Chinese medicinal soup formula (Si Shen Tang, 四神汤) consisting of poria, Chinese wild yam, white lotus seeds, and euryale seeds makes one of the classic soup remedies served on the dinner table in many Chinese families and sold by street food vendors. This rendition focuses on easing anxiety and stress by supporting the adrenal glands, as well as resolving stress-induced digestive dysfunctions by supporting the digestive system. Pig stomach was used in this soup recipe to honour the original formula. Like other organ meats, pig stomachs are nutritious and have long been used for medicinal purpose in cooking in the East.
This soup remedy is often served to the diabetics as well, for the herbs are believed by the Chinese to have the ability to control blood sugar level. This soup can be consumed as a meal supplement or replacement.
History of the formula
While I was researching on this classic formula, I came across the old legend behind this popular soup mix. The story was passed down like this: when Emperor QianLong (乾隆帝) went on a trip to inspect Southern China, he brought 4 of his important ministers with him. Due to long travels and hard works on the trip, as well as change of environment and climates, all 4 of the ministers felt ill. The royal doctors did not have a cure for such illness. Therefore, the emperor announced to solicit remedies from the locals by offering a prize. A monk responded to the request, and after diagnosing the ministers, he prescribed the herbal combination of equal parts of poria (Fu Ling, 茯苓), Chinese wild yam (Huai Shan, 淮山), white lotus seeds (Lian Zi, 莲子), and euryale seeds (Qian Shi, 芡实), combining with pig stomach for soup. The 4 ministers recovered after consuming the herbal soup remedy.
This formula was therefore known as the 4 minister soup (Si Chen Tang, 四臣汤), and became very popular all over the country. Later on when the formula was brought to Taiwan, due to similar pronunciation in the Taiwan dialect, it was misread as Si Shen Tang (四神汤). Si Shen Tang got directly translated to “4 divinity soup” in English, while the original story was lost.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Interpretation
The four herbs in the formula are neutral in nature and easily accessible, making them ideal as food remedies and for regular consumption. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, food and medicine evolved from the same origin, thus the use of medicinal soups are very common in healing. Each of the 4 herbs supports different organ systems, but together they supplement and balance each other to form a well rounded combination to regulate the immune system. This formula is famous for nourishing the spleen, harmonizing the heart, tranquilizing the minds, tonifying the lung, strengthening the kidney, retaining youth and vitality, and eliminating dampness such as phlegm and edema, and repair leaky type of illness such as diarrhea.
To note here is that the organs mentioned above are not actual organs as we understand from the Western perspective. Each organ in Traditional Chinese Medicine represents a system. One of the major functions of this formula is to support the spleen, which represents the system in charge of the exchange of nourishment between our bodies and the outside world, considered the foundation of our health. Another major function of this formula is to strengthen the kidney, which represents the system regulating the elimination of fluid between our bodies and the outside world. You get the idea!
Another point to note is that the organ systems are inter-connected instead of functioning as stand alone entities. Insomnia due to anxiety is often caused by disharmony of the heart and kidney systems. This formula supports both the heart and kidney and tranquilizes the minds, therefore helps to induce peaceful sleep when anxiety is at the root of the insomnia. That’s just one example, but our body is more complex than that. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be translated into disharmonies between the kidney and all of the other systems. Unfortunately, in the Western perspective, many are still focusing on the adrenal glands and cortisol levels as standalone causes for a variety of symptoms of adrenal fatigue.
Thanks to modern medical research, more and more studies have proven links between stress and digestive issues. Given time, I believe modern science will prove the inter-connectedness of the many internal systems and external factors to support a more holistic approach to health. Fortunately, as early as over 2000 years ago, such theory and art of balancing our inter-connected internal systems with the external environment to achieve optimal well-being were already developed and written in the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi Neijing, 黄帝内经), known as the fundamental doctrinal source for Chinese Medicine.
I am not a trained professional in Traditional Chinese Medicine nor a nutritionist. I just hope that I can help you to make sense of this classic formula by providing my understanding of it. All in all, this is a herbal combination that gently nourishes deficiencies, supports immunity, especially focusing on easing stress, regulating energy level, and improving digestion and absorption. In words that can be most closely matched to in the Western perspective, again this is only my own interpretation, this formula benefits those with adrenal fatigue and irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) associated with internal and external stressors.
Thanks to Root + Spring, the company I got my herbal soup mix from, here is an easy-to-read explanation of the herbs they have put together.
Poria (Fu Ling, 茯苓) – This herb contains significant amounts of polysaccharides, tetracyclic triterpenes, and lecithin which results in powerful antiviral, anti-tumor, sedative, and immune-stimulant properties.
Chinese Wild Yam (Huai Shan, 淮山) – Long been credited with tons of health benefits because of its effectiveness at tonifying kidney and spleen. The herb enhances energy, aids digestion and absorption, repairs worn-out tissue and helps alleviate bodily weakness.
White lotus seeds (Lian Zi, 莲子) – Contains L-isoaspartyl methyltransferase, an enzyme with anti-aging properties that help to repair damaged proteins. This herb is also known to effectively regulate the body’s energy levels.
Euryale Seeds (Qian Shi, 芡实) – Known as the “water ginseng” thanks to its aquatic nature and high medicinal value, euryale seeds lead to an enhancement of vitality, anti-aging, life extension, weight loss, and youthful-looking skin.
The herbal mix
The original formula was said to consist of the 4 herbs mentioned above in equal parts. In practice, this classic formula had evolved into many variations. Depending on what functions to focus on, many herbal shops make the herbal mix according to slightly different ratios. Some street vendors replace a portion of the more expensive herbs with the cheaper coix seeds (Yi Ren, 薏仁) of similar healing properties in their soups. Other home cooks add angelica roots (Dang Gui, 当归) to improve taste.
This particular rendition from Root + Spring focuses on easing anxiety and stress. According to the Root + Spring’s owner, Cindy Mai, a rarer variety of the poria with better supports to kidney than spleen is used in this formula. In the one packet of Stress Less Herbal Mix I received, there are 43g of poria, 31g of Chinese wild yam, 29g of white lotus seeds, and 25g of euryale seeds.
I really like that the Root + Spring’s Stress Less Herbal Mix re-creates a classic formula instead of swapping ingredients with cheaper costs. I also appreciate the emphasis on relieving anxiety and tension, as in today’s fast pace world, many are struggling with adrenal fatigues and compromised immune systems. The herbs are clean and taste delicious after cooked. One packet of this herbal mix makes sufficient soup for 4 generous servings.
For someone new to Chinese healing herbs, it’s a great idea to go with a pre-packaged herbal mix for a specific soup remedy. The more savvy Chinese cooks and holistic-minded housewives often shop at herbal stores to mix and match the kinds of herbs they need for their families. If you are feeling up for the adventure, visit a Chinese herbal shop. It’s an eye-opening experience to see the variety of medicinal herbs used in Chinese cooking and regular consumption. I imagine most major cities in North America have a few Chinese herbal stores that are stocked with all you need.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, nor will I benefit from the sales of the products. I received the herbal soup mix from Root+Spring to try out in recipes. All opinions are honest and my own.
What you need to know about pig stomach
It’s not a coincidence that many traditional cultures consume specific organ meats of animals to treat weakness of that organ in us humans. There is a long history of using organ meats for medicinal purpose in Chinese medicine. The choice of pig stomach in the original remedy was to strengthen the digestive system, improve digestion and absorption. Pig intestines are often the substitute when pig stomaches are not available and they provide similar health benefits. The lining of the digestive tracks of the animals are a great source of gelatine and glutamine, which are important building blocks for repairing leaky guts.
When prepared properly, pig stomaches are delicious. The steps of cleaning the pig stomaches are quite important for the success of a recipe. Especially in a plain herbal soup remedy like this one, a good cleaning job is even more noticeable than in another pig stomach recipe where strong flavours are used to mask the natural flavours.
The cleaning process consists of:
- washing with salt and vinegar;
- blanching in ginger water;
- washing again and scraping off the slimes.
Then we are all set to use the pig stomach in various recipes. For a soup recipe like this one, it’s preferable to slice the pig stomach before adding in the soup pot for the long boil with other herbs. This way, the pig stomach soup can be served immediately when cooking is done. If you would like to use the pig stomach for another dish such as salad or stir-fry, you may boil it whole first, and then cut into appropriate size. I have made sure to include detailed prepping instructions below in the recipe section.
Can’t eat pig stomach?
I totally get it – pig stomach is not for everyone. For many, pig intestines I mentioned earlier aren’t feasible substitutes either for the North American tastebuds, despite the health benefits of eating organs.
For a still authentic Chinese herbal soup experience, replace the pig stomach with pork ribs in this recipe. Always blanch and rinse the pork ribs like how I prep the oxtails for this Chinese oxtail soup, to ensure a yummy and good-looking broth.
For an authentic vegan or vegetarian herbal soup, simply simmer the 4 herbs with chestnuts and brown or rock sugar, until all ingredients are tender. It makes a delicious dessert soup!
More healing recipes you will love:
- Chinese Herbal Healing Oxtail Soup
- Superfoods Kefir Maca Smoothie
- Millet Porridge: A Chinese Postpartum and Digestive Healer
- Pineapple-Turmeric-Ginger Probiotic Sauerkraut
Adrenal Support Chinese Herbs and Pig Stomach Soup
- 4-5 large slices poria
- 8-9 pieces Chinese wild yam
- 1/4 cup white lotus seeds (roughly 25 to 30 seeds)
- 3 tbsp euryale seeds
- 1 Stress Less Herbal Mix by Root + Spring (see notes for where to buy)
Ingredients for Cleaning Pig Stomach
- 2 pig stomaches, approx. 2-3 lb. (see notes for substitutes)
- 1 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
- 1/3 cup cooking rice wine (or to taste, optional - see additional notes below)
- 8 cups filtered water
Preparing the Pig Stomach
- Use a pair of scissors to trim away the extra fats attached to the pig stomach both inside and outside.
- Scrub the pig stomaches with salt crystals a few times, rinse, and then wash with vinegar. This process can be repeated for as many times as you need, until the water runs relatively clear. You should have washed away a lot of the slimes by now and removed some of the smell. It's ok to still have some slime that couldn't get washed off completely.
- Boil the pig stomaches in a pot of water with sliced ginger for about 5 to 10 minutes. Ginger further helps to remove the smell. Throw away the ginger and water.
- Wash the pig stomaches in running water. At this point, I usually take a small knife that isn't sharp to scrape off the layer of film on the surface of the pig stomach. Rinse a few more times. Now there should be no more slimes or smells.
- If necessary, use a pair of scissors to help cut the stomach open. Cut the whole pig stomaches into thin slices. (See notes for alternative method.)
Making the Soup
- Rinse the herbs briefly under the running water.
- Place all the pig stomach, herbs, 8 cups of filtered water, salt (approx. 1 tsp or to taste) in a soup pot. Bring it to a boil and then simmer for about 1 hour 45 minutes until the pig stomaches are tender.
- Add the cooking rice wine or sake. It's a common practice to add rice wine to enhance flavours of herbal soups. Have a taste, adjust the water level and saltiness if needed at this point. (See additional notes below.)
- Simmer the soup for another 15 minutes. This ensures the elimination of the alcohol. Serve and enjoy!
- You can get a pre-packaged herb mix for this soup remedy from Root + Spring.
- Substitute pig stomaches with equal amount (2-3 lb.) of pig intestines or pork ribs, or use 1 pig stomach and half portion (1-1.5 lb.) of pork ribs combined. If using pig intestines, follow the same cleaning steps above. If using pork ribs, soak, blanch and rinse the pork ribs before simmering with the herbs, like how I prep the oxtails in this oxtail soup recipe.
- If you are planning to use the pig stomach in a separate dish, you may boil the pig stomaches whole first with rest of the soup ingredients and remove the pig stomaches when the soup is done, then cut the pig stomaches into desired size. Note that it's easier to cut the cooked pig stomaches than uncooked ones. Even if you use the pig stomaches for another dish, a lot of the nutrients and gelatines are already cooked into the broth.
- Most Asian cooking rice wine and sake contain salt. Depending on the salt content of the particular cooking rice wine you use, you may need to adjust the amount of salt added to the soup.
- It's a common practice to add cooking rice wine or sake in herbal soups to enhance flavour. From Chinese medicine's perspective, wine improves circulation. You may skip the rice wine if forbidden by your diet. Note that cooking the soup for a period of time after the rice wine is added will ensure the alcohol dissipate, but the aroma and flavour still remain in the soup.
- The calorie calculation is based on 1 serving.