Much like Bodyshop or McD's, one can smell a Chinese Herb Shop long before you see it. I'd passed many of these in my Hong Kong youth (20+ years ago), and always peered in the windows to try to spot the weirdest ingredient - usually this was the dried seahorses. However in all this time I'd never considered trying Chinese medicine myself. It wasn't that I rejected it; it just didn't occur to me. And I'm Chinese.
Now I live in an area of San Francisco which is in an odd way, more Chinesey than Hong Kong. Much of contemporary Hong Kong is modern, with shiny supermarkets and imported foods from all over the world, speed walking suited persons, high end designer stores. I'm sure there are still herb shops, acupuncturists, tea shops - but they are all tucked away from mainstream city life. Here in SF, I can walk one block and find acupuncturists, reflexologists, herb shops, and little markets that sell funky smelling Chinese ointments.
I decided to give acupuncture a try when I sprained my ankle over a month ago. Mostly because I was immobile and miserable for 3 days, and then someone had insisted acupuncture would be effective. It was. Swelling was down immediately, and I went from crutches to hobbling without help.
Apparently, people often consider acupuncture as a last resort, instead of a first option. My acupuncturist wishes eastern medicine were more integrated in hospitals and such, so access would be easier. Some MDs do get a certificate in acupuncture; however, this is a two month course as opposed to the years an acupuncturist spends studying the art. And though acupuncture is an ancient medicine form, its techniques constantly evolving, even employing some modern technologies, while the principles remain the same. Like linking the needle (which incidentally, are not so bad - I barely noticed them) to a light electrical current.
What are the principles? Hmm - this is my interpretation, which may or may not be accurate - but acupuncture medicine is based on a person's natural energy flow within the body - known as "Chi". It's not just circulation, or nerve connections. Chi is not quantifiable by scientific equipment at the moment.
Acupuncture comes with being an herbalist (Herbology? Like at Hogwarts - But not?) - which means putting together packets of dried herbs to treat conditions. For reducing abdominal muscle pains (digestive or lady cramps), fresh ginger in hot water. It worked for me. With a red date thrown in for good measure. No longer need the Tylenol.
For other issues, it gets more complicated. Above is a simmering pot of some 16 ingredients. As far as I can tell, they are all plant based. It is alarming how pungent smelling plant bits can wind up smelling, and how startlingly bad the resulting "tea" can taste. So bad, that to be honest, I only managed to consume half of my 3 cup presciption on my first day.
I wonder how the first person to stew up a particular root or branch decided to consume the resulting liquid - s/he must have been lacking in smell cells and taste buds. It seems that most Chinese (and maybe even Korean) people have at some point in their lives been subject to (by their parents, or acupuncturists) drinking Really Awful Tasting concoctions for good health. The worse tasting, the better for you, naturally. No you can't dilute it, or sweeten with honey...