The Mysterious Chinese Herb Shop

Every large city has its own Chinatown.  New York City has one.  I went to see my herbalist there today.   The shop is accessible to non-Chinese speaking ordinary Americans.  The lady at the counter speaks fluent English and the herbalist does, too.   It’s a kind of no-nonsense store you won’t walk in to browse.  You need to know what you want.   It’s a traditional chinese medicine version of your corner pharmacy.  Most Chinese customers bring in prescriptions for herbs.

stairs“Is Doctor in?”  I asked the lady.  “Upstairs” the lady said.  I passed the long dispensing counter, where several men were eating lunch, to the back, and opened a door to staircase. The first time I ventured in, it was intimidating in a Diagon Alley kind of way.  It’s not anymore.  The herbalist’s office was on the second floor next to accupuncturists office.

They keeps my chart, just like my physical therapist’s office does.  Sometime I see other patients waiting, most of the time not.

In the office, the Herbalist took my pulse on BOTH wrists.  I don’t understand what he is doing but definitely he is not counting my heartbeat.

The Doc asked many questions, like “How is your bowel movement?”  “How do you sleep?”    He told me to stick my tongue out.  He wrote something in Chinese on the chart, then asked another question.  “Do you like cold weather or hot weather?”   And he pondered and scribbled down more.

He handed me my chart and instructed me to go downstairs to get 10 days supply of herbs.  I asked what was wrong with me.  He mumbled something like “Liver and Spleen weak.”  O.K. whatever, Doc.

I walked down the stairs and handed the chart to the lady.  They have a floor to ceiling old school pharmacy built in cabinet.  A couple of guys started to put together the combinations of herbs in the prescription in an amazing speed and coordination.


Herbs come in packages.  One pouch contains about 10 different kind of herbs.  Some herbs are more expensive than others.  I never got itemized receipt so I never know.  I usually pay between $90-$100 for 10 days of supply including Doc’s fee.

Today’s pouch contains:

  • White Atractylodes tes
  • Codonooposis tes
  • Pyrola tea
  • Albizzia tea
  • Schisandra Tea
  • Alisma Tea
  • Ilex Cornuta Tea
  • And a couple of other mystery herbs if you don’t read Chinese.


Those powdered herb make one mean tea.  I sip it throughout the day for 10 days. I go through this 2 or 3 times a year as part of body maintenance routine.  When I feel something is off, it is my way to pay attention to what my body want to tell me.  The effect is mostly subtle.  After 10 days, I usually forget what my major complaint was.  Once in a while, it works like a magic.  Who knows.  I like the taste fo the tea.

I once went to a different herbalist.  The place was much cheaper but I had to actually boil crushed leaves and make real tea.  As a New Yorker, I didn’t have that kind of patience.  My grandma used to plant, grow, harvest, dry, cut, boil and make tea…  Good old days.

Disclaimer:  I don’t speak Chinese, but I studied Traditional Chinese Medicine 101 in college.  So I actually have some vague idea about what the hell the doc is doing.

If you are interested in How Tranditional Chinese Medicine Works,  visit: