Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Shou Wu Chih or Essence

In my last post I wrote about dried Shou Wu slices which I bought from my regular herbalist. In this post I am going to let you in about a more convenient method of imbibing this herb especially if you find it tedious to boil your own brew. 

I read about Shou Wu Chih or Shou Wu Essence and went to a Chinese medical hall (not my usual herbalist, mind you) and asked about Shou Wu. The owner, a man in his 60s, recommended that I try this product. 

Here's what the Shou Wu Chih contains: 

It is more than just Shou Wu extract. It also contains ginseng, dang gui, chuan xiong and other herbs. 

The liquid is dark coloured and thick, a bit like cough syrup. 

The medical hall owner told me that this Shou Wu Chih can be taken nightly, using that given "cup" (which measures about 30 ml). 

Between me and the husband, we took about 7 days to finish the entire bottle of 300ml. We each took a 30 ml dose each night just before we went to bed. You can drink some warm water after you take the Shou Wu Chih. It's sweetish and palatable. 

We actually felt refreshed and energized when we woke up the next morning. Once our bottle finished, we stopped for a week (the week that we stopped, I bought dried Shou Wu slices from my herbalist from the Lip Sin market to brew a tea).

This Shou Wu Chih product is made in Malaysia so I felt a little bit safer! These days I get quite skeptical about China products. I used to love eating tinned fried dace and luncheon meat but now what with reports of fake food in China and their unscrupulous methods, I am a little more wary if I buy China products, especially manufactured products.

Of course, Chinese herbs still come from China. That is why I try my best to buy herbs from reputable sources (as an aside, I once heard that white fungus is also bleached to make them look whiter and lovelier for sale!). Also, learn as much as you can about the herbs. And talk to your herbalist. Read up books (not just websites).

If you want to know why I was drinking Shou Wu Chih, please read this earlier post about my hair fall issues. 

I managed to buy a second bottle of this Shou Wu Chih just last week but the medical hall guy told me that once my hair issues were resolved I should stop drinking this. Actually he thought Nic was the one with hair issues haha!

My hair stopped dropping. When I brush my hair, there is an occasional stray hair stuck to the bristle. When I shampoo, I don't see much hair dropping in the shower. In fact, if I may say so, my hair seems a little more healthy?

I am now waiting for the new hairs to grow, just to see if the white hairs are still popping out or will my hair be dark again! Ah, yes, vanity at 40. Then again, we're all vain, right?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hair Darkening Tea

I don't know if I mentioned this but the past few months I have been experiencing some hair issues.

Granted, I have never had long hair - my hair is always above the shoulders. The only time I remember having really long hair was in my campus days. I had hair past my shoulder. After that, I have always worn my hair short and fuss-free (yes, if you read this blog long enough, you know I like things to be practical and easy).

 It could be stress or it could be hormonal.

After all I am 40 this year.

I think things change inside a woman's body when she hits the big 40.

On top of that, I have been stressed with a lot of things - some fun, some not so!

I was the head planner/tourist guide for my parents and sis when we went to Hong Kong for a week (and I was so majorly stressed that I started having nose bleeds in HK which scared the life out of me. I never have nose bleeds). I blamed it on the crazy hot summer weather of Hong Kong.

And then when I got back, I was back doing work - website projects, talking to partners, talking to clients, talking to everyone.

And then I volunteered myself to help facilitate a Lean In forum organized by the Penang State Government and that again threw me into a whirlwind of meetings, preparation and stuff.

To cap it off,  when we get busy, I skip cooking (also because I have no time to go the market to get fresh food) and we eat out.

Eating out in Penang is easy - sometimes TOO easy as food is plentiful and good (but not necessarily inexpensive). And sad to say, many eating outlets in Penang resort to using MSG to make their food tasty. I think all these - eating out, stress, sleeping late etc. did take its toll on me. Or rather my hair!

I got scared when hairs started falling out when I brushed my hair; hair started falling out when I shampooed my hair and even when I ran my fingers through my hair, hairs would also start dropping! It was worrying!

Initially I thought it was due to my new shampoo - I decided to buy an organic, sulfate-free aloe vera shampoo. I doubt it was the shampoo's fault but hey, I was looking for the culprit. In the end, I realized that it was my health that caused the hair fall.

It was scary I can tell you. The more worried I was, the more hair would drop.

I felt my hair thinning considerably. Though I have never been vain or super conscious about my hair, I started paying attention.

I also thought maybe it was the henna dye that caused my hair loss. I did read that henna could do the reverse - instead of helping hair grow lustrous and shiny, it could also cause hair to drop!

In the end, I decided I had to do something. I started to read up on the relationship between inner health and outer appearance. I always believe that the problems we see on our bodies is a reflection of what's going on inside our bodies.

While I could have gone and bought an anti-hair fall shampoo, that would be just a "bandage" - a temporary cure for what could be an insidious problem.

Hair that grows on our head is a reflection of our kidney (and to some extent, liver health).

If you wanted to improve hair growth or help your hair, you'd be better off eating foods that helped your kidney. Kidneys can be helped with black coloured foods such as black sesame seeds, black beans, black fungus, black rice etc. Apparently these foods nourish the kidney.

I also started reading up on herbs. One herb which kept coming up was He Shou Wu, which is the root of a plant called Chinese Knotweed or Polygonum multiflorum. Another name for this herb is called Fo-Ti though there really isn't any herb by that name (Fo-Ti is a supposed concocted Western name for this herb).

He Shou Wu seemed like a magical herb which is touted to help with anti-aging, reversing grey hair to black and can treat baldness or hair loss. It is also known as a longevity herb as it is claimed that a man who used the herb in China lived to 197 years old!

Other than that, He Shou Wu tonifies Kidney and Liver functions, improves Kidney essence, improves youthfulness and helps strengthen lower back and knees. (You can read more and find out the interesting studies done with this herb at

It is also called Fleeceflower Root (info from my Eu Yan Sang herb book). Good quality shou wu is "hard, powdery, blackish outside but reddish brown inside, with cloud like pattern". It is grown in Guangdong Province and the root is harvested in spring. This is a bitter, sweet, astringent and slightly warm herb which influences the liver and kidney.

The book further advised that 20 gm is to be used each time.

It also notes that the herb is commonly processed by steaming with black beans and rice wine to enhance its properties especially for helping with graying hair. Unprocessed shou wu does not tonify but can relieve constipation and skin inflammation. (I forgot to ask my herbalist how unprocessed shou wu looks like! Must remember to ask the next round!)

The concentrate of He Shou Wu is used to treat high cholesterol problems.

Anyway, this Eu Yan Sang herb book offers 2 recipes using Shou Wu.

The first recipe is for strengthening the lower back and knees. To make this savoury soup, use shou wu root (30gm), lycium berries (20gm), achyrantes root (20gm) and eucommia bark (20g) and double-boil with 1 whole pigeon.

For skin problems, boil unprocessed shou wu (30gm) with self heal (60gm), licorice root (20gm) to make a herbal tea. Sweeten with cane sugar.

After reading so much about this herb,  I went to the market and asked for this herb at my regular herbalist. The young man weighed out about 100 gm of the dried root slices and told me to boil it with dried longans and black dates. (Shou Wu is quite reasonably priced. I paid about RM5 for the Shou Wu which can be used in 5 separate decoctions.)

Dried longans, says he, improves blood circulation. So that was how I simmered up a tea with these 3 ingredients in my trusty claypot. I simmered it for about 30 minutes and drank it as a warm tea, unsweetened (the dried longans gave the tea a briefest tinge of sweetness).

This herb is a mild tonic so it was all right downing 2 mugs of the tea.

He Shou Wu herb has a light, woody fragrance too.

But you must be asking "Did it help prevent hair loss or hair fall?" Actually yes.

But I also drank Shou Wu Chih for a week (this is how my herbal experiments go haha) but the Shou Wu Chih is coming right up as another post. So wait for that and that also gets quite interesting.

After drinking this herbal tea twice in the second week (I drank Shou Wu Chih in the first week), I realized my hair fall lessened. I was delirious with joy. See, little things like these made me so happy.
The combination of the Shou Wu tea and the Shou Wu Chih (or Shou Wu Essence) also made me more energetic, less fatigued and more alert.

It wasn't just me - even Nic felt that drinking Shou Wu did improve his energy levels and he wasn't even having hair loss issues.

The other question is, has my hair darkened? I can't say for sure because I do go to my regular Ayurvedic salon to get my hair dyed with henna on a monthly basis (or every 5 weeks, if I totally forget). If my hair has fewer white hairs, that would be a bonus.

As it is, I am just happy that my hair is no longer falling like crazy. However, I also found another herb which helps with hair too. Stay tuned to find out about this other fabulous and inexpensive herb.

After 30 minutes of gentle simmering in a claypot, this is how the Shou Wu tea looks like.
I stored the tea in a thermos flask to keep it warm. 

Clockwise from left: Shou Wu slices, dried longan & dried black dates. Did you know that black dates are the same fruit like red dates? The difference in processing makes the dates either red or black! 

See the reddish brown Shou Wu slices? It smells quite fragrant too uncooked. Store the slices in the refrigerator if unused. In fact, I store all my dried herbs in the fridge. Herbs get mouldy if left out in the open especially in our Malaysian weather!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Stumped....What Do You Know Of This Plant?

I hope you can help me. I am completely stumped.

My friend gave me a bunch of this and calls it spinach. It grows wild in her garden. She said she planted it after a lady in a vegetarian restaurant gave it to her. Apparently it is good for health.

So my friend gives this to me and tells me that it can be used like spinach.

I made a soup out of the leaves, boiling it with some ikan bilis.

It tasted lovely.

Now that problem is, I don't know what it is or what it's called.

Do leave a comment if you know what it is.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jew Mallow...A Rediscovery of an Interesting Plant

I am a big fan of the Buddhist Tzu-Chi Merit Society in Penang.

I think they do a fantastic job of serving the community (especially helping underprivileged dialysis patients who can't afford to visit regular hospitals for dialysis treatments, the elderly and such).

In my taman, I love the fact that they're just around the corner with their recycling centre. I drop off my recyclables every week or so and I know that the money they get from selling paper, plastic and tins go toward funding the dialysis centres that they operate in Penang.

The only thing which I don't quite understand is that they recycle books. If you sent them a bunch of books, they would never sell the books as reading materials. They would tear the books up and sell the paper for recycling.

Once I volunteered with them in my taman. They asked me to sort out the different types of paper - among them were old but readable books. I saw a book that I wanted and I even asked if I could pay for the book. They told me it was strict policy that they cannot allow any donated recyclables be sold off. They had to tear up the books.

As a big book fan, I was aghast. I never tear books. I find it sacrilegious to do so! In fact I was quite disturbed about such a policy.

Anyway, that is the only pet peeve I have with these people. Generally they are staffed by volunteers so I don't know whom I could take this matter up with!

But beside this, I have always bought products from Tzu-Chi too. They have lots of interesting products for sale - books by Master Cheng Yen, edibles like vegan noodles, instant rice, powdered beverages, dried fruit snacks and usables like containers made with recycled plastic. They even have t-shirts and blankets made from recycled plastic. And unlike most Chinese products, their products are tasteful and elegant.

Would you believe that these 2 cute "toys" are made from recycled PET bottles? They transform into soft blankets! 

One of the products I used to buy were the beverages - they are suited for vegans and best of all, low on sugar. Nic and I used to visit the Tzu-Chi centre on Macalister Road and buy these for our parents.

This is the blanket made by Tzu Chi from PET bottles. Amazing, isn't it! 

Last week, I bought a packet of Jew's Mallow and Jobs' Tear powdered beverage for myself. I haven't drunk their beverages in a while now. I thought I'd be better off drinking this and supporting a charity (all funds go toward the society).

I know what Jobs' Tears are but I had to re-read up on Jew's Mallow. I think I stumbled on this drink at the right time. I feel that my hair is thinning - not sure if it is from dyeing my hair with henna (which I heard happens too!) or using the wrong shampoo or just not getting enough rest and exercise. I have been very busy (as you can see from the sporadic entries in this blog) and as the final quarter of the year descends, I am getting busier than usual!

So I was undoubtedly pleased when I realized Jew's Mallow is one outstanding plant/vegetable. Apparently it is a nourishing vegetable for skin and hair. It is also known by other names such as Egyptian spinach, bush okra, West African sorrech and jute mallow.

From this website, it is said that Jew's Mallow is a traditional vegetable grown in Taiwan. This plant is rich in calcium which means it is good for the development of health teeth and bones. It also contains iron and fibre.

I bought the beverage for RM24 (approx. 550gm) and it tastes great despite the greenish hue (the green hue comes from tea extract). It is not sweet at all - I can't  stand overly sweet beverages.

This other website notes that "the leaves are very nutritious, rich in iron, protein, calcium, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and dietary fiber. But jute mallow is more than just a meal. Its fiber is strong and waterproof, making it perfect for making burlap sacks, furnishings and even clothing."

If you want to see how the leaves of Jew's Mallow look like (or what it is called all over South East Asia and what other uses it has), have a look at this page.

As for me, I'll just be happy to drink this Jew's Mallow beverage if it helps my hair!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

More on Mugwort Or What It Looks Like Close Up

Remember my last post on the herb I found while visiting Balik Pulau? Well, here's more about the herb!

(For more details, read this. Mugwort is terribly useful!)

A week ago, my neighbour gave me a plastic bag full of Ai Ye or Mugwort. Yes, the very same neighbour who saw me planting the Ai Ye herb in my garden.

The very same one who told me the herb grows wild and aplenty in her mom-in-law's garden in Gelugur (why is it that moms-in-law often grow this herb in their garden?)

So here's how the herb looks like. It may look like a lot but once you fry it up with eggs, it shrinks.

I just plucked off the leaves. The stems I stuck them into a pot and they seem to be growing. As my husband says, these are fast-growing weeds and they grow everywhere.

(Update: Maybe it's the weather but my Ai Ye leaves aren't growing as fast as it should be! I just plucked off some and fried them up with eggs only once but the plant is still growing too slowly for my liking. Maybe the plant knows I want to greedily eat it up!)

What I did was fry up the Ai Ye with some eggs and had them for dinner. Just beware that it helps you release gas!

And just this week, I saw Ai Ye sold in bunches in the Lip Sin market. RM1 for a bunch. I wanted to buy 2 bunches but my husband says he's not eating it so one bunch would do nicely for me! See how men absolutely detest this herb?

Ai Ye or Mugwort leaves 

Close up of the Mugwort 

I saved the tough stems - planted them in my garden. I never throw anything away if I can help it. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Finally I Found Ai Ye!

Ai Ye leaves or mugwort (artemisia vulgaris)

One of the herbs which I liked a lot is this herb - Artemisia Vulgaris. However I didn't know its name before this. I got to know this herb thanks to my mother-in-law. Whenever we visit her in Kuching, I'd go looking at her garden and she'd have these patch of plants in the garden. She used to call them "hnia" which I think is the name of the herb in Hokkien dialect. 

Now this "hnia" has a peculiar taste which is an acquired taste. You either like it or you hate it. My mom-in-law would pluck the young leaves of this plant and fry them up with egg,  in an omelette. She would serve this with the other dishes at lunch or dinner. The downside to this herb was that it made one release gas (a.k.a fart!). 

She said it was good for getting rid of "wind" and the herb was good for women. 

I always wanted to bring some of the herb home to plant in my own garden BUT my husband detested the herb. You see, when fried with egg, the herb had a minty, bitter taste. I don't know why I took to it but it tasted yummy to me. 

And each time, the husband conveniently forgot to pluck the herb for me!

I have always been curious about this herb and wondered if it only grew in Sarawak! Apparently the herb was used for women during their confinement (again for its "wind releasing" properties) but other than this I had no idea what it was called (except its Chinese name "hnia"). 

But here's the thing - I found it some 2 weeks ago when I went on an excursion with my friends to Balik Pulau. Balik Pulau in Penang is quite the rural area - it is a long drive from George Town and it used predominantly used for agriculture. In the recent years, development has come upon the sleepy town of Balik Pulau. And of course Balik Pulau is well known among Penangites and Malaysians for its delectable durians and nutmeg and the famous Penang laksa. 

We were at this friend's eco-tourism village called Hakka Lodge (yes she is Hakka and we were there to partake in the Hakka lunch on a blistering hot Saturday afternoon). She was showing us around the top of the hill where her lodge was located and we chanced upon this herb. She said it was called Ai Ye (in Mandarin) or "hnia". I was so excited I asked if I could pluck some before we left. Unfortunately after lunch and a quick bout of durians, I forgot! 

At the bottom of the hill, I was feeling regretful that I didn't manage to pluck some of the herb. God must have been listening as I then saw bunches of the herb near a small shack where an old wiry man and his wife (Hakka folks) were selling nutmeg and mangosteens. My friend and I asked him if he were selling the herb and he said no. We then asked if we could get the herb for ourselves. He pointed us to a weedy patch near his shack and told us to help ourselves! 

The herb was growing wild everywhere! 

When I got back, I plunged the herb into some water before transplanting them into some pots in my garden. Funnily though as I was planting them, my neighbour came around. She saw the herb and immediately asked if I liked the herb. She said that this herb was growing wild in her mother-in-law's garden! She loved eating the herb (fried with eggs) but her husband did not. So perhaps this acquired taste of the herb was something women enjoyed. 

I of course went online to google and find out more about Ai Ye and realized it's called Mugwort. (Wasn't there a character called Mugwort in the Harry Potter series?) 

Mugwort is definitely a herb for women.  It is a herb used for moxibustion treatments. 

It's not just an Asian herb either. 

According to Wikipedia, mugwort was used for protection during the European Middle Ages. It's also used to get rid of insects like moths. It's also used to prevent fatigue and protect travellers from evil spirits and wild animals. 

WedMD states that mugwort root can be taken to boost energy. Women use mugwort to regulate irregular periods and for menstrual problems. The herb can be used for stomach and intestinal problems such as colic, diarrhea, constipation, worm infestations, weak digestion. Mugwort is also a liver tonic. 

A friend also told me that when she was young, she knew of her grandmother using Ai Ye leaves to make a steamed green kuih, very much like an "ang koo" kuih. I have never seen this kuih but I believe her.

I am just ecstatic that I finally found this herb and have now planted them in my garden!

(A lot of stuff that grows can be considered either a weed or a herb, depending on how you look at it. If it is useful and you know what it can be used for, it is a herb. If you don't know what it is, it is then a weed! How funny life is. These days I try to identify the "weeds" in my garden because I know many are useful's just that I don't know what they are and think they're ugly weeds.) 

Look out for Part 2 where I show you more of this lovely herb!

Saturday, June 07, 2014

What I Love In HK

One of the best things I love about Hong Kong is their herbal drinks. There's a variety of them sold almost everywhere you go.

Am actually blogging this from our rented apartment in Jordan (thank God for the high speed wifi) so this is definitely a first for me - blogging on the go, that is.

I got a fever two days before I got on the plane to HK and I was so worried I would literally freak out in the plane for the 4 hours of flight. Thankfully Ho Yan Hor saved me and i actually was quite OK for travel except that my throat was sore.

It's my 2nd day in HK and I decided that I had to drink something to cool down my heaty body.

This brand of herbal drinks is easy to find at MTR stations across HK. At HK$24 it's not exactly cheap but it is great for people like me. 

This one is made of lotus leaf, winter melon and coix seeds and i had mine warm. It clears heat and relieves summer heat. 

All i want is to have my throat back to normal again so i can taste all the yummy food here in HK! 

Despite the sore throat I still managed to visit my uni mate whom I haven't seen for 16 years at the APC Mall in Kwun Tong today. We had some dessert from Honeymoon Dessert, apparently a super famous dessert chain in HK. I went for the papaya and white fungus dessert hoping that i could cool my body down. 

And after that off I went to the largest Taoist temple in HK - Wong Tai Sin. It was supposed to be unbearably warm in HK now but today the weather was kind. It rained just before so the temple jaunt was pleasant and cool. 

Wong Tai Sin is famous for granting wishes and many people visit this temple for this reason. The other attraction is the rows of fortune tellers who will tell your fortune for a fee.