Less than two years after the establishment of Boston’s Chinatown, there was a Chinese herbalist in the community. In the early newspapers, the importance of these herbalists was very evident, and they are still vital in Chinatown today.
One of the earliest detailed references to an unnamed Chinese herbalist was in the Boston Post, April 26, 1896. The writer sought treatment for a severe cold in his chest, and the herbalist felt his pulse. He then wrote a prescription containing 15 distinct herbs and natural ingredients.
Some of these ingredients included: Kan chaok, a hairy plant from Fukien province, which “.., apparently has no special mission on earth. ”; Kat kang, credited “as having the same efficacy generally attributed to a cocktail of American oysters .. ”; Pak cheuk, which can be considered a fourth ingredient counter-irritant; Pak chut, a sweet cordial from Chekhiang province, widely used by Chinese gourmets; Leng pak, from the bark of the mulberry tree; and Ts un Kan, who stands among the “Mongolian rheumatism…. ”
the Boston Journal, December 5, 1897, described Yee Quok Pink, a famous herbalist of 31 Harrison Avenue. The article noted: “… Yee Quok Pink can do as good a service in his humble quarters as a doctor in Back Bay surrounded by modern comforts. “He could have been Chinatown’s first herbalist, having come to Boston in 1886. Again, the writer wanted a prescription for a cold and Yee wrote him one.
Some of the herbs in the prescription including: Chun fo too, which is like ginger and is included to warm a person; Hoot knew, to strengthen the belly; Mook haunt, to drive away all pain; Hoy woo, which carries the drug to all parts of the body; Fook sings, to strengthen the bladder; and Chun sor, to strengthen the kidneys. The writer asked why he needed all these herbs for a simple cold and Pink replied: A “man must have his organs functioning well, if he has a cold, …“
Around January 1904, Foo & Wing Herb Co. opened at 564 Massachusetts Avenue, advertising in local newspapers, providing extensive information about their practices. This practice was led by T. Foo Yuen, a graduate with the highest distinction from Imperial Medical College. in Beijing. In the United States, he had started a practice of herbalism in Los Angeles, although oddly enough, he chose not to take care of Chinese patients.
In the Boston Herald, January 31, 1904, it has been said that the Chinese medical system relies on the diagnosis of the pulse, where “..the doctor does not ask the patient any questions, but determines his body condition, the site, the extent and the nature of the disease, in each case, solely and entirely by palpating the pulse of both wrists. “It was also noted that there were over 3000 varieties of medicinal herbs, but generally only 300 to 400 were used.
Until that time, Chinese herbalists were not legally considered to be doctors, so they could, and some were, accused of illegally practicing medicine without a license. They would usually be fined and then just continue to act as an herbalist. In 1914, efforts were made to recognize herbalism as a legitimate medical practice and allow them to obtain a license, but such efforts were unsuccessful.
One of the sponsors of the bill was Representative McGrath of Boston, and the main impetus for the bill was Pang suey, a famous Boston herbalist, who had even treated McGrath’s father. Pang had been charged with the illegal practice of medicine on several occasions. However, Pang, a graduate of Canton University in China, had many supporters, both Chinese and non-Chinese, saying his treatments solved their medical problems.
Over the next few years, a number of hearings were held on the issue, with the main opposition coming from licensed physicians. the Boston Globe, March 9, 1916, reported an exam that took place at Pang’s home.
Pang explained that he made a diagnosis by the pulse alone. “It is a method recognized in China for hundreds, if not thousands of years.. “He would then write an ordinance, which was filled out in the basement of his house,”where is kept his private herbarium, in charge of a Chinese dispenser. “He was only charging for the herbs, not the consultation, and so,”He does business as a person who sells natural herbs and not as a doctor. ”
Sadly, Pang died in April 1917 and the bill still had not passed. Efforts to pass the Herbalists Bill would continue for a few more years, but without Pang he lost much of his momentum.
Despite this illegality, Chinese herbalists would continue to operate, as they had done for some 40 years in Boston, and still exist today. These herbalists had a lot of support from their patients, both Chinese and non-Chinese. Now, as you stroll through the streets of Chinatown and visit one of the herbal shops, you will better understand some of their local history.
For more information on the history of Chinese herbalists, you can read Richard Auffrey’s longest article on the subject at: http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/2021/06/an-early-history -of-chinese-herbalists.html
Photo of Boston Journal, December 5, 1897: It represents Yee Quok Pink, with an ordinance sample on the left side, a photo of this desk on the bottom, and the image on its panel on the right side.