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Immune systems are complex and influenced by an ideal balance of many factors, according to immunologists. And that quest for balance in health is rooted in many ancient wellness practices, particularly in Asia. For decades, the Western world has adapted many of the customs, like utilizing adaptogenic herbs, acupuncture, massage and exercises such as tai chi — all made to balance and ultimately strengthen the body and its defense against viruses or infections. Today, we continue to see Asian-influenced brands and companies in wellness, particularly with the recent boom of matcha lattes, gua sha tools and varying supplements available on the market.
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“There’s been a lot of cultural appropriation that’s happened over the last couple of years with brands,” said William Li, cofounder of supplement brand The Hao Life.
“But when they come out with these formulas, they don’t really pay the respect and homage to the greater philosophy that’s at the root of these remedies,” he continued. “Danielle and I really felt that there was an opportunity to tell that bigger story.”
Launched this month with longtime friend Danielle Chang (the two bonded over their “shared Chinese heritage”), The Hao Life offers six ingestibles made with adaptogenic herbs historically used in Chinese medicine with ingredients like goji berries and black sesame. “Hao” is the Chinese word for “good” and its character represents harmony.
“Unlike Western medicine, which has more of a treatment-based model where you take drugs and you take things when you have symptoms or illness, in traditional Chinese medicine, the idea is much more preventative,” Li said. “What we are proposing is that our supplements, which are based on millennia-old formulas, are something to take on a regular basis to keep your body completely balanced.”
Traditional Chinese medicine, he explained, views the body as an interconnected ecosystem, and balance is aimed by targeting the five vital organs: the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and spleen. The brand’s tablets — created with all-natural, vegan ingredients largely sourced in Asia and made in California — are intended for each of the organ systems.
“Growing up, whenever we were sick, our mothers would always go to the kitchen cabinet instead of the medicine cabinet, and along with the food, they would boil these bitter concoctions of herbs that would smell so bad that we had to pinch our noses to drink them,” chimed in Chang. “But, you know, these bitter concoctions really work.”
Along with the strong odors, it takes time to brew the herbs, so the duo, working with Dr. David Melladew, decided to simplify the process by supplying the herbs in pill form, she added.
“They’re all certified for purity, potency, authenticity,” said Li. “We test everything.”
The products, each priced at $88 (“Eight being a very lucky number in Chinese thought,” said Li), include “Breathing Room,” made for immunity health using ingredients like astragalus root, which has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as reishi mushroom and Asian ginseng root.
Young brands like The Hao Life have been emerging in the wellness space, founded by creators of Asian descent showcasing their own heritage.
Grace Yoon of Qi Alchemy, for one, has been offering herbal blends rooted in ancient Korean herbalism.
“They’re everyday staples in a Korean household,” said Yoon. “My grandmother, she was an Eastern medicine doctor, and when I had chronic health issues as a child, she fed me these types of herbal blends, and my body was able to naturally heal on its own.”
Qi Alchemy produces goods sourced in Korea and packaged sustainably in a tube made of glass and topped with a cork. Priced at $49, the herbal blends are pearl-like spheres made with red ginseng, which contains ginsenosides. According to Yoon, who works with a family friend who’s an expert in traditional Korean medicine with more than 40 years of experience in herbalism, the bioactive compounds have properties supporting immune system health.
“It’s world-known that Korea has the best premium red ginseng,” said Yoon. “And we have a patented fermented process that we go through where we cultivate it for six years…to really produce the most efficacy.”
Meanwhile Ranmu Xue, founder and chief executive officer of Us Two Tea, has been focusing on supplying the “Champagne of tea” in Taiwan: oolong.
Originally from China, Xue visited Taiwan one summer and learned of the process behind the creation of the naturally sweet drink. The tea farms use a natural pesticide made with herbs and a fruit, which attracts flies that leave behind their saliva.
“That’s why our black tea tastes naturally sweet and smells like honey,” said Xue, who works with small, organic family-owned farms and uses biodegradable sachets made with corn fiber.
Xue, who has studied and lived in the U.S. for a decade, plans to expand her selections to offer tea from other regions of Asia, including China, bringing a more modern, thoughtful and eco-minded approach to a long-standing wellness practice.
“Eventually, we want to be the one-stop shop for Asian tea,” she said. “I really want to bring our culture and the tea culture here in the U.S.
“It’s great to see more Asian founders and other ethnic founders sharing their heritage,” said Lin Chen, founder and CEO of Pink Moon.
Chen has been working to make wellness inclusive, she said, offering affordably priced beauty, home and wellness goods (from Japanese washcloths to gua sha tools), as well as an in-house label, created by women and for women online at pinkmoon.co. Each brand is cruelty-free, using “wholesome” and ethically minded ingredients. Many are founded by Asian Americans and women of color, with 1 percent of revenue from every purchase going to a charity.
“Self-care should never be cost prohibitive, and it should be available to everyone,” said Chen.
Next year, she plans to open a physical wellness space in New York City’s Upper West Side, a spa and boutique for women and all genders. All goods and services will be less than $100, she said.
“The main thing for me is community and [having a] place to gather for in-person events, with workshops, learn from holistic practitioners and experts,” she said. “And having a space that is open, inclusive, a warm, welcoming sanctuary where a woman could just come in, let her hair down and be herself.”