Sang Ma Wan: Stress Relief in a Tasty Ball. Good for the Liver and Kidney too!

Introducing: Sang Ma Wan, a simple yet effective Chinese Herbal formula in the form of a honey-based ball of goodness. To determine whether you are eligible for its use, watch the following video (as ever, from The Mighty Boosh series) and see if you, too, need more time with the kitten Phillip:

If you feel the need to allow your anger to recede like an ocean, you have qualified for this treatment. You also qualify if you are too tired to argue but still feel stressed out. Rather than listening to Naboo or carrying kittens with you for stress relief, you can work on a more permanent solution vy nourishing the body in order to relax the mind. Our goal is to balance the Liver and Kidney systems and to create adrenal health, using a base formula of ground black sesame seeds, honey, and powdered mulberry leaf to form a tonifying snack. This combination of herbs targets many common ailments which comprise a pattern of depletion and tension: stress, blurry vision or tired eyes, headaches and muscular tension, constipation, and even greying hair. These herbal balls are basically tailor-made for the modern office worker.


Ricky Gervais in BBC’s ‘The Office’


Delicious Sang Ma Wan Jia Wei Balls.



The beauty of this formula lies in its simple, gentle nature (much like a kitten!). It is meant to be consumed every morning and evening (unlike a kitten), and its food-grade nature lends itself to becoming a really easy addition to the daily routine. Not to mention, it is tasty and filling- really a perfect afternoon doldrums pick-me-up in place of caffeine, especially with the addition of raw cocoa powder!

The infamous Springtime: time of change, cleansing, rapid progress, and/or intense frustration. In Chinese Medicine, springtime is associated with the Wood element, whose emotion is Anger or Aggression. We may feel cooped up, boxed in, or pulled in many directions during this time of year, so I have found a tasty aid to stress relief which will nourish your body and mind.

I recently tried it out on the staff of Bambu Clinic, my wonderful place of employment, and received some great reviews! See below for the recipe, instructions, and photo-montage. At the end I give a detailed description of the ingredients from the TCM perspective. Happy herballing!

I have modified the original recipe to make it more palatable and to specialize it for the Portland temperament.

Original recipe:

Powdered Sang Ye 300g

Ground Hei Zhi Ma 150g

Honey (Feng Mi) 300g

Gently heat and mix together honey and Hei Zhi Ma. Combine with Sang Ye powder to form balls of 10g each. Eat one in morning, and one in evening with a glass of warm water.

My recipe:

 1. Powdered Sang Ye 200g

 2. Ground Hei Zhi Ma 170?g (estimate)

 3. Raw Honey 300g

 4. Raw Cocoa Powder 4 Tbsp, plus 3 Tbsp for rolling.

 5. Orange Blossom Water 3-4 tsp

 6. Good quality Cabernet Sauvignon two generous splashes

 7. Gui Zhi (high quality, true cinnamon) grated by hand, 2-3 tsp; OR pre-powdered cinnamon, 1-2 tsp

 8. Kosher salt, 2 Tbsp (for rolling balls)- preferred brand is Diamond Crystal.


1. Grind black sesame seeds, so they are super freshly ground and contain all of their amazing oils!

I used a regular blender; coffee grinders or food processors work as well.

2. Pour honey (preferably raw honey) into a saucepan and heat on low. Add the ground sesame seeds and stir to form a thick paste.

Yummy! Pretty yellow honey and dark nourishing seeds!

Keep the heat on LOW. Use a flexible spatula!

3. Slowly add the Sang Ye (Mulberry Leaf) powder to the warm paste. Keeping the heat on low will help with stirring. It should become very thick; you will be surprised at how much powder can be absorbed by the mixture!

Sang Ye powder can be ordered from your nearest Chinese Herbal Dispensary- just request them to grind it really finely.

4. Add the Orange Blossom Water to the mixture; keep stirring.

This brand had alcohol in it, which I think helped with its absorption and integration into the honey mixture. Non-alcohol brands are fine as well, but you may need to adjust the amount up or down… keep tasting the mixture as you go.

5.  Add the Gui Zhi (cinnamon!) to the mixture. Freshly grated is preferred!

6. Now alternate adding the 4 Tbsp raw cocoa powder with adding a few splashes of Cabernet Sauvignon or similarly rich-flavored wine.  The paste should become easy to lift from the bottom of the pan, and the cocoa powder helps smooth the consistency.

In the immortal words of Julia Child, “I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food I’m cooking.”

7. Turn off heat; move the saucepan to your workspace.

8. Prepare a clean surface for creating the Sang Ma Wan balls, such as a large wooden cutting board. Sprinkle the 3 Tbsp raw cocoa powder and 2 Tbsp kosher salt across the board, creating a rolling field.

The ‘flake’ of this brand of salt is unparalleled and allows for the best ball-rolling experience. Recommended by Cook’s Illustrated and everything.

You may need to adjust the salt level down, or cocoa level up; the choice is yours!

9. Use your hand to pinch a tablespoon-sized portion of the paste and roll it into a ball between your hands. Proceed to roll the ball in the cocoa and salt mixture. If you’d like to weigh it, place on a plate on a scale that has been tared: 10 grams is the goal.

The following pictures were from my first experiment, rolling the balls in the Sang Ye powder… that didn’t go over very well in the taste department. Once I started rolling with the cocoa and salt mixture I got too excited and forgot to take pictures- so yours should be brown, not green!

Cute. yours should be a different color 🙂

Weighing. I only weighed the first few to get an idea of what 10g looks like.

10. Now distribute to your friends and family, knowing that you are giving them a very healthy and long-life-promoting treat! Remember the dose: One herbal ball every morning and evening, with a glass of warm water.

Note: Refrigerated, they will retain their full flavor for at least 4 days. They are delicious chilled, but make sure to have a glass of warm water or tea handy since the honey can make things pretty sticky on the way down!

Now for the true test: do people eat it?

Amber’s trial:

they look promising, that is chocolate powder after all


Interesting mixture of flavors… not bad…

Two minutes later she grabbed another one! I take that as the best testimonial.

Here Tucker gives it a try:

haha, a look of surprise that it’s so tasty! really!

Tucker also approved, and brought one home for his wife and young son to try. Not a terrible way to ingest an herbal supplement! I left a bunch in our clinic refrigerator and ordered everyone to eat two per day, with tea.



For those who would like the facts and Chinese Medical theory behind this mixture of herbs, I have elaborated below.

An interesting note about the effect of the Wood element on humans, from Chapter 69 of The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing):

“When a wood phase year is excess, there will be strong wind. The spleen, or earth element, will suffer damage. In this situation people often suffer indigestion, diarrhea, loss of appetite, heavy limbs, lethargy, repressed emotions, borborygmus, and distension and fullness of the abdomen. This is because the wood energy is too strong. You will observe that the corresponding planet in our solar system is very bright. This planet, Sui/Jupiter, indicates that the wood energy is excessive. [NOTE: Jupiter is visible in the Pleiades constellation now, and will be visible until May 2013. (Retriveved 6/10/2012 from That is why the ancient Taoists looked to the heavens for answers; it allowed them to determine what was going to happen to people or society. The excess wood also affects human beings by causing anger, dizziness, vertigo, and diseases of the head. This describes earth energy being weakened by the wood energy. It is like the clouds in teh sky racing past; a frantic movement of the myriad things on earth, vegetation shaking and trees falling. Patients display hypochondriac pain and ceaseless vomiting…In the heavens, we wee another star that brightens, Tai Bu/Venus, the metal planet. This signifies that as the wood is excess, metal energy has begun to rise, in an attempt to control it. [NOTE: Venus just transited the Sun in a rare phenomenon.] (Ni 1995, pg 249)”

The base formula, Sang Ma Wan (Mulberry Leaf and Sesame Seed Pill), was originally sourced in Yi Fang Ji Jie (Analytical Collection of Medical Formulas) by Wang Ang in 1682 (Chen & Chen 2009, pg 656). The formula in general nourishes the wood element by supplementing Liver and Kidney Yin, clearing the head, and brightening the eyes (Chen & Chen 2009, pg. 656).

I have added a few ingredients to the base formula, mainly to enhance the flavor. However they also have important therapeutic effects: cinnamon and red wine help to open the channels of the body and to relax the muscles, while the orange flower water has a mild sedative effect and soothes the gastrointestinal muscles with its anti-spasmodic effect. The raw cacao powder increases patient compliance and adds the benefit of theobromine which has a myocardial stimulant as well as a vasodilating and slightly diuretic effect, which combine to lower high blood pressure. The overall formula is sweet, neutral, and slightly bitter. This formula enters the following channels: Spleen, Lung, Liver, Large Intestine, Heart, Urinary Bladder, and Kidney. The focus, however, is on the Liver and Kidney channels.

The bitter flavor of Sang Ye (and raw cacao powder) helps to clear heat and will help to prevent and treat minor colds and flus that affect the lungs and eyes. Bitter helps to cool fire and prevent it from damaging the “metal” organs, the Lung and Large Intestines, as well as to prevent fire from flaring upward and scorching the eyes and head. In short, bitter aids in treating inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and head, as well as the lower GI tract in some cases. In this case, the bitter flavor works mainly on the Lung, while the sweet flavor helps to lubricate the intestines.

The sweet flavor not only lubricates the intestines, but it also allows the Liver to “soften,” or begin the process of becoming less excessive. This Liver-softening action helps to regulate the flow of Blood and Qi in the body and aids in the nourishment of tendons, sinews, and the eyes.

When the Liver system is “tense” (experiencing Qi stagnation), one may feel the urge to sigh frequently, to ruminate on things that create anger or irritability, to feel tension or distension in the abdomen or ribcage, or may experience a piercing or dull headache at the vertex or temples of the head. You may feel muscles cramping or tendons lacking their usual flexibility, expressing in increased postural pain or a greater tendency to injury during exercise. In extreme cases, one may have alternating constipation and diarrhea, with abdominal discomfort. As the Huang Di Nei Jing indicated, even “ceaseless vomiting” may occur. A simple fix for this is to soften the Liver while nourishing the Spleen, or earth element.

The overall neutral nature of this formula allows it to have a gentle effect on the body, so the tonifying changes are slowly made and integrated into the body seamlessly. This formula should help stimulate and regulate appetite, create harmony in the spring and nourish the essence of the body throughout the entire year.


1. Feng Mi (Honey): Apis cerana Fabricius: Mel

Honey is neutral and sweet. It enters the Spleen, Lung, and Large Intestine channels. By strengthening the Spleen and Stomach, it relieves pain, increases energy, and improves appetite. By tonifying and moistening the Lung, honey treats chronic cases of Lung deficiency with cough. It also helps to lubricate the bowels, relieving constipation caused by dryness and lack of fluids (Chen & Chen 2004, pg. 875).

Honey has a further amazing ability to eliminate toxins, both topically and internally (Chen & Chen 2004, pg. 876). This meshes well with the fact that the sweet property of honey helps to harmonize the Liver, making honey a great tool for aiding cleansing. According to Paul Pitchford, “honey’s sweet and antitoxic properties are used to break the cycle of alcoholism (alcohol is a sugar); give honey by the spoonful during a hangover when more alcohol is craved. Honey’s harmonizing effect is also beneficial when a person is overworked, having menstrual problems, or is exhausted from salty and rich foods.(Pitchford 2002, pg. 191)”

So not only does honey accomplish an amazing nutritional and systemic feat in its own right, but it also serves to bring together the actions of the other herbs which it physically binds into a ball or pill. Chen elaborates: “Feng Mi has two main functions when used to make herbal pills. It helps to bind the herbal powder together, and it acts as a reservoir to slowly release all the herbs into the gastrointestinal tract for extended absorption and therapeutic effect of the herbs. Use of Feng Mi in herbal pills improves patient compliance by reducing the frequency of dosing from three or four times daily to one or two doses daily. (Chen & Chen 2004, pg. 876)” RAD!

2. Sang Ye: Mulberry Leaf powder: Morus alba: Folium Mori

Enters the Liver and Lung channels according to TCM herbal classification. Its properties are bitter, sweet, and cold. According to Chen, its four main qualities are: Dispelling wind-heat (cough, fever, sore throat); Clearing Lung Heat and Moistening Dryness (cough, dry mouth and throat); Calming the Liver and Brightening the Eyes (dizziness, vertigo, headache, red/itchy/painful eyes, blurred vision); and Cooling the Blood and Stopping Bleeding (hematemesis or vomiting blood) (Chen & Chen 2004, pg. 74). It is also said to stimulate hair growth. Caution should be used with patients who have constitutional coldness or deficiency.

3. Hei Zhi Ma (Black Sesame Seed): Sesamum indicum L.: Semen Sesami Nigrum

Hei Zhi Ma goes to the Liver and Kidney channels, and its properties are sweet and neutral. It is said to nourish the Yin of the five organs (Pitchford 2002, pg. 532). The Black Sesame Seed tonifies Blood and Jing, or “essence,” which refers to the most basic energy upon which bodies rely (in a general sense) and can be taken to include the adrenal system from an allopathic perspective. Hei Zhi Ma has the advantage of being mildly tonifying in a way that is not too cloying or stagnating, so one can take it daily to treat or prevent premature graying, dizziness, and blurred vision. It also increases breast milk production and is excellent as a post-partum tonic. Hei Zhi Ma is rich in oil, and it moistens dryness and lubricates the intestines to alleviate constipation from lack of blood and body fluids (Chen & Chen 2004, pg. 969). Use with caution in patients who have diarrhea or toothache caused by rising fire (Chen & Chen 2004, pg. 970).

Nutritional Data for Sesame Seeds: High in Phytosterols; Fiber and Protein; Omega-6 and small amt Omega-3 fatty acids; significant amounts of Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Thiamin, B6.  (Retrieved 6/8/2012 from

4. Gui Zhi (Cinnamon Twigs): Cinnamomum cassia Presl.: Ramulus Cinnamomi

Gui Zhi is acrid, sweet, and warm; it enters the Heart, Lung, and Urinary Bladder Channels. Gui Zhi has many beneficial properties, and it is one of the most commonly used herbs in Chinese Medicine. Its main functions are as follows: Releases the Exterior through Diaphoresis; Warms and Opens the Channels and Collaterals; Warms Yang to Eliminate Water or Phlegm Stagnation; Warms Yang in the Chest; and Warms Yang in the Chong and Ren Channels to Restore Normal Menstruation. It is antibacterial, antiviral, mild diuretic, diaphoretic, antipyretic, analgesic, cardiotonic, sedative, hypnotic, and antitussive. Of course, at the tiny dosage we are using in this herbal formula, it will merely have the mild action of helping counteract the heavy, Yin-tonic herbs with its Yang-warming effect. This will help prevent exacerbation of dampness, coldness, or Spleen deficiency when taking this formula (Chen & Chen 2004, pgs. 41-42).

5. Red Wine

Helps the herbs to enter the blood level, and in this case cool blood; opens channels and collaterals to help relax the muscles and tendons.

6. Orange blossom water 

Sedative and Anti-Spasmodic. Great for digestive and nervous system. (Retrieved 6/8/2012 from

7. Raw Cocoa Powder 

Contains: Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Manganese, Copper, and Zinc;  Folate, Choline, Riboflavin, and Niacin. Fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated. Medium fiber and protein content. Small amount of caffeine, and high amount of theobromine. (Retrieved 6/8/2012 from

A few words about theobromine’s action:

“Although theobromine is related to caffeine and exerts similar effects, theobromine does not affect the body through central nervous system stimulation. Instead, it induces muscular relaxation of the smooth muscle tissue. However, the presence of an additional methyl group increases its half-life and slows system clearance – thus making its effects longer lasting.
Perhaps the best known effect of Theobromine is as a vasodilator, and it is regularly prescribed by doctors in order to relieve the symptoms of angina pectoris. It works by acting on the nerves in the veins, and causing them to relax in order to allow more blood to flow. For this reason, combined with its mild stimulating effect, Theobromine offers benefits to endurance athletes, and will allow them to work at a high intensity for much longer than otherwise.” (Retrieved 6/8/2012 from



Chen, John and Chen, Tina. 2004. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press, Inc.

Chen, John and Chen, Tina. 2009. Chinese Herbal Formulas and Applications: Pharmacological Effects & Clinical Research.City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press, Inc.

Ni, Maoshing. 1995. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine: A New Translation of the Neijing Suwen with Commentary. Boston: Shambhala Publicaitons, Inc.

Pitchford, Paul. 2002. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, 3rd Ed. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.


2 responses to “Sang Ma Wan: Stress Relief in a Tasty Ball. Good for the Liver and Kidney too!

  1. do you have the recipe of Sang Ma Wan Jia Wei Balls… i just want to taste it.. thanks

    • Hello!
      Thanks for your interest. I think this would be a wonderful recipe for people with high blood pressure.

      I use the above recipe but with a few changes (which I will edit in the post shortly!).

      1) I add a splash or two of cold-pressed raspberry syrup, which really adds a beautiful depth of flavor.
      2) I often replace portions of the black sesame seed with chia seeds (usually 50-60g). I have also added raw hemp seeds for people that need more mineral balance and healthy fats (40g).
      3) I instead of rolling them in a cocoa powder/salt mixture, I now roll them in almond meal. A milder taste and just as effective for keeping them from sticking together!

      Overall, the flavor is slightly grassy, sweet, and richly earthy! They are similar to an energy bar in action and flavor (not as sweet as most commercial energy bars though- after all, it is more healthy!)

      I hope you will experiment with this recipe. Let me know if you come up with any modifications of your own, I would love to hear about it.


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