Celebrate the Chinese New Year with our insider's primer to some alternative health cures in two Chinatown shops.
As an herbalist and acupuncturist who employs Chinese medicine in her Lakeview healing practice (3322 N Ashland Ave, 773-592-4559), Jin-Hong Ngan often frequents the streets of Chinatown. We tagged along to get the inside scoop on some of her favorite alternative cures. Our resolution: put them all to use starting Thursday 7, when the Chinese New Year begins.
We’re immediately overwhelmed when Ngan leads us into S.H.I. (2143A S China Pl, 312-225-5589), one of her favorite apothecaries with buckets and buckets of ginseng on display. The herb amps up the energy levels of folks who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome and is also said to help people with cases of general tiredness and sluggishness (so, pretty much everyone). Ngan explains that ginseng works by recharging your qi (life energy)—but scientifically speaking, the herb contains vitamins, minerals and chemicals collectively known as ginsenosides, which have proved to increase energy naturally. Slice the ginseng and pop it into a double-boiling pot of soup (the pot of soup should sit inside another larger pot of boiling water). Use a half-ounce per person, and try to eat this concoction weekly. $88 per pound.
We see a lot that’s memorable on our Chinatown tour, but sparrow blood at S.H.I. tops the list. Affectionately referred to as “bird’s nest” (the blood looks like a mini bird’s nest), this little guy is said to relieve asthma and beautify aging skin. It contains replenishing properties and nutrients, and works to prevent skin dryness while nourishing the stomach, spleen and lungs. In fact, Ngan says, if pregnant women eat bird’s nest every week, their babies will have strong lungs and beautiful skin from birth. Double boil the bird’s nest for two hours. Eat this delicacy alone or in soup once a week for best results. $200 per piece.
At most American drugstores, you’ll see dozens of vitamin bottles. But at S.H.I., we found something even better: dried abalone, a clam brimming with body-benefiting nutrients—perfect for those of us who eat too much pizza and not enough veggies. The clam lives in Mexico, but when the Chinese discovered how much the shellfish improved their overall health, they began devouring it—even shipping it all the way to their homeland. Take a half a piece and soak it in room-temperature water for 24 hours. Then peel away the edge and soak the middle for another two days in its original water. Finally, take the dried abalone out of the water and slice it before serving in a bowl of chicken soup. $599 per pound.
Bouquet of roses
Next we’re off to another apothecary, Nam Bac Hang (243 W Cermak Rd, 312-225-0024). Here, Ngan points out rosebuds—tiny roses, which fill up a jar on a shelf—Chinese medicine’s equivalent to Prozac. They’re believed to be the best medicine for stress, depression and everything PMS-related. The buds’ naturally occurring chemicals have been shown to increase circulation, leading to a healthier mind and body, Ngan says. Put a half ounce into a tea bag and make a pot of tea with the roses; drink daily. $5 per ounce.
The last item we pick up at Nam Bac Hang is Ganoderma powder. The white stuff, made from a fungus, is a popular antiaging elixir in China—much like Botox in the States, except you don’t inject it, you drink it. And the more you drink, Ngan enthuses, the younger you’ll look. What’s the magic? It contains ingredients such as polysaccharide, polypeptide and germanium, all known for their healing, restorative properties. Put six grams of the powder into a tea bag for a medicinal cuppa daily. $35 for a box of 25 tea bags.