On Saturday, we were in our city’s Chinatown to enjoy some Dim Sum. We parked on a block that I wasn’t familiar with and as we approached our parked vehicle after lunch, I noticed a small Chinese herbal shop. ‘Hey, I wonder if they would have something to help my cold?” I said to my husband. This was my sixth day with a head cold and it was not getting better quickly. All of the normal remedies that I use for a cold were not working and I felt stuck in sickness.
The small store was busy with customers and filled with bins of dried roots, boxes of teas, tinctures and unidentifiable bits all labelled in Chinese. I knew I would need help finding something for my cold, but when I inquired I was told that I would need to see the doctor.
Now, I have seen a Doctor of Chinese Medicine before as part of an acupuncture treatment, but I had never been sat in front of a doctor before in a busy store. He told me his name was John, but I am pretty sure that was not his real name. John asked for my hand and lay my wrist open on a small, purple pillow exposing my veins. Nope – not a vampire thing, just the assessment of my pulses. In Chinese medicine the cause of the imbalance lies within our own bodies and my pulses would tell John what was ailing me.
Still holding my wrist, John looked up and said, “Not enough heat. You need heat to fight cold.” Then he laughed at his own joke and returned his concentration to my wrist. However, I knew that there was truth in his words and that the condition of dampness in Chinese medicine does cause illness. You may have heard me whine about our cold spring in earlier posts and I do believe that this weather has contributed to my current state of lower immunity.
John asked me a few other questions and he was accurate about everything. I looked at my wrist and wondered what other secrets it might reveal to this man. John let go of my wrist and sat in quiet concentration. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to do something and resisted the urge to fill the awkward silence with small talk. Instead, I listened to the sounds of the store: Mandarin spoken quickly in the background punctuated by outbursts of laughter and the pounding of a mortar and pestle crushing herbs. What an odd little store.
Then John started to write. I have never watched someone write Chinese before. Working from right to left and from top to bottom, with the graceful swoop of his pen, John created a recipe that was going to help me. He handed the piece of paper to one of the herbalists who went behind the counter and began to prepare my concoction.
John instructed me to simmer the herbs in five cups of water for 90 minutes until the liquid was reduced to one cup. Drink one cup before bed and repeat again in the morning. Complete this ritual four times and return to the store to see him.
That evening, when I emptied the bag of herbs into the pot, I looked up to find my husband watching me with curiosity. “This isn’t going to taste very good,” I said. The mixture reminded me of something you might find in your leaf pile after a day of raking your yard. The resulting brew passed through a sieve so that I didn’t choke on a twig, had the colouring of a hearty stout and the aroma of boiled swamp water.
It took me half an hour to finish the cup. And then a remarkable thing happened. I started to feel warm. Not warm from putting on a nice sweater, but warm from the inside. But even still this warmth was different – not like a fever or a hot flash, but a deep-in-my-cells kind of warm.
Having been a spa therapist for nine years, I have a keen awareness of my body. As my entire system warmed up, my muscles relaxed. Some of the muscle tension that I had been carrying stemmed from this internal cold, not from tension.
When you are unwell, you notice when you start to feel better, but you quickly forget what ailed you. However, because I was paying attention, I noticed that my sinus congestion decreased by 80% within the first hour of drinking the swamp water, er – I mean, herbal tea. No disrespect intended John. The next day, my energy returned.
I will be seeing John tomorrow night to see what my pulses have to say about things and I will let you know what I find out.
There was some residual congestion lingering, so John prescribed two more batches of herbs slightly different than the first batch. The cold is now gone and I feel better than before. If you have a lingering ailment, consider Traditional Chinese Medicine as a cure. You will benefit from two thousand years of wellness knowledge.