K & A Chinese Herbs: An Interview with a Master Herbalist

For more than 30 years Dr. John Wong has been using herbs to heal his patients. At the foot of China Town sits the unobtrusive building housing K & A Chinese Herbs, where Dr. Wong practices Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). If you don’t already know about Dr. Wong and his herbs, you might never know he was there (they don’t advertise publicly). There is no website to speak of let alone a business listing. 

Years ago, a friend suggested I go in for a consultation with Dr. Wong to discuss a few minor health concerns. His “office” is right out in the open, no closed doors or private conversations here. The doctor greeted me warmly with a big, friendly smile. He looked me straight in the eye and asked for my wrist. He held it (to feel my pulse) and closed his eyes. After a few minutes he asked how I slept:

“Not well” I replied.

What month was my birthday?

“April” I said.

“Ah!” he exclaimed. “You are a rabbit like me! But you worry, too much like me.”

Somehow his remark made me feel better.

His questions were all point blank, fairly unconventional and yet all seemingly relevant to the issue; I needed to calm down, eat more alkaline foods, focus on sleep and drink the tea. Oh, the tea.

I watched as Dr. Wong took notes. Then in one sudden motion and at lightening speed, he started clicking little wooden beads up and down and up and down. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! He was using an abacus to calculate my fee.

weighing and measuring herbs


I took my list over to the two ladies working behind the counter and after a quick glance they started measuring and cutting and piling up a little mound of what looked to me like grass and leaves and bits of stic“What is that? I asked “And that?”

With a quick banter in Chinese and a few muffled giggles they took turns answering.

“Oh this?” one lady said “This is from the ocean.”

“Um, this is a root” the other said.

“And this, this is part of a tree” said the other.

“But this, I can’t say” was the final reply “It’s too hard to explain, but good for a lady!”

Well, I took my tea home (whatever it was) and I drank the stuff. It was strong, and bitter and tough to swallow but I did it and I’m pretty sure I felt OK after.

Recently, I decided to ask the doctor if he’d partake in a small interview. I find this man fascinating. I can only imagine how much he knows about herbs and healing and the human body. But there is a language barrier to surpass, and a cultural respect, or perhaps a quiet humility that makes asking questions an exercise in tact.

“Why herbs” I queried. “Why prescribe tea?”

“The Chinese have been using tea to heal for more than 3000 years” said Dr. Wong. “Tea is helping with hot and cold.”

The “hot and cold” Dr. Wong is referring to is what is known as Yin and Yang in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the foundation for diagnosis and treatment.

For more information on Yin/Yang theory (relating to either an excess or deficiency of), read here.

“But how do you know which herbs to prescribe?” I asked.

“From the pulse, from the tongue, from the eyes, from consultation and from the ear” said Dr. Wong.

“From the ear” I asked?

“Yes, from the ear” said Dr. Wong. “Maybe they talk strong. Or, if they are tired, they will talk slow.”

Dried Ginger Root












Of course there is much more to diagnosing to be done in Chinese Medicine. It’s a highly complex and deeply interconnected form of treatment that takes years of practice (and tea drinking) to comprehend. The store sells all kinds of rare and surprising shrubbery (even animal parts) for healing. You’ll see everything from dried mushrooms to roots and tubers to ginseng and geoduck. I did a double take when I saw the price of the sea cucumbers: $580.00 per pound, on sale. Though, the strangest medicine I saw had to have been bird nests. Dr. Wong says tells me that they’re good for curing a host of things including the skin, spleen, and lungs.


At 75 years old and still practicing medicine, I consider Dr. Wong to be one of Victoria’s iconic figures. So, even if you are in tip-top shape, next time you’re in China Town head into K & A for a look. He’s still using the same abacus.


K & A Chinese HerbsK & A Chinese Herbs

Dr John Wong can now be located at:
Fung Hing Hong Co.
2501 Dowler Place

Written By:

Holly Brooke is a true B.C. gal. Having lived on the west coast most of her life, except for several years in the Kootenay's where she canoed and fished and lived in a tipi, she's very much at home outdoors and in the kitchen. ...

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