Chinatown exhibition hall explores traditional herbal remedies

The traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine Exhibition Hall in San Francisco’s Chinatown opened its doors less than a year ago.  On the second floor of the Stockton Street building there are more than 400 common Chinese herbs and a look into why those herbs have been used for thousands of years.

"We have been using herbs…to have a better health, you know, for thousands of years," said curator Edward Lau/  He also owns an herbal shop, saying "I’ve been doing this herbalist business for 44 years already. My father is a Chinese doctor. I’m a certified herbalist."

Lau is hoping to share that knowledge at the exhibition hall, 

"This is only a small part of it," said, referring to the hall's collection compared to the 11,000 herbs available for use.

Docent Nancy Yu says the hall is designed to better understand herbs and their benefits.

"We have many visitors come with different, different purposes. One of them, they want to learn like what is general medicine, what is general herbal Chinese medicine," she said. "They want to find out what it is".


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The hall is funded by donors and by the American Research Institute of Chinese Medicine. Yvonne Lau is the vice chair and says the history of Chinese medicine can be found across the West.

"A lot of the new immigrants, again, were herbalists themselves, and they imported stuff," she said. There are herb shops across the state, she said.  A wall of the medicine hall is filled with historical photos. 

Lau is a fourth-generation herbal merchant who grew up in Chinatown and grew up in a herb shop. She says it’s not uncommon for newer generations, born in the United States to lose touch with the herbal medicines the older generations have used

"Unless you're an actually trained herbalist or a licensed acupuncturist," she says "or you're an old Chinese grandma that had these recipes, there's really not much in between…that will help educate younger people and future generations about the value of traditional Chinese medicine."

So she hopes the hall will help expose and educate people to the benefits. According to the National Institute of Health, one in five Americans use Chinese herbs. Unlike treatments like acupuncture, there is no U.S. certification for herbal medicine 

Lau says that’s why "we're self-regulating. We came up with a program for Chinese pharmacists, Chinese medicine, pharmacist training. And so most of the herb shops in our Chinatown and many other Bay Area cities came and participated in our three-year program."

They also offer a four-year degree from a Chinese university for those interested in expanding that education.

It’s all to provide both an introduction or a reconnection, and a better understanding of a practice that has spanned so many generations for thousands of years.

The Chinese Medicine Exhibition Hall has limited hours but is open Sunday, May 7 from 12 p .m.  to 4 p.m. 
855 Stockton Street 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94108
Admission is free and free consultations are also given to visitors.