With a diversity of food in the Vietnamese cuisines, many kinds of herbs usage are essential ingredients to making the Vietnamese foods more tasty and delicious. Noodle soups are often paired with many greens that bring out a better taste and fragrance. Some of them may be unusual because they are rarely seen or displayed in the Western markets. Our Vietnamese herbs guide offers some of the common herbs that you can find in local Vietnamese markets and cuisines.
Vietnamese Coriander – Rau Ram
Vietnamese coriander always grows in the water or wet areas. Its leaf is long, thin, small, and pointy at the top. Its smell is exceptionally fragrant. The taste is like mint, but a bit bitter and spicier. It is a common spice often used in many kinds of Vietnamese food such as rice noodles, sour soup, or spring rolls. The medicinal use of Vietnamese coriander is to help to digest foods better, so it is often paired with balut, seafood dishes, and a few Vietnamese street foods.
Culantro/Sawtooth Herb - Ngo Gai
It is easy for culantro to grow in tropical and watery areas like paddy fields. They often grow on the water surface and can be planted on the soil ground if they get watered regularly. When it is mature, it grows into bushes. The farmer can harvest culantro all year round. The recognizable feature of culantro is its saw-like leaves; long, thin, and has serrated-edge. Its taste is a bit spicy, bitter, and often served with popular Vietnamese foods such as pho, sour-soup, or put in a beef salad.
Rice Paddy Herb - Ngo Om
Rice paddy herb and sawtooth herb are an inseparable pair that is usually served with dishes like sour-soup, pho, hot pot, and braised pig feet. It has the taste and smell cross between that of lime and cumin leaves. Rice paddy herb grows well in warm weather and wet area like that in rice paddy fields and can be harvested all year round. Its essential oil contains anti-oxidize and antibacterial substances, so it is an excellent choice of spice to add to your healthy diet.
Chinese Chives - He
Chinese chives are herbs that are long and straight - look a bit like the green onion but tougher. Leaves grow from the end of the trunk. Its taste is a bit sour, bitter, and a little fiercer than onions. It is often used as a fragrant ingredient for spring rolls, dumplings, or seafood broth. Try these tasty Vietnamese cuisines along with Chinese chives, and you discover new flavors in your food.
Fish Mint/Heartleaf - Diep Ca/Giap Ca
Fish mint is a Vietnamese herb that has leaves look like a heart shape in 4 - 8 cm in length. It tastes a little sour and a bit fishy. It is used in remedy recipes for cooling off the body’s temperature, fighting bacteria in the digestive system. It is often paired with peanut worms and spring rolls. Peanut worms are sea worms specialty dishes found in coastal areas like Halong Bay and Con Dao Island.
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Thai Basil - Hung Que
This kind of leaves is often served as a culinary herb in some famous Vietnamese foods such as pho, steamed rice roll, Vietnamese pancakes, and noodle soups. Its leaves are small, narrow, and a little dark green. Besides, the taste is slightly sweet and has a great aroma so that people sometimes use Thai Basil to eat raw to prevent bone disease and digestive system problems. The green leaves are also a great source of healthy nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, and potassium.
Peppermint - Hung Cay
With its distinct fresh scent, peppermint is not only used as an ingredient in cooking but also in remedy and as a mosquito repellent. It can grow in the wild with small serrated edge leaves. Spring roll and other varieties of rice paper roll are always stuffed with peppermint for a contrasting taste to the savory meat and shrimp inside. It is also a standard garnish for a beverage such as lemon ice tea.
Vietnamese Balm - Kinh Gioi
Vietnamese balm grows in mountainous or unoccupied areas, by the rivers, or in forests where there is a lot of sunlight. The plant is about 30-50 cm in height and has small fir on its stem. The leaf has a serrated edge with a bright green color. With a little of a bitter taste, it is usually served along with other herbs in rice paper roll dish or the famous “bun cha.” Many people also use this herb in cold or flu remedies.
Vietnamese Perilla - Tia To
Vietnamese perilla is usually confused with its companion, Vietnamese balm because they have similar leaf shapes and often served together in many dishes. Vietnamese perilla has a distinct red-violet color and serrated edge leaves. Sometimes it also has green color as well, but its leaves are usually bigger than that of the Vietnamese balm.
Some noodles dishes, pancakes, spring/summer rolls will be incomplete without the unique bitter and the little spicy taste of perilla. It can also be used as a roll sheet-like piper lo lot in dishes like grilled sausages. Similar to its companion, this plant is also an ingredient in a cold remedy.
Because of the many uses and unique tastes, Vietnamese perilla is not only used in Vietnamese cuisine but also in Japanese cuisine. Farmers will export their high-quality plant to Japan at the price of VND 700/leaf. You can try this herb pairing with the Vietnamese pancake on our Ho Chi Minh Food Tour.
Watercress - Xa Lach Son
Watercress is perfect for a refreshing dish like soup or salad. It can also be steamed, stir-fried with sesame oil, and dipped in soy sauce to make a simple side accompaniment in daily meals. The unique thing about this herb is that you can eat its stem as well, but you have to rinse it well to remove all of the dirt. It is rich in many types of vitamin B, vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium, and magnesium which help prevent heart disease and diabetes. The farmers can make a lot of money from growing this plant for its high price and can be harvested all year round.
Pepper Elder - Cang Cua
Pepper elder is easy to grow with little care needed. It can be found in humid areas like plant pots, on red-brick roofs, or even in cracks on the walls. It has a light green color, with a watery, thin, and smooth stem, heart-shaped leaf, and bitter bud at the end of the stem. You should remove the bud and dirt before enjoying this delicious Vietnamese herb. A bit sour and sweet taste, the crispy texture will make a perfect salad for a diabetic diet. It also goes well with the fish sauce or braised pork.
Sour-soup Creeper - La Giang
You can easily fo this plant along the river banks and channels. Its leaf is thin with a light green color on the front and spade-shaped. It contains a lot of anti-oxidize and antibacterial substances as well as substances that help balance blood pressure, reduce fat intakes. It has a distinctly sour taste, light and not sweet like tamarind. It can be used in Vietnamese foods like salad, sour-soup, or hotpot and goes well with beef and chicken. Some locals also use its juice as an antidote for cassava food poisoning.
Dill - Thi La
Cumin is used in many recipes of Indian food, but in Vietnamese cuisine, people use its leaves - called dill - more often to add to seafood hotpot. It has a unique aromatic smell and sweet taste. Its leaves are tiny, almost like small green fur but bring an intense flavor to any Vietnamese dish.
Crown Daisy - Tan O
Crown daisy adapts well to many types of climate but grows well in a cold climate. It flowers during the summer and fall, but it is usually harvested before to get the stem and leaves. It has a unique flavor, light sweetness mixed with a little bit of bitter taste. It could be a little chewy if cooked for too long; the most common way to cook it is by pouring boiling water on it. In Vietnamese cuisines, crown daisy leaves are mostly cooked in fish sausage soup and seafood hotpot. It was a delicious and effective ingredient for a cough and cold remedy.
Piper lolot - La Lot
The piper lolot leaves have heart-shaped and smooth outer linings. They often grow in moist areas in remote Vietnamese places. It is popular with Vietnamese cuisines and often used in grilled food to bring that extra aroma. Some specialties such as piper lolot soup, grilled piper lolot beef roll, fried chicken with piper lolot are favored by many tourists when exploring Vietnamese street foods. Besides, piper lolot has a distinctive aroma and a few medical uses for those who have health problems such as high blood pressure and indigestion.
Check out Bo La Lot - Beef with Wild Betel Leaf
Pennywort - Rau Ma
It is a natural medicinal that cleans poison in our body, has plenty of good nutrition, antioxidant, and substances help improve memory. They grow wildly in soggy places such as valleys, banks of rivers in tropical countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, India, and Sri Lanka. Its leaves have shapes like small pennies or a duck’s foot. Its color could be green, red, or dark red. It is usually made into refreshing soups, drinks, and smoothies. Try to have a cup of this pennywort drink at the local markets, and you will be refreshed in Vietnam's tropical climate.
It will be a huge waste if you try Vietnamese cuisines without pairing them with these Vietnamese herbs. Even though their tastes may provoke you at first but once you give it a try, you might be in for more. There are many ways of Vietnamese foods are processed and cooked with these herbs as extra special spices to make up the delicious and unique taste for the foods. When in Vietnam, you will often see them in Vietnamese daily meals - breakfast, lunch, dinner - and also in natural medicines that help the body prevent many diseases and flu. Don’t miss out on your experience with Vietnamese foods without trying these Vietnamese herbs.
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My tour guide took me to try pennyworth drink on tour and it was very refreshing. I would recommend this herb as a drink.
All good Vietnamese dishes have some herbs, and there is a plate full of them to choose from too. Eating in Vietnam is truly a pleasure