There is an incredible Chinese story in which Lycium plays a major role. The very widespread knowledge of this story in Asia has made Lycium even more popular in China in the past century. One man, Li Qing Yuen, is said to have lived to be 252 years old. His life span has been verified by modern scholars. Born in 1678 in the mountainous southwest of China, he ran away from home at the age of eleven with three travelers. These travelers were in the herbal trade. Together the boy and his three teachers traveled throughout China, Tibet, and Southeast Asia, encountering many dangerous situations, but all the while studying the herbal traditions of all the various regions.
As Li Qing Yuen became older, he became a practicing herbalist, and was well known for his amazing vigor and excellent health. Then one day, when he was around fifty years old, while out on a hike, he met a very old man who, in spite of his venerable old age, could out-walk Li Qing Yuen. This impressed Master Li very much because he believed that brisk walking was both a way to health and longevity and a sign of inner health. Li Qing Yuen inquired as to the old sage's secret. He was told that if every day he consumed a "soup" of Lycium he would soon attain a new standard of health. Li Qing Yuen did just that and continued to consume the soup daily until he was over one hundred and thirty years old !
Naturally, he was greatly revered by all those who knew him and he had many disciples who followed him. Even at this very old age, his sight was keen and his legs were strong, and he continued to take his daily vigorous walks. One day, he was on a journey through treacherous mountains. In the mountains he met a Taoist hermit who claimed to be five hundred years old. Humbled by the great illumination of the old Taoist, Li Qing Yuen begged the Taoist sage to tell him his secrets. The old Taoist, recognizing the sincerity of Li, taught him the secrets of Taoist Yoga (also known as Nei Gong, "the Inner Alchemy") and recommended that Li consume a daily dose of Panax Ginseng combined with Polygonum (Radix Polygonum multiflorum). Ginseng is well-known in the West; Polygonum multiflorum is not yet well-known here, but is highly prized in the Orient as a longevity herb, in the same class with ginseng. He continued to consume his Lycium soup daily.
It is said that Master Li also changed his diet so as to consume little meat or root vegetables and limited his consumption of grain. Instead, he lived mainly on steamed above-ground vegetables and herbs. He lived to be 252 years old, dying in 1930, reportedly after a banquet presented in his honor by a government official. He had married during his lifetime fourteen times and lived through eleven generations of his own descendants, of which he had almost two hundred during two and a half centuries of life.
Though Li Qing Yuen's case is rare, in that it has been reasonably authenticated by both Eastern and Western scholars, tradition is rich in the Orient in the lore of Taoists living to ages unimaginable by us. It is well known that among the Chinese population, the Taoists far outlived all other people. Many lived to be centurions and few died prematurely. The Taoist art of longevity, known as the "Art of Radiant Health" is one of the great legacies of the East. And Lycium has played a major part in Taoist health practice since ancient times. Though it is a common herb, it is one that the Taoists consider to be transcendental.
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