Despite safety warnings, fans of ancient “medicinal diets” try to eat their way to health

For 30-year-old Shi Simin, autumn is always a season of anxiety. Every year, her Yunnan townsfolk cook dried slices of the monkshood plant, or fupian (附片), into their meals to boost their immunity.

Shi’s parents are keen participants, but there’s a problem: “If you don’t cook them the right way, medicines like fupian poison people,” Shi says.

In 2016, Yunnan’s Center of Disease Control reported 25 cases of self-inflicted poisoning as a result of home-cooked “medicinal diets” (药膳, yaoshan) containing fupian and shouwu (首乌), a fleece flower root. Despite warnings from local food and drug officials, “people are getting poisoned every year, but they still eat it,” says Shi. “It’s a tradition.”

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author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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