On May 11, 2008, Nicole (my little sister), Justice (Nicole's then-fiance now-husband), Andrea (Justice's little sister), David (my tea buddy), Gwen (David's girlfriend), and I were all having a nice time playing tourist in Taipei. We six laowai (老外) (old foreigners) were walking from Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall to Taipei 101 when we came across a big poster announcing: "The 4th Taipei Vegetarian and Organics Festival 2008." Because we all love our veggies and the Festival was open to the public for just NT$100 (about $3) per guest, we decided to check it out!
This Festival was massive with hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of attendees. Inside the enormous showroom we saw many teas, tinctures, faux meats, vitamins, vegetables, mushrooms and new age products from all over the world! It was quite an experience with tons of free samples to be tried! (Ever tried Tahitian Noni Fruit juice? I like it, but it's not for everybody.)
At one booth a man was selling a product called "冬蟲夏草茶". I knew the characters: 冬 (Winter), 夏 (Summer), 草 (Grass) and 茶 (Tea) but I didn't recognize 蟲 . My little sister and I thought it was a tasty broth to make soup with. When I asked if it was a Chinese medicinal soup the man began to explain the product to us but my elementary mandarin was not good enough to understand his very technical description. Nicole and I each bought a box at NT$600 (about $18) each. We thought that was pretty expensive but enjoyed the novelty of the product.
Only after returning home did I translate 蟲. It means Worm. Then, using the Internet, I began to learn more about this interesting infusion. As it turns out 冬蟲夏草 is a specialized fungus that attacks a certain Tibetan worm to spawn and thus multiply. The product is called Cordyceps in English and is highly prized by some Chinese as an herbal medicine. One website I looked at claimed that this worm fungus could: "Invigorate the kidney and supplement essence for treating impotence, emission, physical exhaustion, dizziness and tinnitus, invigorate the lung and eliminate cough and phlegm, stop bleeding, build immunity, prevent pre-mature aging, tonic for recuperation from surgery or long illness."
The herbal beverage that my sister and I purchased was a blend of these herbs:
(Thank you so much to my awesome Chinese teacher Cindy for translating!)
冬蟲夏草 (dong1chong2xia4cao3) Cordyceps
枸杞 (gou2qi3)Lycium chinensis, Chin. wolfberry, matrimony vine
枸杞根 (gou2qi3gen1) wolfberry root
黨参 (dang3shen1) Radix Codonopsis Pilosulae; Fllase Asiabel Root Tangshen
七葉蘭 (qi1ye4lan2) Pandanus odoru; Pandan leaves
菊花 (ju2hua1) Chrysanthemum
白鶴靈芝 (bai2he4ling2zhi1) Rhinacanthus nasutus; Twig and leaf of Bignose Rhinacanthus
决明子 (jue2ming2zi3) Catsia tora Linn; Semen Cassiae
甜菊 (tien2ju2) Stevia (aka sweetleaf)
So you're probably wondering... How does it taste? It's not too bad. I liked it when we had a tiny sample in Taipei but here at home I can't drink more than a small cup because the stevia gives it a terrible aftertaste and it just doesn't sit well in my stomach. It has a sweet, roasty, Chinese medicine taste so mostly I keep it around as a conversation piece.