Sometimes our bodies freak out when we travel. What to eat, what not to eat, whether or not to drink the water… it makes my head spin. The dreaded traveler’s diarrhea (including food poisoning and the stomach flu) can strike at any time and being sick and far from home is a terrible, terrible thing. Enter my pal, Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San to the rescue!
But before I get into that I cannot resist the urge to provide a brief introduction to Chinese herbal medicine. It just feels like the right time. I promise I have a point and the point is not to bore you but I want you all to know just a little bit about this fascinating topic. So, the first thing to know about Chinese herbs (besides the fact that they are amazing) is that they are rarely prescribed on an individual basis. Instead they are combined into formulas. Now, Chinese medicine is really old so you can imagine how many formula’s have been invented over its history. I can’t tell you exactly what that number might be, but I can tell you that it is a lot. If I had to guess, at Chinese medicine school I was exposed to 300+ formulas, barely scratching the surface of this complex medicine.
Herbal formulas are typically modified by a practitioner to create the most accurate remedy for the patient. The rules of modifying formulas are not entirely defined, and this is where creativity, hard work and intuition come into play. Writing a formula is an artful skill that takes the dedication of a lifetime or more of hard work. Chinese herbal masters understand the complexities of each individual herb and they also know how to delicately balance a formula so as to never cause harm to the patient. My brief introduction cannot emphasize enough the magnitude of this art form.
Each and every base formula has a unique history that allows it to remain relevant to this day. Certain formulas were designed to treat acute stage disease, while others were created to treat long term, chronic stage diseases. Certain formulas are able to do a little bit of both. This is truly the magic of this medicine and is why Chinese formulas can cure disease.
Back to my beloved and faithful Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San(Agastache Powder to Rectify the Qi). Dating back to 1107, this versatile formula is a go to for stomach flu-like symptoms, depending on the presentation.
In Chinese medical terms, Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San releases the exterior, transforms turbid dampness, regulates the qi and harmonizes the middle jiao. In non Chinese medicine terms this means that you may have some of the following symptoms: fever and chills, epigastric pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The main focus of this formula lies in its ability to transform turbid dampness (if you don’t know what I mean by this I am sure you can conjure an image).
Earlier today, I was walking to the MRT (the Taipei subway) after meeting David for his lunch break. I strolled passed a Chinese herb shop and while I have passed a number of these since arriving a few days ago, this one was calling out my name, and I had to venture in. There were a few herbs of interest that I didn’t recognize so I asked the young fellow in the store what they were. We struck up an amusing conversation as I do not speak Mandarin and he spoke very little English. We did, however speak the common language of herbs and since I know the Mandarin name of herbs and herbal formulas it was easy to converse on a basic level. The store clerk managed to ask me what I was doing in Taipei and I told him that my husband taught at the school down the street. The moment I said this, his eyes lit up and he said “Ahhh! Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San! Your Husband is Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San, yes!?” And in fact, it is true, my husband is Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San. As it so happens, David came into this very same herb store during one of his first weeks here in Taipei after a day of dealing with some you know what. He picked up a bottle of Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San and came in a few times thereafter. At some point he mentioned to the store clerk that his wife is a Chinese medicine practitioner. The clerk connected the dots and we were instant friends. He told me I had to buy all of my herbs at his shop while I was living in Taipei and I agreed. And so, not only did Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San cure David of his stomach bug, but it helped me make my very first friend in Taiwan.