Farm-to-table food, seasonal recipes and preventative health maintenance are increasingly popular concepts, taking over the menu at Michelin-star restaurants and popping up in the hashtags of our social media posts—but these practices aren’t entirely new.
Traditional Chinese medicine has long taken a holistic approach to wellness, and Danielle Chang wants to help you harness that ancient power in your everyday life.
Chang has long been a harbinger of Chinese culture in the Western world. Her company Luckyrice has produced more than 25 food festivals across North America, as well as private dinners and events that share the culture and flavor of her heritage. She is also the co-host and producer of the PBS series Lucky Chow, and the author of Lucky Rice: Stories and Recipes from Night Markets, Feasts and Family Tables.
Most recently, she co-founded The Hao Life with William Li, an herbal remedy brand that takes inspiration from ancient Chinese formulas and updates them with modern ingredients to create easy-to-take daily supplements.
We caught up with Chang to hear more about how the holistic practices of Chinese medicine can help everyday Americans (and peoples around the world) how to find a little more balance in their lives, how Chinese medicine can help beat the summer heat, and more.
People don't create passions in a vacuum. Was there someone in your family that taught you to love food?
Every culture says food is their identity, right? We all love to eat. That's why food is such a great cultural connector, because it's so universal and appetizing. Spending so much time in Asia as a child, I grew up with traditional Chinese home-cooked meals, and they're really seasonal. We shop every day for what we're going to eat. When you're in Asia, you head to the produce markets and farmers’ stalls, and your meat is freshly butchered. It's really about eating locally and seasonally, and that tends to be the healthiest way to eat.
We're so separated from our food at this point. It's hard to know what’s in season or where to start.
I'm an avid gardener and wannabe farmer. It's so life-giving to eat from what you grow. Since the pandemic, a lot of people have taught themselves how to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, snow pea sprouts, chrysanthemum greens; all these lovely things that come out in the spring.
I started a perennial garden in New York. I was lucky enough to have access to the roof, and I started this garden with different borders, flowers and native local plants that are friendly to the butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. I taught myself by reading a lot and looking at the gardens in the High Line that are naturally regenerative. It doesn't have to be a privileged, elitist thing to shop at the farmer's market. If you have a little balcony, you can grow something that brings you joy or adds flavor to your dish.
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How else do you see the social conversation around food connectedness evolving?
Growing up, I always knew the number one source of wellness is how you eat. We didn't have a medicine chest. The kitchen cabinet was our apothecary. Chinese medicine believes in balancing the organs. It's preventative, whereas Western medicine seems to take more of a reactive approach. Chinese medicine believes disease has to be treated at the root level. That's the idea behind the Hao Life; to celebrate the healing powers of Chinese food and wellness, and to bring that out into the mainstream.
Just as Chinese or Asian food has gained popularity over the last several decades in the U.S. as a result of access, immigration and many factors. I think the same trend is about to happen with our medicine and wellness practices. The Taoist philosophy of wellness encompasses what you eat, the supplements you take, the mindful movements you engage in from yoga to qigong, feng shui—even geomancy, this idea that your position on the Earth keeps you in balance and harmony. At certain times of your life, you might be attracted to the water, or the mountains or the city. You might need to feed off the energy of the city and the streets, and then other times you might need to be in a rural area. All of these factors keep us balanced, which is our goal.
It's a lifestyle. Hao means good in the Chinese language, and it's comprised of these two radicals; a woman and a child. Together, this yin and yang harmonizes, and I really think the wisdom of Chinese wellness and plant-based medicine that's been cultivated for millennia is the best gift we can offer in today's world.
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If someone comes to The Hao Life and doesn’t know anything about Chinese medicine, what should they keep in mind? Where's a good place to start?
We approach it from both the Chinese and the Western point of view when explaining the formulas and what they do. You can look at it by symptoms. For example, if you have digestive issues, your spleen is imbalanced, and we have a formula that addresses that.
There are five organs the Chinese medicine considers key, and they are the kidneys, the spleen, the liver, the heart and the lungs. Together, they create an ecosystem, and if one is out of balance, your body will feel unwell. The goal is to keep them all harmonious.
What other formulas are most popular?
The kidneys, for instance, are the source of your sexual energy and reproduction. We have a formula for women called Balancing Act, and a formula for men called Got Game. They both address kidney imbalance. For women, it might be mood swings during hormonal fluctuations, hot flashes, lower back pain, fatigue.
For Got Game, we use a formula from the Tang Dynasty that was created for the Imperial Court to help men’s libidos, so they could satisfy all of their concubines. It uses Cordyceps mushrooms, which you're hearing a lot about, and other Western herbs to create a super blend. Taken twice a day, you get the same effects you’d get for what you’d normally have to boil for hours in a traditional Chinese medicinal tea.
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How did you come up with these formulas?
Our formulas are based on traditional Chinese formulas that have been used by the majority of the plant-based medicine world for millennia. We've taken these original formulations and supercharged them with adaptogenic herbs like ginseng or ginkgo.
We worked with Chinese doctor David Melladew, who has decades of experience. We thought it was important to work with somebody who's practiced a lot in the West, because we're trying to translate an ancient Chinese system into a Western lifestyle approach.
A lot of the formulas are meant to help us stay calm, focused and de-stressed. We have a formula called Mind Unwind that was originally used by monks to meditate for hours on end. This is a formula that helps take that edge off, but you can still be alert and energized throughout the day.
We're only using plant-based remedies, because we find plant based remedies to be really strong and effective, and it's all made in the U.S. at our factory in Salt Lake City, so it's tested for lead and trace minerals.
“Detox” is another buzz word trending in the health and wellness space. What does detoxing really mean? What are the benefits, and who should detox?
A detox should never be fast. A detox is eating as much healthy foods as you want, and that just means what's in season. There are certain things that will help you detox, which means to help digest or break down foods, but if what you're putting in your body is healthy to begin with, it just makes everything run more smoothly.
In terms of diet, the Chinese believe hot foods have a yang or masculine or heaty characteristic, and yin foods are more feminine or colder. It doesn't refer to the temperature of the food that you're eating. It refers to the character of the food. During the summer, you want to maintain moisture by eating lots of watermelon and peaches, etc. You could also eat bitter foods, which are really detoxifying; leafy greens or even coffee and tea in moderation.
When you're not in sync, you're in a bad mood, stressed, angry and cranky. Summer is a yang season, so it's associated with fire, and each of these elements are associated with an organ. The fire element governs our heart and small intestine. When the fires balance within the body, your organs can function properly; your heart is circulating blood properly, your intestines are digesting the food, and you’re regulated emotionally.
Any go-to summer recipes?
Chrysanthemum Tea is my go-to brew. I'll add a little bit of honey, keep it in the refrigerator and drink it throughout the summer. I'll add dates or goji berries for sweetness, and those are also the ingredients in our Come Clean formula. Chrysanthemum is a powerful detoxifier for the liver, but it balances the kidneys, too. I use the leaves for salad greens, and the flowers for my arrangements and tea brewing.
Since Chinese medicine is so holistic, are there other ways to bring seasonal living into your space?
I'm one of those people that gets up early and goes to the flower market just to walk around and see what’s in season. I know which month corresponds to which flower. I grew a bunch of peonies that just bloomed this year. Some of them took seven years from seed to flower. It takes patience. I'm one of those people that just can't meditate to save my life. If I sit still, I start worrying, so weeding is therapeutic to me, or fertilizing, seeding. Arranging flowers or cooking the food that I grow; that is my favorite thing.
In the summer months, enjoy being outdoors. Store up the sunshine for cooler days. Just like Amaryllis bulbs or tulips store the sunshine, we need to store up sunshine and water. For me, it's the beach. That's where my body wants to be now, so that I can hibernate in the winter.
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Anything else you want to add about adopting a more balanced life?
Traditional Chinese medicine is a lifestyle. It takes daily maintenance and practice to get into that balanced flow—just like yoga, which I'm a huge fan of. If you do it regularly, the benefits are just so profound. It's so hard to get your butt up, put your shoes on and run or whatever, but once you're there, it's easy, you crave it, and the benefits are multi-fold.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. Visit The Hao Life online for more details.
Photography by: Courtesy of Danielle Chang / The Hao Life