Making TCM herbal wine - Part 1
About Herbal Wine
Over the last few months, I was toying with the idea of making herbal wine. More specifically, Wu Jia Pi wine (五加皮酒 - wǔ jiā pí jiǔ). I was introduced to the herb Wu Jia Pi several years ago while I was working in my school's clinic. It was rarely prescribed, along with other herbs, for people with arthritis or stiff joints. In TCM, it's not unheard of to mix herbs with alcohol, but at the time, I was only aware of "frying" the herb with alcohol. This type of mixture would increase the herbs ability to move through the body, as alcohol "gets the blood pumping".
Not long after, I was visiting my kung fu teacher in Florida and he introduced me to something he called "Ten herb wine". He gave me a small cup of it and asked me what I thought of it.
It was horrible tasting.
Opinion aside, it's a tonic that most Chinese people will take everyday in very small amounts. The herbs inside of the mixture all help to keep the body strong into old age. One of the teachers in our school once explained to us that as we grow older, our blood gets thicker. Therefore, it's always a good idea to donate blood every year to help keep the blood flowing in the body. Taking a wine tonic such as this would be a good way to keep the blood flowing in old age, as blood donation wasn't available in ancient China.
Now, before you start to think all old people are drunks in China, keep in mind that the amount of tonic taken is about 1- 2 oz's once a day. It's a very, very small amount.
I wasn't introduced to wu jia pi wine (and some other tonics) until I went to Taiwan a couple years later. To me, I found it strange that it was practically available in any convenience store. I tried a few of them and they weren't half bad taste wise. The alcohol content was not that bad either, so it didn't feel like you were drinking rubbing alcohol (Not that I've done that or suggest that you try it...).
From then on, I've always kept a bottle of it at home. On a really cold day or when I was feeling particularly weak, it was a nice pick-me-up. Again, you didn't need to drink a whole bottle, just a very small amount. I didn't become interested in making the wine until about 4 years ago when I had some friends over.
As my old teacher from Florida was there, the topic of the Ten herb wine came up while they were there and I wanted to show them something I had picked up in Chinatown a couple of years before. It was a bottle of wu jia pi jiu that I thought was special, because of the old style jar/jug it was sold in. As it was a special occasion, I opened it and thought it might taste as horrible as the ten herb wine. Quite the opposite in fact.
The drink was a pure orange color and quite a smooth taste to it. My teacher commented it was sneaky as a ninja and hit you hard at the end. So, we started referring to the drink as "Orange ninja". Considering the popularity of it, I tried to find that particular brand again, but I haven't been successful. That's when I started to consider making my own "Orange ninja".
Wu jia pi jiu isn't "just" the herb in an alcohol base, but contains several other ingredients complimenting the herb. Other herbs that tonify the blood, such as Angelica root (當歸 - dāng guī) and wolfberry (枸杞子 - gǒu qǐ zǐ) can be added. Herbs that reinforce Qì, such as Astragulus root (黃耆 - huáng qí) and Ginseng also work. You don't want to add a lot of herbs that have the same function as wu jia pi though, as they have a bitter flavor and can ruin the taste of the wine.
Could you make a wine just from a single ingredient? Sure you could. It would have a lesser function, but it may taste slightly better. I expect a wine mixed with wolfberries, raspberries, or mulberries (桑椹子 - sāng shèn zǐ) would have an interesting flavor. One of my teachers once taught us that the combination of the herbs is what makes it effective. If you throw any old herb in without thought or theory, it's practically garbage.
How to make a simple herbal tonic
What you'll need:
Herbs - For this example, we'll use the Four Gentlemen formula (四君子湯 - sì jūn zǐ tāng) which consists of 15 grams each of ginseng, atratylodes root, hoelen bread, and licorice.
Alcohol - Any clear alcohol 60 to 80 proof (30%-40% alcohol) 3.50 liters (most bottles come in 1.75 liter sizes). If you can get Chinese bai jiu, it's better, but vodka works as well. The Taiwanese traditionally use gaoliang for the base.
Glass jar - large enough to hold 3.50 liters, a large neck that fit the herbs, and a tight cap/lid
1 - Add herbs to the glass jar.
2 - Add alcohol to "almost" full at the top.
3 - Cap the bottle and let sit in a cool, dark place.
4 - Wait ... The wine should be "ready" in about 2 - 3 weeks, while it's fully finished in 2 - 3 months.
5 - Profit!
As a reminder, this is not a "casual" drinking wine. It's more of a daily tonic that you take when you need it and at a very low amount. While I shouldn't have to say it, please don't give it to minors.
I hope you enjoyed the article and it gets you started researching your own "Orange ninja". See the YouTube video below where I go over visually some of the topics mentioned here. Be sure to "Like, Comment, and Subscribe" to our channel by click here.