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Japanese honeysuckle flower, a Chinese herb otherwise known as Jin Yin Hua (金银花) has been used for ages in the treatment of ‘exterior illnesses’ that run the gamut from upper respiratory infections to carbuncles and abscesses. In pharmacies, we will see this herbs nicely packaged in small plastic containers, but during the herb tour, you’ll likely see them in boxes filled to the brim. Classified as ‘sweet and cold,’ Jin Yin Hua can be understood as the ‘herbal’ broad spectrum antibiotic that is mild but effective.

Birth Place of Jin Yin Hua

Ping Yi County in China is known as the hometown of Jin Yin Hua. In fact, this county alone produces more than half the nation’s stock. Ten years ago, the price of honeysuckle flower stood at less than 30rmb per jin. However, due to the SARS incident of 2003, that number was brought up to past 200 per jin.

A similar spike happened during the recent H1N1 scare. It was as if households all over China knew to stock up on relevant herbs while also buying extra face masks and antimicrobial napkins. Today, the value of processed Jin Yin Hua has stabilized at around 100 per jin. But wait till the next epidemic rears its ugly head — when that happens, prices will likely certainly elevate to a new high.

Socioeconomic Trends & the Impact on Herb Prices

This new high will not be just because of a renaissance of interest in the use of Chinese herbs for the treatment of disease. It is also because of a social-economic trend that sees farmers making more just working in the city as odd-job laborers. Although it does not seen as promising by many of us city-dwellers, such work is sure income in contrast to the manifold uncertainties that come with working on the land.

Take for example the erratic weather that has plagued China this past half-year: while floods have inundated much of southern China, the central parts have been experiencing a peculiar absence of rain. Manual irrigation, which is a costly affair, is the only solution for many as they pray for the clouds above to release much needed rain.

The son of the farmer we visit during the herb tour is no longer intent of carrying on his father’s work on the land. He sees a better life ahead in the city. And he is just one of the millions of ‘sons of farmers’ whose decisions will impact the supply of Chinese herbs in a negative way.

(Written in Bo Zhou city in 2011)

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