I first came upon this fruit my very first day exploring Hong Kong. I got a bottled cold version of it from a tea stand on the street but I didn’t really know what I was drinking. From the same shop, locals drank freshly brewed hot medicinal tea out of what looked to be rice bowls. Lo Han Guo: In almost every Tradition Chinese Medicine shop in Sai Yin Pung and Sheung Wan they sell this hard shelled fruit alongside ginseng, fish maw, and other traditional healing goods. After seeing it everywhere I finally asked a woman in a shop to tell me about it. Through our broken half English / half Cantonese conversation I understood that it’s sweet, cools the body, and is good to get rid of phlegm in the throat. When I realized that this was the same tea I had tried that first day I was excited to try and make it myself. The woman in the shop said break it, and put the insides of the fruit in four cups of water, and boil it for thirty minutes. Super fun to whack open- like breaking an egg without the mess. The insides looked and smelled like nutrient rich earth from a lush forest. As soon as I dropped the fruit into the water it started to break down and the color began to dissipate, after 5 minutes it was becoming a rich reddish brown, and after half an hour it was a dark brown liquid with a earthy yet sweet smell. The taste was stronger and sweeter than I remembered but most definitely tasted like something to coat the throat. I cooled it in the fridge and shared it with Eric over the next few days. Buying small amounts from the local tea shops when you need it seems to be the way to go here but of course I always love it when I can make it myself.
Wikipedia says: During the Tang dynasty, Guilin was one of the most important Buddhist retreats containing many temples. The fruit was named after the arhats (luóhàn, 羅漢), a group of Buddhist monks who, due to their proper way of life and meditation, achieved enlightenment and were said to have been redeemed. According to Chinese history, the fruit was first mentioned in the records of the 13th-century monks who used it. However, plantation space was limited: it existed mainly in the slopes of the Guangxi and Guangdong mountains, and to a lesser degree in Guizhou, Hunan, Jiangxi, and Hainan. This and the difficulty of cultivation meant the fruit did not become part of the Chinese herbal tradition, which depended on more readily available products. This is also the reason no mention of it is found in the traditional guides to herbs.