Dong Feng was a renowned physician of traditional Chinese medicine during the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 B.C.). People sought him out for medical advice and treatment everyday, and he often treated them with concoctions made from apricots.
While he never asked for recompense, he required that his patients plant apricot trees in Mt. Lu — five trees for patients with a severe disease and one for those whose conditions were mild.
In a few years, there were thousands of apricot trees growing all over the mountain. It was beautiful and lush. Tigers became regular visitors.
So why did Dong Feng make his patients plant so many apricot trees? It is because the apricot is a summertime fruit. The seeds, leaves, branches, bark, and roots can all be used in medical concoctions.
The pit, in particular, is commonly used as an expectorant and cough reliever, as well as to ease asthma and moisturize the lungs.
Dong Feng made good use of the apricot trees to heal the illnesses of many people without spending a penny. For thousands of years, Dong Feng’s noble medical ethics have served as a model for the medical community.
Dong Feng exchanged the ripe apricots for rice to give to people in poverty. The saying “Benevolence of the apricot trees” (杏林春暖 xìng lín chūn nuǎn) came about for this reason.
Once, there was an opportunistic young man who gave little rice in exchange, but picked a basket full of apricots. A tiger that was guarding the apricot trees growled and lunged at him when he saw that the young man picked so many. The young man stumbled when running away and had to leave the apricots that fell.
When he got home and found out that he was only left with as many apricots as he gave away, he realized that he shouldn’t have coveted more. This is how the Chinese saying “The apricot trees guarded by a crouching tiger” (虎踞杏林 hǔ jù xìng lín) came about.