Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Favorite Herb: Houttuynia Cordata

Growing up, my parents were avid gardeners. As I've written about in the past, they used to be farmers in Vietnam, and gardening and farming go hand-in-hand. When we moved to the United States, our first house was one with ample land. But we rented, and although our landlord was one of the nicest men, my parents didn't feel comfortable tearing up the nice grass for their gardening excursions. Instead, they chose a small patch of land to garden on. But due to the space and weather constraints, they decided against growing any vegetables. Instead, they decided to grow traditional Vietnamese mints and herbs.

Today, I want to take time and pay tribute to my favorite herb of all: Houttuynia Cordata or giấp cá in Vietnamese.

Many Americans use this herb as ground cover, but any Vietnamese gardener who grows this will use as part of their diet, their cuisine. It has a distinct smell and a very distinct flavor. Cam can't stand the smell of it, and he gags if I try to make him eat it. Most mints have a strong flavor, but this one isn't just strong. It has a somewhat sour, fishy flavor. I love the tangy flavor, and I will eat this raw with my rice. I'll eat like it's lettuce or something. I just love it.

My parents sell giấp cá to some of the Asian grocery stores in town. Because of its smell, you won't ever find it in any of the regular grocery stores. But despite this, this plant is so pretty, and the flowers are delicate, white and yellow.

Be warned though, if you plant this in your garden, it will spread. It spreads like crazy. It's not a problem for us because we eat it so quickly that we welcome the growth. I've read that the aldehydes and ketones of the plant are the source of its smell.

The herb is also used often in Chinese and Vietnamese herbal medicine. It has been medically proven to have antibacterial effects. When the plant is dried and brewed, herbal doctors have used it to treat hypertension, pulmonary tuberculosis, colds, constipation, para nasal sinustics, pus removal, as a diuretic, and even allergies.

Even though I've lived in Nashville since I was 7, I have never fallen ill due to allergies. Almost everyone I know has some kind of allergy. I believe that because I've been eating this herb since I was little, its medicial effects have helped me grow into a stronger person.

I think mints and herbs are awesome. I thought I would share.


Mick said...


I'd never heard of Houttuynia Cordata but am always very interested in old herbal recipes and their health giving attributes.

There are a lot of remedies from the old times which are only now being recognised as superior to some modern medicines

Being from England, my wife and I are avid tea drinkers and have our favorite brand shipped over from the old country.
Sadly, it costs as much in postage as it does to buy the tea. :-(

But, it's worth every cent! :-)

Thank you for the informative and interesting post.

Cindy said...

DP ~ That is so very interesting. Thank you for introducing me to this herb. If I wanted to grow this would I be able to buy seeds for it ? Is it a perennial ?

Skeeter said...

Such a sweet tribute to your parents. This herb sounds very interesting...

tina said...

I never thought I'd see the day someone would love this plant. Very interesting post on it and the history too. We're on for dinner. See ya then!

Dave said...

I think it's interesting how different cultures use different herbs. I'd like to learn what other herbs the Vietnamese use in their cooking!

plantgirl said...

Great post DP - will tell my little bro about this herb, he has horrible allergies and will try (eat) anything :)

Gail said...

I love this information. I remember planting this herb years ago...even though I have ignored it and mistreated it; there is always a tiny little piece that survives.

Susie said...

DP-Thanks for visiting my blog. Hope you enjoyed it. Do you know if Houttuynia Cordata is commonly called Chameleon plant? We had that growing where I went to school. I remember the smell was pretty bad. And it was very invasive. I think that is really neat that it has helped you stay allergy free though!

Eve said...

I love herbs and usually grow quite a few. Mint is one of my favorites. This year I chose to grow Spearmint. I like the taste in hot tea. I don't know about an herb that smelled fishy. I might give it a try. I love shrimp fried rice, it might work in that.

Eve said...

I love herbs and usually grow quite a few. Mint is one of my favorites. This year I chose to grow Spearmint. I like the taste in hot tea. I don't know about an herb that smelled fishy. I might give it a try. I love shrimp fried rice, it might work in that.

Dawn said...

DP, I've been itching to grow this up here, the one that is sold local has 3 different colors and I don't know if it's because of the weather or living up to the chameleon name. I think it's very pretty and I don't care it's invasive. Sooo neat about the herbs and what they can do.

DP Nguyen said...

Hi Mick, I absolutely love tea. My dad has a jasmine plant, and we sometimes brew jasmine tea from the jasmine flowers that grow on the tree. I love herbs, and it's amazing how wonderful they are for our health. They are right underneath our noses, and we never knew. I'm a big fan of getting away from taking medications, if you could help it, and trying a more natural alternative!

Hi Cindy, I think it is perennial, so it always comes back. But it is very invasive. That is one of the biggest drawbacks for most people, and one of the reasons a lot of people hate this herb. But I love it because we eat it like we eat chips. lol. I don't think they sell the seeds for this, but if you go to your local asian/oriental store, they will have it in the grocery section. When we planted this herb, we bought it at the grocery store and rooted it and stuck it in the ground. It's very easy to grow, and it spreads like crazy. Just a warning. But I think its wonderful. Very pretty and always green.

Hi Skeeter- Thanks for visiting! Again, I must say, I love this herb, but everyone has varying opinions. Hehe!

Hi Tina-Well we all have dislikes and likes. :-) I say tomato, you say ta-mato. right? lol. Anyway, see you for dinner! I'm excited to meet you and Gail.

Hi Dave- Vietnamese use so many herbs in our cooking. these herbs grow naturally in the warm climate of the country, so we love it. Well, actually, the soutehrn Vietnamese love it and use it more than the northerners do. I'll post on the other herbs that we have growing in the garden at a later time!

Hi Plantgirl, Cam has really had allergies too, but he can't stand the taste of it, so we're going to put it into little pill cases and see if that works for him. Good luck to your brother. Allergies are never fun! But it's great that he's open and willing to try anything!

Hi Gail, Another wonderful tidbit about this plant is that it always comes back every year and it doesn't take much maintenance or care. I love to eat it because I'm so used to the taste that I can't smell the 'odor' that everyone says this plant has!

Hi Susie, I do think that a type of houttuynia cordata is called a chameleon plant. I've heard of that, but my herb is always green. Doesn't the chameleon plant change colors sometimes? Everyone does say it has a bad smell, but seriously, I cannot smell it. I've eaten it so much during my lifetime that it has no scent to me. Cam says that the scent is stronger than the scent of mint, but I don't think so. LoL. I guess it's what you're used to.

Hi Eve, We have mint in our garden as well. its a lovely plant, and we eat it raw like we eat peanuts. Seriously! Mint tea sounds so good. I don't think the herb smells fishy, but I hear that people with more sensitive noses are bothered by it. I'm just used to it. Or maybe my nose is flat that my smell isn't as sharp. lol. Shrimp fried rice does sound good. yum!

Hi Dawn- I wonder if it is the weather that causes the plant to change colors. Down here, it is always green and always pretty. I hope you decide to grow it one day. Herbs are so nice to have in your yard! And they keep bugs away!

Susie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

People fail in accelerating weight loss due to various reasons such as the lack of a well-managed dieting schedule and also for not practicing physical exercises regularly. Altogether, if you are not aware of comprehensive weight loss information, including weight loss tips, it is also likely to slacken your weight loss regimen and as such you should instantly visit the site http://www.weight-loss-truths.com and enhance your knowledge on various weight loss details before starting off your anti-obesity regimen.

Eliza @ Appalachian Feet said...

Your personal account of using hot tuna is really helpful. I've eaten it a few times (my mom grows some) and a friend of mine has it in his permaculture garden. Knowing the plant's culinary heritage from Vietnam gives me a much better perspective on how to use it. Thanks!

Beth C said...

This herb is specific for treating Lyme disease. It is great!

Anonymous said...

Someone gave me a cutting of this telling me it was something else...2 yrs later it has taken over my shade garden, and when I go to pull it up it smells soo bad it makes me gag...I believe if it helps with sickness and you can choke it down then go for it...otherwise, unless you wanting it covering all your property as well as your flowers and plants, stay away from it! It's covered my hostas and is going to be a real pain to get rid of!