The Emperor Of China's Cure For Common Colds
According to Alan Lau, eldest son, fifth generation herbalist, and direct descendant of the Emperor of China's very own doctor in the Ching Dynasty more than 100 years ago.
by Rick Carroll
The cold came from China by way of a houseguest who arrived sneezing after a chilly vacation in Mongolia. She gave the cold to me. A nagging, persistent cold, it seemed to want more than the usual remedy of aspirins, chicken soup and bed rest. There was only one solution.
To cure a Chinese cold, especially from Mongolia, seek the Chinese remedy, an easy prospect in Honolulu, where herb shops proliferate in Chinatown like noodle shops.
There are 17, at last count, but only one-Tak Wah Tong Chinese Herb Shop- claims an ancestor who prescribed herbs to the Emperor of China in the Ching Dynasty, more than 100 years ago.
With dried sea horses and turtle shells in the window, the shop is easy to find; it's just past Longevity Inc., across from the Moon Gate Stage at the Chinese Cultural Center, next door to the video game parlor.
Here, the Tak Lau family migrated from Canton in 1980, to seek their fortune selling ancient remedies. They offer more than 700 herbal cures for everything from asthma to impotence, and treat twisted ankles as easily as general malaise. A cold cure is child's play here.
"These are good," said herbalist Alan Lau, holding a bottle of 36 canary yellow pills, known as Ganmaoling.
"These, too," he said, offering Yin Chiao, the Great Wall brand cold tablet from Tientsin.
The two, he said, are the most popular over the counter cold pills, the Contacs and Dristans of China. I shook my head.
"This is not a common cold," I explained. "A common cold cure won't work."
"I want you to make a cold cure from that," I said, pointing over his shoulder to a wall of glass jars full of green, brown and yellow things that looked like lizard tongues.
Mr. Lau, eldest son, fifth generation herbalist, and direct descendant of the Emperor of China's very own doctor in the Ching Dynasty more than 100 years ago, looked stunned.
"It takes long time to prepare herbs," he said.
"I have lots of time," I said.
"For people in hurry," he said, "pills are best."
"I am not in hurry."
"It may take 20 or 24 herbs," he warned. "It's expensive."
"It's a very bad cold," I said, and coughed loudly.
"Stick out your tongue," he said.
Mr. Lau had agreed to treat me.
He looked at my tongue, took my pulse in three places on each wrist, inquired about my sleep, appetite, bodily functions and symptoms.
It was a bad cold, he said. It would take 14 herbs to cure.
A slight cold takes at least seven herbs; a serious cold with flu might take 24 herbs.
"One herb won't do everything," he said.
Ground chrysanthemum buds, for example, won't stop a runny nose. but fresh mint twigs will ease nasal congestion. The Chinese herbal cold cure is designed to combat each symptom.
The usual remedy, he said, takes two packages of herbs, one big, the other small, costs about $20, and is easy but time consuming to prepare.
Put four rice bowls of water and all the herbs in a pot, boil it down to one bowl, drink the tea. The cold will be gone in a day.
"If still a little bit then come back for more." Avoid wine, alcohol and certain foods, he warned.
"When Chinese people catch a cold, we believe you catch a wind inside," he said, "so don't eat bok choi or cabbage because it creates lots of wind and you get more cough.
"You can't eat chicken," he said, "because it holds the fever in your body. The Chinese way is to get the fever out."
"My favorite American cold remedy," I told Mr. Lau, "is chicken soup."
"This is true?" he asked incredulously.
I nodded. He shook his head. "We always tell people, don't eat the chicken."
The cure cost $7, a bargain, considering that Mr. Lau selected 14 different herbs which he hand-weighed on a brass scale and wrapped individually in paper packets.
"The old fashioned way," he said, stuffing all 14 packets, my prescription and instructions on how to make herbal tea in one big sack.
The potpourri consisted of buds, twigs, shells, nuts, two different kinds of tree bark (one yellow, the other white), a root that looked like soap and some leafy vegetable matter that resembled marijuana, but wasn't.
A sprig of fresh mint and some almonds were the only ingredients that looked familiar; everything else looked very strange.
I bought the Chinese cold pills, too, just in case. That brought the bill to $13, including $3 for the diagnosis.
"Don't be scared," Mr. Lau said. "There's no poison here. Everything here is natural, It's just to get the poison out."
At home the herbs in the pot looked like bird's nest soup, smelled like garden mulch and tasted like 20-weight oil. In wine parlance, it had a good nose, strong legs and a helluva finish.
I drained a bowl of the bitter tea, grew dizzy, went straight to bed, slept without dream or motion until I awoke suddenly at 5:30 a.m. experiencing, the wind trying to leave my body, along with everything else.
The effect was like a typhoon within me and when it passed, the cold, too, was gone with the wind.
My chest was lighter, I could breathe, my throat wasn't sore, but now my stomach ached.
I called Mr. Lau to report my condition.
"Is first time you take Chinese medicine?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.
"That's why," he said, laughing.
"Is cold gone?" he asked.
"Yes, pretty much," I said.
"Good," he said, "It worked."
"Thanks, I said, "but my stomach still hurts."
There was a long pause before Mr. Lau, eldest son, fifth-generation herbalist, and direct descendant of the Emperor of China's very own herbal doctor in the Ching Dynasty more than 100 years ago, spoke again.
"Next time," he said, "don't eat the chicken."
* Copyright Rick Carroll 2000, reprinted by permission of author.
Rick Carroll is the author of numerous Hawaii books including Great Outdoor Adventures of Hawaii and the best-selling Chicken Skin True Spooky Stories of Hawaii. He is the editor of Hawaii's Best Spooky Tales Series, and co-editor of Travelers' Tales Hawaii, an anthology of the best contemporary non-fiction about Hawaii, where this story appeared.
To purchase and read more about his publications, visit http://www.travelerstales.com/catalog/hawaii/ and http://www.amazon.com