnesium and zinc (U.S.D.A., 1997). Dietary analysis is not performed for most of the twenty-or-so essential trace elements. Because the minerals occur as a group in foods, rather than singly, we can assume widespread deficiencies of these occur as well. The pathology, of the Western diseases — those which are common in developed countries, but only begin to appear in traditional societies when a Western diet is adopted — is strongly linked to mineral deficiencies. Table 1 shows the multiple mineral deficiencies associated with common early-stage mineral deficiency diseases.

Notice in the table that each of the conditions is associated with a magnesium deficiency, and each has at least one other of the commonly deficient minerals associated as well. If our medicine is to address the cause of these conditions, it must address these deficiencies as well. Stimulating or sedating the patient, whether with pharmaceutical drugs or herbal substitutes such as echinacea, St Johnswort, kava, or other popular herbs, will never cure these conditions. Some of our most common beverage teas, however, prepared as strong decoctions or infusions provide significant mineral nutrition, and, in fact, address the cause (See Tables 2 and 3)

The source of the data on herbs is Nutritional Herbology, by Mark Pedersen. Pedersen had independent laboratory analysis performed on a number of herbs. I selected for the table those that are traditionally taken most often as decoctions or infusions. Note that the mineral content of herbs, or any plants for that matter, depend on the mineral content of the soil in which they grow. Thus wide variations are possible between individual herb samples. Selenium content is especially dependent on soil levels, and plants grown in the Eastern U.S., where the soil is selenium-deficient, will not contain the levels presented in the chart. Wildcrafted herbs, grown in stable natural ecosystems, will naturally contain higher minerals than farmed herbs — even organically grown ones — because farming inevitably strips minerals from the soil as plant material is removed at harvest.

Of the herbs listed, none contained a significant contribution to the RDA of zinc. Manganese was not present in a significant portion of the RDA, except in red raspberry (4.8 mg) and catnip (1.25 rag). Horsetail, which is reputed to be “rich in silicon” has more of that mineral than any of the other herbs on the list, but contains only about 1/150 of the silicon in a cup of oats. High fiber foods, not herbs, are the best source if you’re specifically looking for silicon, although horsetail is rich in the other minerals as well.

Discovering this information solved what has been for me a mystery of herbalism. Alterative herbs, such as burdock and nettles in the chart, traditionally “restore a deranged metabolism,” and are taken long term. Alteratives may act through other mechanisms as weft, but it is evident from the chart that they provide significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, all of which, when deficient, can “derange” the metabolism. Likewise, some of the sedative herbs in the list, in addition to whatever effect their active pharmacological constituents might provide, are mineral nerve tonics.

Significant mineral extraction may require Chinese style decoction — long cooking on low heat of about an ounce of the herb to a quart of water. The exact method and duration might have to be modified depending on the nature of the herb. Inspiring patient compliance to make decoctions can be a challenge, but one well worth taking up in a long term program of building the health. I’ve found one decoction methods especially easy for patients. Have them put about an ounce of each herb in a formula into the bottom (not the basket) of a drip coffee maker, and add water to the back. The hot water then drips onto the herbs, and they can decoct on the hot plate for an hour or more without boiling or becoming overheated.

From: Bergner, P. The Healing Power of Minerals, Trace Elements, and Special Nutrients, Prima, 1997

Table 1: Nutrients associated with functional deficiency diseases

Condition            Minerals            Other

Allergies                calcium                essential fatty acids



Anxiety                calcium                excess calcium

                    Magnesium            excess sugar

                    excess caffeine

                    excess alcohol

                                    deficient essential fatty acids

Depression                calcium                excess caffeine

                    Copper                excess sugar






Fatigue                iron                excess sugar

                    Magnesium            excess caffeine



Hyperactivity            calcium





                    high aluminum

                    high lead

Immunodepression            copper                high sugar








Insomnia                copper                high caffeine

                    Iron                high alcohol


                    high aluminum

(Werbach 1991, 1993)

Table 2: The Mineral Content of Selected Herbs (per ounce)

            Calcium    Chromium    Iron    Magnesium    Potassium    Selenium

            (Mg)    (mcg)        (mg)    (mg)        (mg)        (mcg)


Alfalfa        299        30        0.87    76        400        0

Burdock        244    10    4.9    179    560    50

Catnip        205    90    4.6    69    783    410

Chickweed        403    40    8.4    176    280    140

Comfrey leaf    600    60    0.4    23    566    40

Horsetail        630    10    4.1    145    520    40

Kelp        1013    20    0.5    289    703    60

Licorice        292    60    2.9    321    380    0

Marshmallow    272    50    3.8    172    403    110

Nettle Leaf        966    130    1.4    286    583    70

Oatstraw        476    130    0.4    400    90    40

Peppermint        540    0    2.0    220    753    40

Red Clover        436    110    0.0    116    666    30

Red Raspberry    403    40    3.3    106    446    80

Skullcap        151    20    0.8    37    726    30

(Pedersen 1994)

Table 3: Recommended and optimal dietary allowances

            Recommended                    Optimal

Calcium        800-1200 mg                    800-1000 mg

Chromium    50-200 mcg                    200-300 mcg

Iron        10-15 mg                    15-22 mg

Magnesium    280-400 mg                    300-600 mg

Manganese    2-5 mg                        5-10 mg

Potassium        2000 mg                    2500-3000 mg

Selenium        40-70 mcg                    60-250 mcg

(Werbach, 1991)
  Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner      

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