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Ask a Foodie: What Did I See at a Chinese Market?

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Q: I was at a Chinese market recently and saw a package with a name that just struck me as odd. Here’s a picture of it.

What is this?

What is this?

What is this stuff?

— J.L.

A. Yes, the name does seem odd — until you look at the Latin root of the word “semen,” which simply means “seed.” The full name refers to cassia seed, or cassia tora seed.

So, what is cassia seed? It’s a Chinese herb that’s said to help ease eye strain, lower blood pressure, detox your liver and cause weight loss by being a laxative. Of course, the FDA hasn’t said that, but it has been in use in China for thousands of years.

A story about the power of cassia seed can be found on ChineseHerbsHealing.com:

“According to legend, there once was an old Taoist priest who still had clear eyes and sharp ears though he was already more than 100 year old. Many people thus were attracted and down on their knees begging for the magic arts of longevity. To their surprise, this old Taoist priest said that he had no secret recipe at all but ate cassia seeds on daily basis.”

The package says to use “solely to season and/or make tea.” The website BuyChineseHerb.com says you boil the seed with water, but adds that the end result tastes more like coffee than tea. If you don’t like the flavor straight, you can add “green tea, crystal sugar, medlar, or hawthorn,” it says.

 

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