Herbalists Stella Kiang (right) and her mother Liang Kam Yong at their herbal stall at the Zero Waste bazaar, at The School by Jaya One, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, earlier this year.
Drinking herbal concoctions came early for Stella Kiang. From the age of seven, she was given herbal drinks by her mother, for her general wellbeing.
“When I was young, I lived in the kampung. It was very ulu (backwards); it didn’t have any shops or a clinic. So whenever my sister, brothers or I fell sick, Mum would usually go to her garden and gather some herbs, cut them and boil them into a drink, such as liang cha (cooling tea), for us to drink,” says Kiang, 33.
Till today, she still regularly consumes herbal drinks. “Normally, I drink Yellow Cow Wood tea for liver protection and liver detox when I have late nights.”
Her mother, Liang Kam Yong, in her sixties, had learnt from her parents how to prepare herbal drinks to promote good health. This makes Kiang the third generation in her family to carry on this line – dealing in dried herbs for health. Her maternal grandparents – who hail from Guangdong and Guangxi, China – were herbalists.
The youngest of four children, Kiang had pursued a degree in Science, majoring in Biology and Chemistry, at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur.
After graduation, she worked in the sales line with a few different organisations.
Her first business venture was as an educational equipment supplier to kindergartens. But three years ago, she left all that to follow her heart.
“I started Herbeco and Herbal Oasis, and asked my mum and my brother (who handles branding and marketing) to come in as partners,” says Kiang.
“I wanted to continue my mum and grandpa’s legacy, and to impart the knowledge about local herbs to the next generation,” she says, adding that she likes nature as well as consuming herbs, edible leaves and flowers.
Assorted dried herbs on sale at Kiang’s stall at the Zero Waste bazaar.
She rattles off the names of several herbs which can be used in food or for making a tea infusion: Thuja (aka Yellow Cedar or Tree Of Life) which is purportedly good for headaches, Smartweed for blood circulation, Hibiscus to prevent flu and fever, Squirrel’s Tail (Justicia betonica) for gout, Motherwort for women’s health (to regulate menstruation), and Black-faced General for lung detox, especially for smokers.
“I realised that local herbalists are all older people, and they use herbs for medicinal proposes only.
“I think herbs have many roles, which I want to explore – as spices, essential oil for skincare, and foods for our daily intake,” says Kiang.
Various dried flowers, leaves and stems that can be brewed into teas.
“If we don’t explore further, we can’t attract the younger generation to become herbalists because they think this is only for interest’s sake and for traditional use only, and they can’t make a living from it.
“All these reasons made me want to make the local herbs (scene) more prominent, and to break through people’s thinking – from having an interest in herbs to making a business from it, and that herbs are not only for medicine. Only then will people continue to plant herbs, and the knowledge of herbs can be sustained. If not, our local herb species will decrease.”
In October last year, Kiang and her family collaborated with another company to form a plantation company. Today, they own a 9ha farm in Rembau, Negri Sembilan. It includes a 0.5ha showroom.
“We have over 200 types of local herb trees in our farm. We only open on weekends and public holidays. The public can come and learn about the herbs, and join in the activities.”
Kiang’s company produces an array of herbal teas (such as Motherwort tea), floral teas (such as hibiscus tea), dried herbs, and handmade herbal soaps.
At their showroom, visitors can taste their floral salads and drink the herbal and floral teas. They also organise classes on cooking with herbs. Recently, they held a workshop on making “long” dumplings, whose shape, as the name suggests, is elongated rather than the typical pyramid-shaped ones.
The cooking classes are held in their showroom but, based on customers’ request, they can conduct them elsewhere, too. They have previously held such workshops in Klang (Selangor), Bentong (Pahang), and Ipoh (Perak).
“On weekends, if there are no group bookings for activities, we provide Herbal Oasis private space for three hours for families to come and enjoy a relaxing time. We will prepare lunch – with almost all the ingredients coming from the farm,” says Kiang. Bookings have to be made three days in advance.
Kiang takes part in bazaars whenever she can, such as the Zero Waste bazaar at The School, Jaya One, in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, earlier this year. Her products are available in the Klang Valley, Melaka and Singapore.
“Normally, people who keep late nights, or who often drink alcohol when entertaining clients, will buy Yellow Cow Wood for liver detox,” explains Kiang. “Customers who have too much uric acid, and gout, will go for Squirrel’s Tail.
“If a person likes to eat fried or spicy foods, and drink iced water, I’d suggest they take Sessile Joyweed to improve blood circulation.”
For Kiang, she seldom takes Western supplements or medications. “But I do take fish oil and nuts,” she says.