seems to me like medicine used to taste more bitter in the past. these days, kids are not so adverse to taking their medicine, especially the western type. but if you thought western medicine was bitter, you should try taking the chinese herbal decoction.
today, as i was walking past the spice garden at fort canning, i saw this chinese medicine clay pot on display. however, i remember that the one that my mother used though made of clay was not black but grey. the chinese believe that you should not use a metal pot to brew medicine (chinese herbs) because the chemical changes that take place can alter the nature of the ingredients.
in my younger days, each time i was sick for a prolonged period of time, my mother would go to the chinese medical hall/shop to get the prescribed ingredients to brew them into a black or dark concoction. the overpowering smell of the brew was enough to put me off. to sweeten the bitter taste and to bribe me to take the bitter medicine, my mother would let me have a sweet after i had forced the solution down my throat.
because of the long hours and the effort that she put into preparing the stuff, somehow i would try my best to down the whole bowl even though i hated every drop of it.
first, she would soak the ingredients in water. then she would put them into the clay pot and pour in enough water to cover the content. the pot was kept covered throughout the brewing process. when the water started to boil and the smell wafted in the kitchen, she would reduce the heat. she would let it continue to boil until a certain amount was left in the pot. the decoction was strained and the dregs thrown away. sometimes the same ingredients were boiled for a second time.
one chinese herb or medicine that was also prepared in the form of a decoction was the antelope's horn. i used to watch how the man at the shop use a piece of broken glass to shave the bits off the horn. when i had high fever, my mother would prepare this decoction by brewing it for quite a long time. although the solution was not black or dark, it was still not very pleasant to taste.
when this failed to alleviate my suffering or sickness, then i would consult a western doctor. for this, i would usually visit the outpatients' dispensary at pegu road.
chun see's observation was right: those days, they always used the pink paper to wrap the chinese herbs.