VietnamFood & DrinksA Guide to Vietnamese Herbs

A Guide to Vietnamese Herbs

With the diversity of food in Vietnamese cuisine, many kinds of herbs are essential to making Vietnamese foods more tasty and delicious. Noodle soups are often paired with many greens that bring a better taste and fragrance. Some may be unusual to Westerners because they only thrive in a tropical climate. Our Vietnamese herbs guide offers some common herbs you can find in local Vietnamese markets and cuisines.

A bowl of Pho can never be complete without a handful of herbs: scallions, basils, rice paddy herbs, and sawtooth herbs
More often than not, Vietnamese herbs are used in cooking to reduce the odor of seafood or red meat and create an aromatic taste to the food
Herbs are quintessential in a Vietnamese salad

You can easily find Vietnamese herbs at local markets, supermarkets, or online stores!

Vietnamese Coriander – Rau Ram

Vietnamese coriander always grows in 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 in Vietnamese food, such as Vietnamese salad, balut, or snails!

Rau Ram goes well with snails and seafood

Culantro/Sawtooth Herb – Ngo Gai

It is easy for culantro to grow in tropical and watery areas like paddy fields. 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, which are long, thin, and serrated-edge. Its taste is a bit spicy and 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 usually served with dishes like sour soup, pho, hot pot, and braised pig feet. It has a taste and smell crosses between that lime and cumin leaves. 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

Chives in summer rolls are for decoration and taste

Chinese chives are long and straight herbs that 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 fiercer than onions. It is often used as a fragrant ingredient for summer rolls, dumplings, or seafood broth. Try these tasty Vietnamese cuisines and Chinese chives, and you discover new flavors in your food.

Fish Mint/Heartleaf – Diep Ca/Giap Ca

Fish mint is a Vietnamese herb with leaves that look like a heart shape 4 – 8 cm long. It tastes a little sour and a bit fishy. Most people would be put off by its taste, even Vietnamese!

Thai Basil – Hung Que

This leaf is a common culinary herb in famous Vietnamese foods such as pho, steamed rice rolls, 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 people sometimes use Thai Basil to eat raw to prevent bone disease and digestive system problems. Green leaves are also a great source of healthy nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, and potassium.

See The Different Types of Vietnamese Noodles

Vietnamese Balm – Kinh Gioi

Vietnamese balm grows in mountainous or unoccupied areas, by the rivers, or in forests with a lot of sunlight. The plant is about 30-50 cm tall and has small fir on its stem. The leaf has a serrated edge with a bright green color. With a little bitter taste, it usually comes along with other herbs in a rice paper roll dish or the famous “bun cha.” Many people also use this herb in cold or flu remedies.

Kinh Gioi looks similar to Vietnamese basil, but it has a pointer shape and stronger taste

Vietnamese Perilla – Tia To

Vietnamese perillas have a distinct red-violet color and serrated edge leaves. Sometimes, it also has a green color, but its leaves are usually bigger than the Vietnamese balm’s.

Some noodle dishes, pancakes, and spring/summer rolls will be incomplete without perilla’s unique bitter and spicy taste.

Basils, fish mints, and perillas often come together as a combo in a myriad of Vietnamese dishes

Peppermint – Hung Cay

With its distinct fresh scent, peppermint is both an ingredient in cooking and a remedy for mosquito repellent. Some Vietnamese salads with heavy proteins, such as beef or pork, often have mints added for some freshness. It is also a standard garnish for beverages such as lemon iced tea.

Pepper Elder – Cang Cua

Pepper elder is easy to grow with little care needed. It can be found in humid areas like plant pots, red-brick roofs, or even wall cracks. It is light green, 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. With a bit of sour and sweet taste, the crispy texture will make a perfect salad for a diabetic diet. It also goes well with fish sauce or braised pork.

Sour-soup Creeper – La Giang

You can easily find this plant along the river banks and channels. Its leaf is thin, light green on the front, and spade-shaped. It has a distinctly sour taste, light and not sweet like tamarind. Chicken hot pot with La Giang leaf is a popular dish in Da Lat.

Dill – Thi La

Fish, scalions, and dills – a famous dish in Hanoi

Cumin is used in many Indian recipes, but people use its leaves – called dill – more often to add to seafood hotpots in Vietnamese cuisine. It has a unique aromatic smell and sweet taste. Its leaves are tiny, almost like small green fur, but flavor any Vietnamese dish intensely.

Crown Daisy – Tan O

Crown daisy adapts well to many types of climate but grows well in a cold climate. It has a unique flavor, light sweetness, and a bit of bitter taste. The most common way to cook it is by pouring boiling water. In Vietnamese cuisine, 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.

Wild Betel Leaf – La Lot

The wild betel leaf 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 is often used in grilled food to bring that extra aroma. Some specialties, such as La Lot soup, grilled beef rolls, and fried chicken, are favored by many tourists when exploring Vietnamese street foods. Besides, La Lot 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 medicine that cleans poison in our body and has plenty of good nutrition, antioxidants, and substances that help improve memory. They grow wildly in soggy places such as valleys and 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.

Summary of the Vietnamese Herbs

It will be a huge waste if you try Vietnamese cuisine without pairing it with these Vietnamese herbs. Even though their tastes may provoke you initially, once you try, you might be in for more. There are many ways Vietnamese foods are processed and cooked with these herbs as extra special spices to make up the delicious and unique taste of 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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