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Understanding Water Extraction

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

Traditions the world over have for millenia recognised and integrated mushrooms into their diet and medicine.

Depending on practice, mushrooms are usually sun-dried before being powdered, boiled in water, or left in jars of alcohol so that their beneficial substances can eventually be consumed for health benefit.

In this article, we will be discussing water extraction as a means of isolating medicinal substances from herbal mushrooms, specifically:

  • Water extraction and its core mechanism;

  • How to perform water extraction on herbs and the possible adjustments that can be made for different purposes; and

  • How water extraction can impact your practice of cuisine and herbalism.

​Quick Links For This Article:

1. What Is Water Extraction?

2. The Core Principle & Mechanism Of Water Extraction

3. Performing Hot Water Extraction

3.1. Regarding Repeating Water Extraction

3.2. Adapting The Water Extraction Procedure For Your Needs

4. Key Concepts & Applications Of Water Extraction In Herbalism & Cuisine

5. Creatively Expanding Cuisine

6. Double-Extract Tinctures And Herbalism

7. Final Thoughts

What Is Water Extraction?

To start with, medicinal mushrooms are full of bioactive compounds. By ingesting these compounds, one will be able to derive the health benefits associated with those mushrooms and their specific compounds.

As many mushrooms that have been shown to be medicinal are also tough, woody, and inedible even after brewing or cooking, the goal of any form of extraction is to distill these bioactive compounds in liquid form for ease of consumption.

Water extraction is thus the process in which water is used to extract water-soluble compounds from medicinal herbs.

Prominent compounds that tend to be found in water extractions of herbal mushrooms are mainly their beta-glucan polysaccharides as well as various terpenoids, minerals, and antioxidants.

The Core Principle & Mechanism Of Water Extraction

Regular teas brewed with tea leaves involve extracting the contents of tea leaves by using hot water. The heat from the hot water purges air from dried tea leaves so that the hot water can replace it, penetrating deep into the leaves and drawing its contents out.

Likewise, water extraction of bioactive compounds from herbal mushrooms involves pulling out their contents from their cells using water.

However, mushroom cells are structurally supported by cell walls that are made of chitin which have to be broken down in order for the cells' contents to be released.

This is where the use of hot water comes in as a means of breaking down the tough chitin of cell walls. In fact, many medicinal mushrooms that we consider highly potent and beneficial are also woody, tough, and unpleasant to eat due to their chitin. This is where proper application of heat is especially important for deriving the benefits of even the woodiest mushrooms.

Performing Hot Water Extraction

Depending on who you ask, hot water extraction can involve simmering the mushrooms over low heat anywhere from 30 minutes, 2 hours, even to a few days.

The decoction procedure will likely also vary depending on the individual.

For example, it is common for a single batch of herbs to be decocted a few times or until its colour and taste have been exhausted.

Yet others might choose to then put together all the extract decocted and simmer further, concentrating it and reducing its volume, particularly useful if the user of the extract is unable to ingest too much liquid.

My preferred procedure for water extraction involves:

  1. completely submerging our herbs

  2. simmering for between 30 minutes to an hour

  3. repeat the process, decocting up to two more times with the same batch of herbs.

During preparation, it is important to observe the colour of the extract, which would get darker as the simmering continues, usually up to a limit. I would usually deem this as the point where further simmering will not increase the richness of the extract any further and drain and store the liquid before repeating the extraction process.

Observe the colour and taste of each batch of extract to determine the number of batches and amount of water needed to thoroughly extract the contents of a set quantity and combination of herbs.

Recording the quantities and proportions of herb blends along with the volume of water used and number of brewing rounds takes a little experimentation and observation but more than rewards by helping to save time and effort when using the same herb blend in future.

Regarding Repeating Water Extraction

Because the cell walls of mushrooms also contain polysaccharides, I view it as a waste not to rebrew herbal mushrooms as the extended brewing will continue to break down those cell walls and release more and more cell contents and cell wall polysaccharides into your tea, broth, or soup.

As mentioned above, some might choose to reduce the volume of their water extracts after repeated extraction, suitable for extract users who do not wish to or cannot consume too much liquid.

Adapting The Water Extraction Procedure For Your Needs

Once you have understood all the fundamentals of water extraction, you can learn to tweak the various aspects of the recipe. The following are some suggestions you can try:

  • Add more herbal material to get a stronger brew, ensuring that your herbs are completely submerged before and during the boiling step to maximise extraction and avoid charring of your herbs, adding more water as necessary;

  • Mushrooms that are woodier and considered inedible can be given more time to sit and simmer according to the tougher mushrooms. Decocting more times or for longer each time to increase the exposure of the herbs to heat;

  • Mixing extracts of the same batch of herbs together equalises the concentration of all the extract and allows you to keep the dosage of the extract consistent.

Key Concepts & Applications Of Water Extraction In Herbalism & Cuisine

Now, as far as any serious herb use goes, learning the fundamentals of using water to extract nutrients and bioactive compounds found in herbal mushrooms will have effectively laid the groundwork for every other culinary and brewing recipe involving herbal mushrooms.

For cooks, having a quick and easy method for distilling the taste profiles of unfamiliar herbs helps the cook tremendously in harmonising the eventual taste of dishes that use herbal mushrooms.

For herbalists, the fundamentals of extraction apply to both simple tea preparation and the more complex double-extracted tincture, thus already introducing the rookie herbalist to the water extraction step used in tincture production.

Creatively Expanding Cuisine

When it comes to cuisine, needless to say, taste and flavour usually far outweigh the health benefits of the ingredients when forced to choose. Thus it is very important that we are able to creatively formulate dishes that continue to appeal to tastebuds as we incorporate beneficial herbal ingredients.

A water extract of a herb also carries the taste profile of the herb used in addition to the herb's bioactive components. Water extraction thus becomes a form of trial run in discovering things such as how to harmonise its taste in a dish, how long to cook it and over how much heat, and so on.

Various culinary techniques can also be developed based on water extraction. For example, certain edible mushrooms with strong tastes can be decocted so that they become more bland for use in dishes such as with meat substitution and drinking the resulting water extract a.k.a tea separately.

Conversely, a tough and inedible mushroom can be decocted first to form a stock for use as a soup base, gravy, and so on.

Double-Extract Tinctures And Herbalism

The goal of herbalism is to reap the benefits of various herbs by extracting their bioactive components. This is done by developing various techniques to increase potency, reduce hassle, ensure quality, aid consumption and so on.

Here are a few brief points about how mushroom tea preparation can be used to refine our herbal technique, using double-extract tincture as an example:

  • Water extraction is one of two components of mushroom tinctures, the other being an extraction performed with alchohol.

  • As with cuisine, it is important to know how much heat to apply and for how long when performing a water extraction.

  • A technique to increase the availability of any remaining bioactive compounds during the alcohol extraction phase is to perform water extraction first as applying heat breaks down chitin in cell walls.

Alcohol extraction and tincturing requires further knowledge of formulation and meticulous daily care, but is very much an upgrade in potency and nutritional content compared to mushroom tea alone and forms the basis of most herbalists' practice.

Final Thoughts

We have covered the basic hot water extraction method for herbal mushrooms and herbs in general as well as possible adjustments that can be made when using different herbs and for different preparation needs.

Hopefully this article has helped you grasp water extraction and how to be creative in using it to further you herbal and culinary craft.

Disclaimer: While we resolve to ensure that each and every one of our articles is well and sufficiently researched, providing accurate and detailed information regarding herbal and pharmacological research, we do not claim to distribute any form of medical or medical-related advice on our site and blog. Medical advice should only be administered by your qualified medical practitioner(s) . The statements, findings and opinions mentioned are solely those of the respective individuals and entities quoted to have had expressed them.

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