A Westerner’s Pilgrimage – Chrysanthemum Tea

Alternative_Medicine2.jpgWhen last we met I was standing in a Chinese herbal store with plastic bag full of dried chrysanthemum flowers in my hand. The pharmacist instructed me to combine the flowers with something called Wolfberry fruit an herb that resembled a little like a red crystal rock. In typical Western style, I asked the clerk for the exact number grams of each ingredient to be added to the tea. Her polite but revealing smile told me that my cover had been blown, she knew me for the rookie I was. “I have given you enough for five servings” she answered confidently. She added that it should cure my symptoms which obviously fit the pattern “Arrogant Liver Yang Ascending.” She explained that the pattern combines aspects of both Excess Fire (elevated yang), and Empty Fire (deficient yin).

I learned a lot from my pharmacist friend that day. Courteous to my curiosity, she entertained questions of all sorts from me. I was particularly seduced by the concept of the “Confucian Physician” who benevolently practiced medicine as an extension of philosophy. There were other concepts that I found familiar to my heart, but foreign to my experience, like the notion of “sugar-free” medicine, the biopsychosocial approach to medicine. Admittedly some ideas were a little more difficult for me to immediately grasp, like the Chinese physician’ philosophy of being more concerned with improving life than delaying death — logic found in the argument that that supports the right of a Chinese physician to refuse to take on a seemingly hopeless case.

Of course, once I returned home I couldn’t resist querying the Internet to get more information on my chrysanthemum and wolfberry fruit tea. I didn’t spend much time on the chrysantemi moriflorii, already slightly familiar with it uses. Rather, I was more interested in the berries of the wolfberry fruit, grown in Lanzhou in the Gansu Province of China. This beautiful area serves as the chief production area for Chinese herbs. In the end, I realized that neither Latin terms nor geographical beauty would serve to help me appreciate the medical utility of this newfound tea-only a sip could do that.

To learn more about Traditional Chinese Medicine visit that National Library of Medicine.

Tony Brown, BA, EMT

Tony Brown, BA, EMT, graduated cum laude from Harvard University. He served as an EMT in the US Army stationed in Germany.
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