The new moon on February 4th, 2019 ushers in the Lunar New Year,
and the Chinese New Year begins on February 5th.
To celebrate, Mayway Chinese Herbs in Oakland, CA
hosted an Open House,
and I was lucky enough to attend.
Mayway offered a class on different methods of decoction, or how to cook your herbal tea. The class was presented by Skye Sturgeon, DAOM. He prepared the traditional formula Long Dan Xie Gan Tang, also known as Gentian formula to Drain the Liver.
He offered four different preparation methods. Now, to review, decoctions are used for herbal blends that have more dense plant ingredients, such as roots and barks. These tougher materials require longer cooking times, in contrast to lighter ingredients such as leaves and flowers. I've always simmered my decoctions in a Pyrex glass pot on the stove. It was fascinating to see these alternative methods, and to taste & compare the results!
2. pressure cooker
3. Korean herb cooker
4. crock pot
Gentian is a bitter herb, so comparing these four preparations was an exercise in appreciating the bitter flavor! I was pleasantly surprised to taste that some preparations were a little more bitter, and some a little more sweet, depending on the cooking method.
Skye mentioned one of their references, the Pharmacopoeia of the People's Republic of China, which is the national code of standards on the quality of drugs. "Compiled by the Pharmacopoeia Commission of the Ministry of Public Health, this is the official and authoritative compendium of drugs, providing information on standards of purity and the strength for each drug. The CP covers 784 medicinal herbs, plant oils, and Chinese formulated medicines and 967 western medicines and preparations." (reference)
Following the cooking & tasting class, we went on a facility tour. We walked through the administrative offices of this classic manufacturing facility, through their herbal dispensary (where photography was not allowed unfortunately), and through their warehouse. Mayway occupies a large building that was formerly a Coca-Cola bottling plant, and the building retains some lovely art deco detailing. The family that owns & operates Mayway has added to the decor with beautiful Chinese wooden furniture, and some vintage tools, like this seed grinder.
The herbal dispensary is organized to comply with current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), according to FDA regulations. We viewed:
* the changing room,
where outer clothes are covered with lab coats, hair nets and booties;
* the dispensary stock of bulk herb bins; the cabinet drawers,
each one labeled with the herb name (in Chinese and in Latin) and a picture of the herb;
* and a compounding station, where custom formulations are blended to order.
We also viewed the ISO9000 room, where the Chinese herb granules are bottled. Skye explained some of the specifications of this room, including reverse air pressure which keeps any particles from drifting in, and UV lights which kill any microbes in the air.
He also explained some of the process and the purity of the granules:
traditional formulas are all cooked together,
then dried & powdered, and have no excipients;
single herb granules are allowed a percentage of excipients, to prevent clumping.
Our tour then proceeded to the warehouse, where we saw boxes and boxes on pallets, filled with raw herb material, as well as pre-packaged tea pills. Skye spoke about Mayway's working relationship with Customs and the FDA, and the inspection process, when they receive product shipments coming through the Port of Oakland. He shared that they had been receiving large orders, in an attempt to stock up, before new tariffs are imposed. When it comes to Chinese herbs, there often is no other place to source them. If tariffs are imposed on goods imported from China, the prices will go up, and those prices will be passed along to consumers of Chinese herbal medicine: wholesale manufacturers, practitioners & their patients, and retailers. (I consider this another blow to the sad state of health care in this country.) We viewed warehouse staff picking product to fill orders, and the tracking process of scanning barcodes at every step. Our tour concluded with a walk through the Quality Control office, where we met more of the staff.
Returning to the front lobby, we were greeted with a delicious meal,
and a beautiful community herb mandala.
We shared steamed buns and dumplings. (I enjoyed the vegetarian red bean buns and the dumplings with leafy green vegetables, as well as a sweet egg custard and some candied lotus root.)
There was a selection of tonic wines to taste: they were strong! I've made herbal-infused tonic wines at home, but mine were nowhere near the concentration of herbs in these wines! The formulas offered here:
1. Four Gentlemen, Si Jun Zi wine
2. Five Seed wine
3. Four Substances, Si Wu Tang wine
4. Goji Ginseng wine
The community herb mandala was laid out on a table in the center of the room. Bowls of different dried herbs were placed around the edges of the table, and guests could fill in the mandala. The herbs presented a lovely variety of shape, color, and texture. It was a sensory delight to choose different herbs and arrange them in patterns, building off of what others had begun, or filling in a blank area.
I could identify some of the herbs:
rose buds, magnolia buds, prepared rehmannia slices and licorice slices
were easy to recognize.
But some were new to me.
So many plants, there is always more to learn!
We were gifted with red & gold paper characters, signifying Luck and Prosperity for the New Year. There were several altars, with offerings of incense and food, especially citrus fruits. Overall, it was a beautiful way to honor the New Year, the community of Chinese herbal medicine practitioners, and the herbs themselves.
May this coming year of the Earth Pig bring Happiness, Great Fortune, Full Business and Welcome Treasures to each and all of you.