Illustration by Margo Rivera-Weiss
Think about a dish you love to eat. It might express a perfect balance of sweet, bitter, sour, pungent, and salty flavors, and that balance can leave you feeling healthy, full, and satisfied. Those five flavors were identified two millennia ago by Chinese herbal medicine practitioners, and they continue to be revered at a little shop on the corner of 40th Street and Manila in Oakland’s Temescal district.
“The idea is that the therapeutic possibilities to heal all suffering are encompassed within the five flavors,” says Benjamin Zappin, a licensed acupuncturist who co-owns the shop with his wife, Dr. Ingrid Bauer, a public health physician. “The five flavors are a concept from Asian herbal medicine and dietary therapy that refers to the actions that a medicinal substance exerts on the body.”
When they opened Five Flavors Herbs in 2013, Zappin and Bauer modeled their shop on the old apothecary of years past, an institution that all local communities relied upon to formulate and dispense materia medica along with health advice and services to both doctors and patients. Their shop is filled with herbal remedies, bulk herbs, extracts, supplements, Chinese medicines, tea blends, home and body care goods, and all sorts of books and supplies for those exploring health on a personal or professional basis.
Behind the retail area of the shop is a workshop/laboratory that’s a registered USDA facility. Brian Longmire, who manages all materials coming and going from the workshop, says, “We have to reidentify all the herbs and plants and test them for purity.” He describes how they mill the plants and then possibly macerate, percolate, heat, or apply other processes to create custom formulas they sell in-house and to outside practitioners.
Some of the plants come in via staff wildcrafting expeditions. Zappin says that California natives are a favorite ingredient in many of his formulas. “Bringing the wild back into the urban cacophony as a balm is a big part of our agenda.”
Visit the shop or fiveflavorsherbs.com to experience all that’s implied in that healthy balance of five flavors and to learn about the wide array of Five Flavors classes and workshops. ♦