Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics


The Herb Is the Word

Ancient aphrodisiacs for the modern woman

The Herb Is the Word
Photo by Andria Lo

One day, I realized I lost my mojo — the urge to get it on and get off. It was as if my libido fell out of my pocket and I didn’t notice until I went looking for it.

Growing up, my sexual drive was my main drive. Late-night escapades and booty calls were my weekly ritual.

But then I started a small business, which I dedicated all my waking hours to. I realized three months had passed since the last time I had good sex. Was stress dampening the desire? Was all my bookkeeping preventing me from banging?

I wanted to bring back the fire — and a warm body to bed — so when I moved to San Francisco’s Chinatown, I turned to traditional Chinese medicine to help get my groove back.

Developed over 2,000 years ago, Chinese medicine aims to balance the yin and yang — two complementary forces prevalent in the human body and psyche. Yin is described as cold, passive, damp, while yang is hot, aggressive and dry.

Accompanied by a friend to translate, I set out to find a remedy in Chinatown herb shops, starting on Stockton Street in San Francisco.

In our first store, I told the teenaged kid working there, “I’m looking for Chinese aphrodisiacs. Something to make me feel sexy in bed.”

He looked confused. “We don’t have anything for women,” he said. “For men — it’s easier.” I had suspected as much when my research turned up Chinese aphrodisiacs like deer antlers, tiger penis, rhinoceros horns and epimedium (better known as Horny Goat Weed).

Then, he referred me to a drugstore down the street. Turns out I hadn’t stepped into an herbalist shop — it was an Asian pantry store, where they stock dried scallops and abalone for cooking. Apparently not all dried goods stores are the same.

Further down the street, we visited a shop laid out like the cosmetics section of a department store, with glass cases filled with mysterious pills and ointments. There was one case full of remedies for men, including Indian oil (a penis enlargement spray) and Natural Power, pills with a roaring lion’s face on the bottle and the promise of 169-hour erections.

“I’m looking for something to help me in bed,” I told a clerk. “For sex.” She responded with a blank stare, so I repeated my request, gesturing towards my sexual organs. She handed me a douche and then told me about The Minimizer (which was sold out), a spray designed to make one’s vagina tighter and firmer. Not exactly what I had in mind.

Finally, we headed to The Great China Herb Company, per a friend’s recommendation. Since 1922, the family-owned business has been offering herbal remedies for everything from the common cold to menstrual cramps.

I paid $12 for my consultation and then went to the back, where the in-house doctor sat behind a brown desk and a red banner that read “Dr. Mary Miao Juan Zhu, Certified Acupuncturist and Herbalist.” Zhu has been practicing Chinese medicine for the past 10 years at this shop and for 20 years before that in China.

Zhu diagnosed the source of my problems as my bon vivant lifestyle. She said the key to good sexuality is a good kidney and liver health — all that whiskey could be taking a toll on my mojo. “Drink too much. No good,” she said.


This is a preview of Issue 27: The Sex Issue, available now. Subscribe to Hyphen or pick up a copy at a newsstand near you.

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