Erin Masako Wilkins is an Asian American herbalist and acupuncturist who has been practicing for over a decade, specializing in Traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine. By tapping into her own ancestral healing traditions, she aims to empower others to reclaim preventive care, foster rooted connection to the rhythms of the natural world, and experience vibrant health. A seasoned educator, Erin holds and shares a wealth of knowledge about Asian American herbalism, folk traditions, TCM theory, seasonal wellness, and actionable community care. We studied together in our master’s degree program at the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College in Berkeley, and it has been a true honor to witness her continuously expanding work in the world. Erin’s forthcoming book, Asian American Herbalism: Traditional and Modern Healing Practices for Everyday Wellness, is a rare gem of a resource as a contemporary publication actually written by a practitioner of Asian descent who deeply embodies her wisdom.
R+B: Hi Erin! I really appreciate your making the time for this conversation during such a busy season of your life. To start, I would love to know how you have navigated the immense undertaking of writing a book! What support have you leaned on to nourish and replenish you throughout this process?
EMW: Hi Alyssa! I’m so happy to have this moment and conversation with you, old friend.
The book, Asian American Herbalism, was such a privilege to bring forth into the world. And it was also a real challenge mentally, physically, spiritually. The lesson that kept showing up as I wrote was the importance of cultivating a softer life. And by that, I mean a daily pace that is less hurried and more intentional. Creativity and inspiration, like wellness, are not something that can be forced. And so, by freeing up my time to write, I had the space to be inspired anew by the daily rhythms that replenish me. And a big part of that was making nourishing herbal teas, green tea, and comfort foods like Japanese curry and onigiri.
R+B: I love the connection between wellness and creativity as two vital components of life that can’t be forced. Like me, you’re a huge proponent of food as medicine and what you call “slow medicine,” or moving in a way that honors consistent integration for a cumulative effect. Can you share why you feel this is important, especially in our world of “quick fixes?”
EMW: Herbalism has always been a slow, cumulative medicine. And while this is at odds with our modern culture, it's also why so many folks are turning to herbs and food as medicine right now. It’s not only about the health benefits – it’s about connecting to a slower, more intentional lifestyle.
Across many cultures, herbal medicine is simply part of daily food and drink – like adding thyme, bay, and garlic to chicken soup, or adding mint and lemon to drinking water. So, figuring out ways to incorporate herbs into daily meals and to make them a source of joy is key. This is something that you have done so brilliantly with Root & Bones.
R+B: Thank you so much for saying so! I am lucky to have gotten a sneak peek of your book; in it, you share that one of the drivers behind your work and this publication is transcending barriers to holistic care that you have experienced… and that too many in your community—and beyond—experience. I’m curious if any stories come to mind about your workshops and the ripple effects of people learning about East Asian medicine?
EMW: Workshops are a great way to transcend barriers to holistic care, especially when sharing knowledge that has historically been gatekept and difficult to access. I often ask folks to share about the foods and herbs that they grew up with as a starting point for learning about East Asian medicine. And I’m always moved by moments when people start bridging cultural food memories with the various health benefits. It’s the memory of Grandma drinking green tea with umeboshi plums for digestion. It’s the memory of eating rice porridge with jujube dates and roots when recovering from illness. These cultural food memories are especially alive for folks of AAPI heritage, but many people have deep connections to East Asian medicine. The heart of it is recognizing the cultural connections to Earth that are available to all of us.
R+B: Truly! Your rich fusion of a variety of healing traditions is quite unique to your lived experience and brings so much depth to your sharing of Asian American herbalism. I am sure there’s a lot of overlap, but would you tell us some of the similarities vs. points of departure between Chinese and Japanese medicine? And even North American folk herbalism?
EMW: Something that defines North American folk herbalism is the use of single herbs, or simples, for healing. For example, drinking chamomile tea for a nervous belly. Whereas in Japanese and Chinese herbalism, herbs are traditionally taken in set combinations or formulas. And generally, across Asia and the Asian diaspora, herbalism is also just a natural part of daily life through food and drink.
There are countless cultural nuances to herbal traditions, but I’ve found that in East Asian herbalism, there are more similarities than departures. For example, there is a crossover between Chinese and Japanese medicine because many Japanese traditions are rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (e.g., Kampo herbalism).
R+B: I love this synergy you’re speaking of, both in terms of herbal actions and traditions. Reading about the everyday medicine your grandmother was constantly cooking up in her kitchen made my heart swell. We are sorely missing this in modern times… on so many levels. I know your book features over 100 undoubtedly amazing recipes, but would you be willing to share one of your favorites with us?
EMW: It would be my pleasure!
Floral Black Tea Latte
Here is a tea blend to ease stress, tension, and everyday pains. Black tea is a warming and hearty base for carrying a variety of herbs and flowers. The rose in this recipe is a harmonizer because it gently moves Blood and benefits the flow of energy in the body. It also balances the overall energy of the recipe. Safflower petals are so powerful at moving Blood that they can ease physical pains when taken in small amounts, slowly, and over time. Finally, the milk adds a layer of rich Yin moisture and is a vehicle for the tonic powders. You may substitute a single powdered herbal extract (i.e., Chaga or Reishi mushroom) in place of the Blood Tonic powder in this recipe for similar effects.
3 ounces (85 g) loose black tea leaves
1 Tbsp rose buds or petals, plus a petal for serving
1 Tbsp dried lemon balm
1 Tbsp dried safflower petals
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk or a non-dairy milk alternative
1/2 tsp Blood Tonic Powder (recipe below)
1 tsp honey, to more as needed
Ground cinnamon, for serving
In an airtight container, combine the black tea, rose, lemon balm, and safflower petals. Store away from heat, light, and moisture for up to 12 months.
To make a cup of tea, place 1 tsp of the tea in a teapot and pour 1 cup (240 ml) of simmering water (180° F [80º C]) over the tea. Cover and steep for 3 minutes before straining. In a blender or using a frother, blend the milk, Blood Tonic Powder, and honey for about 10 seconds or until frothy and just incorporated. Pour the tea into a mug and top with frothed milk, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a rose petal.
Contraindication: This tea is not recommended during pregnancy due to the safflower.
Blood Tonic Powder
Makes 5 oz (14 g)
2 oz (60g) He Shou Wu powder extract
2 oz (60g) Chaga mushroom powder extract
1 oz (30g) Reishi mushroom powder extract
In an airtight container, combine the He Shou Wu, Chaga mushroom, and Reishi mushroom and mix well. Store away from heat, light, and moisture for up to 12 months. Use this powder in tea lattes, coffee drinks, and everyday meals like soups.
Excerpted from Asian American Herbalism: Traditional and Modern Healing Practices for Everyday Wellness by Erin Masako Wilkins. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, owned by Chronicle Books. Copyright © 2023 by Erin Masako Wilkins.
R+B: Thank you so much for sharing! This looks and sounds so wonderful. I was really touched by the section called “The Yin and Yang of Aging.” How do you think modern American treatment of elders ties in to our “anti-aging” obsessed culture?
EMW: Yes, in this part of the book it was important to speak to aging as something that should be supported and celebrated rather than something that is problematic. Across many Asian cultures, we view elders in high esteem as people who deserve to be honored and supported. American culture and language around “anti-aging” frames growing older as a problem. And viewing growing older as a problem or burden is dehumanizing, both to our elders and to ourselves.
R+B: In contrast, in Asian traditions elders are respected and honored, and East Asian medicine places such high priority on longevity. What are some of your favorite herbs and/or practices to promote graceful aging?
EMW: In the chapter on Energetic Healing, I detail how to support Yin and Yang energy and what that feels like in the body. As we age, our Yin and Yang energies naturally decline, so Yin and Yang tonic herbs help support that process, including Cordyceps, Eucommia, Ashwagandha, Goji berry, and White Wood Ear mushroom.
My general lifestyle recommendations to promote graceful aging are finding the things that bring you inner peace (Yoga, meditation, and qigong) and personal fulfillment (activism, friendship, and time in nature).
R+B: Such excellent and accessible advice. Now that you have finished writing, is there anything on the horizon that you’re feeling inspired or excited by?
EMW: I’m excited to have time to be in the community again – teaching workshops and offering herbal consultations online and in-person at the Scarlet Sage in San Francisco, CA. And with the book release on October 17th, I’ll host Asian American Herbalism events in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and the Pacific Northwest. Details will be posted on my website and Instagram.
R+B: I am really looking forward to all of that! Readers, I couldn’t more highly recommend that you pre-order a copy. It will greatly enrich your life in not only countless practical ways, but also expands the possibilities of healing when we know and tend ourselves well. Plus, there are some sweet giveaways with preorder. You can also find Erin on Instagram at @herbfolkmedicine.