If you've read my blog posts before, you've probably gathered that I am a student at David Winston's Center for Herbal Studies. From now until Fall 2016, I will be learning the foundations and applications of Traditional Western Herbalism, Ayurveda, Unani-Tibb, Cherokee medicine, and, of course, Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Our class just wrapped up our 6-week module on Traditional Chinese Medicine with a field trip to Chinatown to visit the oldest herbal pharmacy on the East Coast: Kamwo. It was a great experience, and I left with such a full bag of organic herbal goodies that I decided I needed to do an herbal haul!
First let me just comment on the aesthetics of Kamwo. When you first walk in, to your right, there is a giant cabinet of unlabeled drawers, well lit and all fashioned with wood from a single tree. Their wood counters are covered with herbal formulas being filled by Kamwo's knowledgeable employees, who are quickly opening and closing the 8-foot tall wall of unlabeled drawers. In the center of the store is an island full of giant glass jars stuffed with herbal goodies, such as Astragalus and Reishi mushroom slices, as well as an assortment of patented Chinese medicine formulas, such as 701 plaster and Jade Wind Screen. After we took in the initial "oooo and ahh" of the store, Suzy Seet gave us a tour of Kamwo's FDA and GMP approved facility.
After Suzy gave us our informative tour, the buying frenzy began. Though I've been to many flea and farmer's markets, I have never seen anything like the buying-enthusiasm of 50 herbal students in the presence affordable, pesticide-and-heavy-metal-free herbs. With my budget in mind, I gladly dove right into the frenzy.
Though I wanted to try everything at Kamwo, I limited myself to 7 herbs and a few packaged goods. Here's a quick lowdown of what I got, why I got it, and some traditional and current uses - enjoy!
// The Herbs \\
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus, Huang Qi) - Astagalus is one of my favorite immune and energy tonic herbs. I use this sweet and nutty polysaccharides-rich powder on a daily basis in my oatmeal and salad dressings, but I bought the root slices so I could throw them into the pot whenever I am making vegetable broth. Astragalus is often used for its hepatoprotective (liver protective), heart tonic and immune tonic properties, and because it is an immune tonic, it should not be used in cases of acute sickness!
Longan Berries (Euphoria longan, Long Yan Gou) - I'm a sucker for anything that can be both food and medicine, so buying these sweet-and-smoky dried fruits was an obvious choice for me. Longan berries are rich in vitamin A and C, as well as iron and potassium. They're traditionally used to tone the Heart and Spleen, and they help reduce symptoms such as fatigue, heart palpitations, and blood deficiencies (marked by irregular menstruation and a pale face). Since you aren't supposed to eat more than 4-5 of them a day, I will probably use them as a morning energy boost or toss a few into my salad! It's also possible that on the next new moon, a handful of Longan berries will find their way into a medicinal wine...
Lycium Berries (Lycium chinese, Gou Qi zi, Chinese Wolfberry) - Known to most Americans as goji berries, Lycium fruits are a tasty medicinal that I can eat by the handful, though 1 oz a day is the recommended dose. They're high in vitamins B1, B12, and C, as well as antioxidant carotenoids zeaxanthin and cryptoxantine. I bought a pound of Lycium for three main reasons: 1. to add to kale salads, 2. to combine with Chrysanthemum flowers for a capillary-strengthening tea for my eyes, and 3. to help with circulation to my chronically cold feet. At $15/lb, Kamwo had the best price on goji berries that I've ever seen, so I figured it was worth the splurge.
Fu Shen (Spirit poria) - This is the one herb I bought that I had never heard of before. A Kamwo employee mentioned it could be useful for anxiety, and within seconds I promptly exclaimed, "I'll take half a pound!" Upon researching Fu Shen, I've found that it's often used to calm the Shen, or spirit. It helps to relieve symptoms such as irritability, heart palpitations, poor memory, and insomnia, as well as relieve Spleen qi issues such as dampness and fatigue. Looking like a thin chunk of chalk, Fu shen is definitely the strangest looking plant in my apothecary right now and I'm excited to play with it when it comes up in materia medica.
Jujube Dates (Ziziphus jujuba, Da Zao, red date) - Another plant that bridges the food-medicine barrier, and at $3.80 a pound, Jujube dates were an easy purchase. Because jujube's are tasty and high in flavonoids, vitamins A, B2, and C, as well as calcium and iron, I am probably going to add them to soup bases for an additional nutritional punch. Being nutrient-dense, they are traditionally used for fatigue, Spleen deficiency, and Qi and Blood deficiency. Like the longan berries, these may find their way into a medicinal wine concoction.
Chrysanthemum Flowers (Chrysanthemum x morifolium, Ju Hua) - Although most studies have been done on Ju Hua's blood pressure lowering abilities, they've been used traditionally for eye problems as well. Used as an external application, they help soothe sore eyes (whatsup people who work on computers for 8 hours a day + those of us with contacts), and used internally, they are believed to improve eyesight. But, in all honesty, I really bought these so I would have an easy herb on hand to make a quick bitter tea from. Bitter tastes help us digest our food, and since the bitter taste has been absent from my diet for 99.5% of my life, I try to incorporate bitter whenever and wherever I can.
White Peony root (Paeonia lactiflora, Bai Shao Yao) - As someone with chronic anxiety, I'm always looking to try new soothing or sedative herbs. I've heard a lot about White Peony as a sedative and when I found out it was only $6.50/lb, I sprung for a whole pound of the dried root, (I can't help it - I love a good deal!) This root is often used as an antispasmodic (especially for menstruation related problems), and as a sedative for anxiety, jagged nerves and restlessness. It's also indicated for yin-deficiency patterns that are marked by night sweats.
// Patented Formulas \\
I also grabbed a few pre-made patented formulas from Kamwo. Although I love the ritual of making herbal teas and decoctions, I also wanted to try some of these highly esteemed patented formulas!
Jade Wind Screen (Yu Ping Feng San) - A classic mix of herbs like Astragalus and Atractylodis, Jade Wind Screen is a blend for immune system support. TCM theory tells us that Wind is often responsible for bringing illness and imbalance to our bodies, and this formula is designed to strengthen the "interior" (our bodies + immune system) from exterior influences, like Wind.
Eight Treasure Formula (Ba Zhen Tang) - A combination of 8 herbs, including Asian Ginseng, Atractylodis, White Peony root and Rehmanniae, this is a blend that helps to tone the Qi and the Blood. It's indicated for people with a pale complexion, anxiety, heart palpitations and who experience lightheadedness. Because a major symptom of my anxiety is heart palpitations, I figured I would give this a try.
Xiao Yao San (Free and Easy Wanderer) - This is one formula that Suzy, our tour guide, kept referring to for stress, so I knew I had to try it. It contains herbs like Chinese mint, White peony, Licorice root, and ginger, so I am hoping it will taste pretty decent!
The most important thing Suzy told us about these formulas were "If you just take Free & Easy Wanderer and you don't treat the root of the stress, Free & Easy Wanderer will stop working," and the same goes for any herbal symptom relief. As with every herbal tradition, at its core, TCM aims to treat the root of the problem, knowing that if we only treat the symptoms, than the symptoms will keep coming back.
I'm so grateful for Kamwo for hosting over 50 excited herbal students in their store on a busy, NYC Saturday, for our TCM teacher Andrew for taking us there out of the goodness of his heart, to the plants for making themselves available for our health and healing, and for all the TCM practitioners of past and present who continue to provide the world with access to such a professional and beautiful form of medicine.
In love and plants!
- Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. New York: DK Pub., 2000. Print.
- "Longan Fruit (Long Yan Rou)." Longan Fruit (Long Yan Rou). N.p., n.d. Web.
- Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts, 2007. Print.