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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Take Two

I was recently looking for a Vietnamese herbal formula for a friend. Extensive searching online found neither the product itself nor anything like it in the USA, even though the manufacturer was a well-known company in Asia with a large product line.

I took a printout of ingredients from the company's website to Kamwo Pharmacy, where a very helpful staff member, fluent in English, Chinese, and online searching, quickly identified the ingredients and their Chinese names and said the formula could be easily reverse engineered.

Kamwo Pharmacy, located at 211 Grand Street on the border of SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown, is the largest herbal pharmacy on the East Coast. They stock a huge inventory of herbs and packaged products, but their real forte is the creation of custom formulations from a selection of over 1000 herbal substances from throughout Asia, including exotic ingredients like dried seahorses, cicadas, deer antler, and geckos.

The herbs for each formulation are taken from drawers that line the wall, weighed on balance scales hanging overhead, crushed or sliced, and wrapped in crisp white sheets of paper. Hundreds of orders are filled per day from around the country. The shop also has an online store.

The staff at Kamwo is extremely diverse. Here, you will not only find employees who have received training in traditional Chinese medicine. Others in the organization come from the ranks of business, science, and western medicine, with degrees from many of the country's finest schools in graphic design, hotel management, pharmacy, nursing, computer engineering, business administration, marketing, and biology.

The owner, Thomas N. Leung, has a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy from the State University of New York. Tom is a 4th generation herbalist. His father, Shan Leung, founded Kamwo Pharmacy in 1973. This training in both traditions gives him a special expertise in the trade.

Few health conscious individuals remain purists. Over time, diets and treatments for ailments evolve to a utilitarian, balanced approach - eating what is reasonable and using treatments that work. When the time comes to deal with a serious ailment, most, like Thomas Leung, will take a real world approach and turn to the products or modalities best suited for the job, be it Eastern, Western or the two.

Tom feels that herbs are better at treating the underlying cause of a problem, while western medicine treats the symptoms. "I always tell people, if I have a headache, I'll take a Tylenol, no questions asked. But if I have a persistent sore throat, I'll take herbs."


Anonymous said...

I have used some herbs for simple treatments, but your story still surprises me about Kamwoo Pharmacy and its employees!

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