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Medicine Closet: Herbs and cures

Chinese medicine may just be the solution

 by Katie Kelberlau  published on Thursday, February 10, 2005

<em>Brandon Quester / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE</em><br>This conglomeration of twigs, bark, leaves and herbs, prescribed by Daniel K. Wong  certified specialist in Chinese medicine  serves as an alternative to Western medicine. Wong works at the Apricot House of Herbs in Scottsdale.  /issues/arts/691898
Brandon Quester
This conglomeration of twigs, bark, leaves and herbs, prescribed by Daniel K. Wong certified specialist in Chinese medicine serves as an alternative to Western medicine. Wong works at the Apricot House of Herbs in Scottsdale.


I take out a pile of twigs, herbs, bark and leaves from a Ziploc bag and put them in a pot of boiling water.

I let them boil for an hour, and then I strain the liquid.

The result is an inky, dark, pungent substance that tastes oddly like liquid spaghetti sauce combined with marijuana. It is in no way pleasant to drink.

But, it's doctor's orders.

And not from just any doctor. His name is Daniel K. Wong, and he's a certified specialist in Chinese medicine.

In the past couple decades, traditional Chinese medicine, which includes herbal remedies and acupuncture, has caught on as an alternative to Western medicine and artificial drug remedies.

The Chinese see the body as part of the larger processes of nature and work to restore balance. Chinese medicine is usually quite effective when used for chronic problems, such as digestive troubles or migraine headaches, says Hoyt Tillman, an ASU professor who teaches a course on the history of Chinese sciences and medicine.

In China, patients typically use a combination of both Chinese and Western medicine. If there is no discernable problem with the organs in the body, the Chinese will try traditional medicine first, as it nurtures the body and helps the immune system.

On Wednesday, I made a trip to the Apricot House of Herbs in Scottsdale to see what Chinese medicine could do for me. For as long as I can remember, I have had chronic headaches. When I went to my regular doctor, she had no idea what caused the headaches and told me to take aspirin, which has been a part of my daily regimen for years.

As I walked into Wong's office, the scent hit me immediately. The air had a thick, earthy, herby aroma so intense I could barely think of anything else.

I walked into the waiting area, complete with magazines and a water cooler, just like any doctor's office. The back wall was lined with jars of twigs, dried matter, herbs, leaves and bark.

Wong asked me a series of questions not just about the headaches, but also about my whole body. He asked if I often get sore throats, if I have lower back pain and whether my energy level is good. He scribbled his copious notes in Chinese, covering an entire page.

He took my pulse. Traditional Chinese doctors take the pulse on both wrists at three different pressures, as varying relationships and potential imbalances exist in the different levels of blood.

The last thing he did was look at my tongue. The Chinese believe the tongue has various zones that correspond to organ networks. Also, general health can be discerned from the color and the quality of the tongue's "fur," the taste buds on the tongue that give it a fuzzy look.

After the examination, we sat in silence for a few minutes while Wong wrote a lengthy prescription for an herbal remedy. He said I have poor circulation, which has been causing the dull, daily headaches, and if I improve it, the headaches will go away. He mentioned other problems including low energy levels and backaches that would be helped by improved circulation.

Tillman, the ASU professor, says this is one of the many differences between Chinese and Western medicine.

"The Western bioscience doctor will try to separate the problem from the body and fix what's broken," he says. "The Chinese view is more holistic and focused on restoring balance to the body."

When there is no obvious "broken" part to fix, Western medical professionals may be at a loss. That's why Laura Trentman, 23, who works at ASU as an Americorps Vista volunteer, decided to try acupuncture last winter. She was having trouble sleeping.

"My mom had gotten (acupuncture), and I was curious to see what it was like and if it would work," she says.

She says the acupuncturist gave her an exam similar to the one Wong gave me. The doctor asked her a variety of questions, took her pulse multiple times and checked her tongue.

After putting the needles in her feet, legs, hands, wrists and face, the doctor turned down the lights, put on some soothing music and left the room.

Tillman says acupuncture, as well as herbs, are the two most commonly used traditional medicines. In China, it is common for a patient to have surgery and then acupuncture to ease the pain.

"The basic theory behind acupuncture is that there are networks within the body connected by channels that Qi [life force] flows through," Tillman says. "When the Qi gets blocked or stagnant, the acupuncturist will use needles to help the Qi flow more naturally and restore balance."

Trentman says the acupuncture worked.

"It didn't really hurt, and I am scared of needles."

Within a few days after the treatment, Trentman's sinus congestion was gone and she noticed an improvement in her sleeping, which she believes will improve even more with additional sessions.

As for me, I have another appointment with Wong next week.

And I hope, I'll be able to permanently replace aspirin with herbs. It would be a lot more natural.

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