I vividly recall my introduction to traditional Chinese health tonics. A bushy tailed reporter new in town and in search of some nice colour, I decided I'd put the weirdest lotions and potions I could find to the test and write about their benefits or otherwise. (I'd probably been reading too much Hunter S Thompson at the time, and fancied myself as some kind of low-rent junior Gonzologist.) The first place I walked into was a snake-wine shop somewhere in the bowels of Sai Ying Pun. I gazed around at the old apothecary's jars filled with bizarre brews - pickled mouse foetuses, otiose insects and knots of dead reptiles in oddly hued decoctions - and congratulated myself on finding the motherlode. The wizened proprietor appeared, regarded the gweilo with a toothless smile, then reached behind his desk and fumbled in a box. Before I could blink, there was a medium-sized cobra on the table, hood flared, tongue flickering, beady red eyes not a foot from my own. Of course, I did what any hardened journalist would do in such a case: I ran screaming from the shop. To this day, I'm unsure what the actual benefits of this treatment were supposed to be, although I can heartily recommend it as a cure for constipation. Ah yes, the good, old days, when men were men and weird beasties were food. Innocent times, unlike the strange and confused age in which connoisseurs of tonics and exotic eats now find themselves. It's getting harder by the day to know what will help you and what might kill you. The civet cat, once thought to boost immunity, is definitely off the menu now it's found to be a furry little Sars petri dish. Surely the look of the thing is enough to scream 'don't eat me': a kind of weasel on steroids, sporting a mask. I mean to say, when the critter itself has to go about masked, that should be some kind of clue. Also to be shunned are the raccoon dog and the ferret badger, mutants straight from the Island Of Dr Moreau, and doubtless full of horrible diseases. On the other hand, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University has come up with a Sars-busting potion known as Immune Plus, some secret concoction of traditional Chinese herbs that is flying off the shelves. Doctors in Guangdong are more likely to recommend cow urine mixed with bull-horn shavings, mint leaves and melon peels, and never mind the risk of mad cow disease. The hottest black-market Sars tonic, meantime, is a shot or two of human placenta. But before you purchase, it might pay to look at a recent study by China's Consumer Foundation, which found about 16 per cent of over-the-counter traditional Chinese medicines are actually souped up with - gasp! - boring old Western medicines. Dos and don'ts Do . . . get on the bandwagon: Chinese health officials say the demand for herbal tonics to guard against Sars 'creates 10 new millionaires every day'. Do . . . spare a thought for China's hundreds of civet cat farmers, now stuck with a passel of worthless weasels. Do . . . try a placenta shooter: the perfect pre-prandial post-partum tipple, or perhaps some afterbirth after dinner? Don't . . . hunt or raise exotic game yourself. Health experts say it's during 'rearing, slaughtering or preparation' that humans are most likely to come into contact with coronavirus-infested faecal matter. Don't . . . be a killjoy like legislative councillor Lo Wing-lok, who'd prefer us to seek other sources of good nutrition. Don't . . . forget that Chinese medicine is hip in Hollywood too: the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Nastassja Kinski hang at Elixir, sipping blends with names such as Liquid Yoga and Mighty Joe Yang. Do say . . . 'What doesn't kill me makes me stronger.' Don't say . . . 'And the lady will have the civet cat roulade with the raccoon dog kidney coulis and reduction of giant salamander . . .'