It was a noisy Sunday afternoon when I found myself curiously hunched over my knees in a portable toilet in the middle of Los Angeles’ Chinatown scribbling down notes on the right way to make reishi mushroom tea while a parade of large, colorful faux dragons took place mere feet away from me, marked by ear-deafening gongs on the street.
I had spent the past two days helping a friend man her upcycled clothing booth during the annual Chinese New Year celebration where my languid affair with the Fuk Yin Tong Herbs Trading Co. began. The store was located across the alleyway from where I stood for two whole days and I managed to come to know it better over the course of the weekend.
It started with the sign of course, a place promising herbs – and I, a burgeoning student studying to be a certified herbalist, found it the perfect sort of synchronicity for a weekend’s worth of curiosity. Atop the sign was a balcony, done in typical sloping Chinese architecture with no doorway and I quickly envisioned myself holed up there in that mysterious room for days uncovering centuries of lore in big dusty books. As a matter of fact, at the end of the first day there the spry senior proprietor came outside baring boxes of used books to sell for $3 each, capitalizing on the onslaught of potential customers in the center for the celebration, and I spent a good deal of time meandering over to peruse the stacks. Philosophy, literature, art and seething, smart writing on history and politics over the course of the last fifty years showed a reader with a mind constantly needing to be fed. I entered the store to find a seed, root and bark geek’s dream as every perimeter shelf was lined with plump glass jars filled with twisted and earthy specimens of each, labeled plainly with white stickers and scribbled with indecipherable Chinese. These shelves surrounded a central area filled with other products stacked high of every imaginable breed from shark cartilage pills to plump the skin to various assorted flushing and purging teas. I was in bliss. I immediately bought tiny green mung beans to self-sprout at home and red aduki beans to make healing stews. The proprietor and his female companion were clearly old enough to be my grandparents yet both seemed ultra youthful and spry, leaving me to wonder about the old wise words of Lao Tse who professed the key to life was based on keeping the mind and body perpetually busy and fed with natural things, and also to be still like a mountain and flow like a river.
The second day I meandered back in, lured by a new character in the store’s cast of staff – another older man with a warm and gentle smile in perfectly creased blue jeans and a soft blue sweater. Something about his energy called to me and I discovered he was offering Chi massage for a dollar a minute. I also noticed that it was a busy day in the store and that many people, including groups of families, were coming in to speak to the proprietor for a few minutes in the small curtained back room out of which he would come bearing a piece of paper written with notes and proceed to fill a bag with a combination of things from the various medicinal jars. My friends and I decided to try out the massage. We each took turns entering the store, sitting on the chair, and getting miraculously pounded, poked, prodded and touched for fifteen minutes prior to floating ethereally from the place back into the alley in some sort of ecstatic, state – our energetic fields completely readjusted and properly electrocuted.
I decided that when it was time to do my intern hours for my certification in herbs, I would eschew the trendy yoga and alternative spas and wellness centers cropping up on every street corner where cucumber water accompanies your meeting in lieu of some funky place like Fuk Yin Tong where the meat of life’s essence glistens from the neon lights permeating the space and highlighting the elemental underpinnings of true warts and all health and centuries of knowledge.
On the last day I asked the man behind the counter what I should do with a large bag of petrified reishi mushrooms I had waiting around at home and he told me to grate them and make a tea. Try as I might to scribble down all that he had said in that portable potty in the last minute, I failed to capture all of his description. So for the past month, I have been researching on my own, the values of these strange yet potent fungi and in my class have been experimenting with a couple of brews.
The reishi mushroom is known for its cancer fighting, toxic cell inhibiting, blood pressure regulating and immune system boosting properties and it is said that within a month of incorporating it into your life, you will feel a marked difference. I have been drinking mine steadily for about two weeks now and have noticed a few definite things. For one, I don’t wake up tired in the morning nor do I need my afternoon nap – a habit that had lingered for years. And secondly, and most importantly, I don’t feel fearful around certain issues that arise in the course of life but that I can tackle anything with an odd sense of peace.
The key is to find the right preparation for you and like with all herbs, it’s important to know yourself before accepting any old recipe from someone like me. Some people have allergic reactions to reishi and therefore need to brew the tea with other herbs that counteract the allergy-producing elements. For me, this means the addition of astragalus root. But anyone wishing to make just a basic reishi brew can start with the simple combination of one tablespoon reishi to about 4-5 six cups of water. The water is boiled first, then the reishi thrown in, and then the whole pot simmers for two whole hours to extract the water-soluble polysaccharides known as beta-glucans that are hiding out inside the tough interiors. It tastes mighty bitter and goes down like dirt but I spruce mine up with pine cone honey to make it a little more palatable.
I am looking forward to visiting Fuk Yin Tong again in the near future to capitalize on another of those chi massages that have that magical ability to get me back into whack as well as continue my studies approaching a brew at a time in my new repertoire of ancient health.