Taipei’s Herb Lane, a Treasure Trove of Traditional Chinese Medicine

The multiple shops at Taipei’s Herb Lane

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Well before the advent and arrival of Western-style medicine, people in Taiwan relied on traditional types of treatments for their ailments. It might come as a surprise, but all over the island of Formosa one can still find vestiges of that era. Perhaps the most notable of which is the aptly named Herb Lane, a hidden alley near Lungshan Temple in Taipei, where a plethora of stores keep Taiwan’s centuries-old tradition of herbal medicine alive and kicking.

As a highly-advanced nation, Taiwan is home to state of the art hospitals and clinics, where people from all echelons of society can enjoy some of the world’s best medical services. Nevertheless, alongside the country’s modern healthcare system, there is also a plethora of stores and pharmacies that provide patients with traditional remedies reminiscent of those popular during the Qing dynasty.


Whoever wishes to experience this ancient facet of Taiwanese culture can find it all in a well-ensconced alley in downtown Taipei. Nestled adjacent to the colorful Lungshan Temple, Xichang Street’s Lane 224 comprises a dozen or so shops that offer a nonpareil assortment of herbal products, hence its apt moniker, the Herb Lane.


Interestingly, this goldmine of phytotherapy can trace its roots back to as far as the 18th century. Back then, a group of migrants from Fujian province in Mainland China erected the nearby Lungshan Temple as a place of worship for several Chinese deities. In the years that followed, the temple became a pilgrimage site for those who sought a cure for their illnesses.


Apart from its spiritual role, the complex also served as a makeshift clinic where the sick were handed with a divine prescription. It was then used to purchase an herbal medicine in one of the many stalls surrounding the temple. When Xichang Street was widened later on, those vendors were forced to relocate their businesses to a close-by alleyway. Shortly thereafter, the cluster of stands evolved into a full-fledged marketplace, better known today as our protagonist, the Herb Lane.


For the past century, a handful of shops have been huddled in this narrow passage, selling herbal medicines, herbal ointments, herbal tea and bath bags, crafted collectively from hundreds of plant types. During the lane’s early days, it was the vendors who handpicked the herbs themselves. Fast forward to the 21st century, this labor is outsourced to a nationwide network of suppliers. Traditionally, most of the fresh herbs originate in the north of the island, while its southern part accounts for the bulk of the market’s dried and preserved herbs.


Jars packed with tea leaves, stacks of ginsengs and hanging bundles of aloe vera are only some of the sights visitors are greeted with upon entry. To make things even better, a cocktail of enticing odors wafts through the air, making any a visit to the alley a multi-sensual experience.