Chinatown's Practicing Herbalist

"The Seattle Times" - September 8th 1974
Photo by Carole Marrisey, Text by Margaret Ann Spiers


CHINESE HERBS and the ancient knowledge of their healing powers are combined at the Hen Sen Herb Co. in Seattle's International District.

Approximately 1,400 herbs are available at the shop where small cabinet drawers full of dried seeds, stems, roots, pods, flowers, grasses and gourd skeletons line the walls. Two hundred of these herbs form the working collection used in the tea recommended for customers.

Hen Sen Chin knows the properties of each herb and more importantly, the combination of herbs that will yield the bitter brew that promotes well-being in his customers.

A Chinese herbalist believes that sickness is caused by an underlying weakness in the functional makeup of a person. Good diet can ease out, counteract and eliminate indigestible or rich foods.

When a customer enters the Hen Sen Herb Co., the receptionist greets him with a smile. Chin's waiting room is generally filled. Customers trade comments, examine the Chinese writing on the cabinet, drawers and inhale the exotic and varied aromas that waft from the inner office as Chin grinds a selection of herbs.

Some customers come to the herb company recommended by others. Escorted into the inner office, the customer is seated in front of Chin's desk. As the assistant questions and takes notes, Chin sits quietly and observes. Name, address, digestion and elimination habits and specific ailments are noted. With a quick movement, the desk lamp is turned to light the customer's tongue. Chin observes the tongue closely as he believes it to be and indication of the condition of the inner body.

After his observation, Chin refers to his thick books of Chinese characters and intricate diagrams. He then goes to his cabinets and opens numerous drawers and then begins measuring out 10 to 20 herbs on a square o white paper. Each customer will have different herbs according to his specific need.

In the meantime, the customer is given dietary advice and instructions on how to prepare the herb. Most of the herbs are imported from China through Hong Kong.