VietnamCulture and HistoryA Quick Look at Traditional Vietnamese Medicine - Is It the Same...

A Quick Look at Traditional Vietnamese Medicine – Is It the Same as Chinese?

Traditional oriental medicine is a popular treatment among many patients. Even though some people might mistake it for homeotherapy, it is a carefully researched practice proven through time. Some iconic features of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine are acupuncture and oriental medicine practices. Scroll down for more information about the history and practice of this unique medicine school of Vietnam.

What Is Traditional Vietnamese Medicine?

Traditional Vietnamese Medicine (Dong Y or Y Hoc Co Truyen) has two main branches: traditional Chinese medicine (Northern Herbology or Thuốc Bắc) and southern herbology (or Thuốc Nam), which is adapted from the Chinese. Hai Thuong Lan Ong is the most respected historical figure for developing traditional Vietnamese medicine.

Overall, it is the tried and true medical experiences from 54 Vietnamese ethnic groups, with their deep understanding of herbal sources and the body’s natural elements, specifically:

  • Yin and Yang describe the importance of balance between opposite human states, such as Cold and Hot, Interior and Exterior, and Deficiency and Excess.
  • Five elements: Major organs such as the brain or heart are grouped into Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. These five elements have close connections. Consequently, if there is one weak component, it will lead to an excess of another.

five elements Vietnamese traditional medicine

Common Herbal Medicine in Vietnam

The ingredients or formula may sound familiar to you after staying in Vietnam for a while. Traditional Vietnamese Medicine usually includes Vietnamese coriander (rau ram), Vietnamese balm (kinh gioi), water spinach/morning glory (rau muong), ginger, or ginseng, which you can find at a Vietnamese wet market. These components usually appear in Vietnamese family meals. Besides flowers of Magnolia champaca and Jasminum sambac, animal products like silkworms are also used. When you visit a Traditional Vietnamese Medicine shop, you will see that all ingredients are thoroughly dried and put in jars.

Oriental medicine is often dried under the sun, and can also be pan-toasted to bring out its aroma, healing benefits, and make it easier to store

Some Other Familiar Traditional Medicine

  • Mint (for colds, flu, stuffy nose, red eyes,…)
  • Lour (for antiseptic, long-lasting cough, chronic bronchitis, itching, scabies)/li>
  • Clerodendron (for detoxifying, reducing inflammation, knee fatigue, high blood pressure, wound treating, itching)
  • Lactuca indica – Dandelion (for detoxifying, blocked milk ducts, mastitis)
  • Pluchea indica (for fever without sweat, joint pain, rheumatism, detoxifying, paralysis)
  • Mulberry tree (for eye-brightening, sore throat, headache, watery/red eyes, reducing cough, asthma,…)

Read more about What to Do If You Get Sick in Vietnam

Common Practices in Traditional Vietnamese Medicine

  • Diagnosis and Diagnostics: Unlike Western medicine, which incorporates many technologies, the doctor in traditional Vietnamese medicine will thoroughly examine your appearance. You might wonder how focusing on parts of the face, eyes, or tongue can tell about your well-being. In fact, carefully trained professionals are able to tell how subtle abnormalities can affect your health.
  • Consultation: It is crucial to make a diagnosis based on the patient’s daily habits, diet, or psychophysiology. It is also crucial to know the medical history and disease progression from the onset.
  • Prescription: the medicine prescribed can either be in dried herbal forms or pills and tablets. Traditional Vietnamese medicine does not usually have the potent symptoms-relieving effect as Western pills. It usually takes some changes in your daily routine along with the prescription to improve your health.

Traditional Vietnamese Alternative Therapies

Aside from traditional Vietnamese medicine, the locals also abide by these alternative therapies to relax, prevent illnesses, or alleviate pain.

  • Acupuncture: The practitioner uses very thin needles to insert into specific points through the skin. The practice is believed to relieve the “chi” inside the body and has been proven to bring the energy back into proper balance and relieve pain.
  • Vietnamese Massage Techniques: Doctors will massage acupuncture points on the patient’s body. However, even though there is a low chance that massages alone can cure chronic pains, it’s always worth a try after long hours of sitting all day at an office job.

Some Key Notes about Traditional Vietnamese Medicine

  • Healing time will last longer than in Western medicine. It usually lasts one week to a month (better with an in-hospital prescription), which means that the patient needs to follow the prescription consistently for the best results.
  • Although most traditional Vietnamese medicines are pretty mild and generally don’t have many side effects, always consult a doctor if you need a prescription for a specific condition.

Traditional Vietnamese Medicine Hospitals/Facilities


  • Central Acupuncture Hospital [view map]
  • National Hospital of Traditional Medicine [view map]
  • Traditional Medicine Hospital [view map]

Ho Chi Minh City

  • Traditional Medical Hospital [view map]
  • Institute of Ethnic Medicine and Pharmacy Center [view map]
  • Institute of Traditional Medicine [view map]
  • Moreover, you can visit the Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine and Pharmacy or the so-called Fito Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. In Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, the streets specializing in traditional herbal medicine are named after the originator of traditional Vietnamese medicine – Hai Thuong Lan Ong.

    Conclusion on Traditional Vietnamese Medicine

    Although it is called “traditional” medicine, this Vietnamese medical treatment can also be combined with modern science to develop a more effective cure. For non-critical illnesses such as back pains or headaches, try these alternatives instead of using pills to avoid as many side effects as possible.

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