November 2017
The Herb Lady

Vietnamese Coriander

Vietnamese coriander (Polygonum odoratum) is an excellent, easy to grow and always available substitute for cilantro. During the 1990s a friend brought me one of these plants from Tampa, Florida. Neither she nor I had ever heard of it before, but we were always glad to add a new herb to our collection. We could find no written information to help us learn about this plant.

I did what I often do under such circumstances. While keeping my plant growing, even multiplying prolifically, I waited for information to come to me. It did. About a year later, I received my copy of the Herb Society of America’s annual publication of "The Herbarist." It contained an excellent article about Vietnamese coriander written by Dr. Robert M. Bond of San Diego, California.

From Bond, I learned that herb was new in the United States. So new it was not listed in my copy of "HORTUS THIRD." The Vietnamese call it "rau ram." In Laos, it is called "phak pheo." It is a common herb used routinely in Southeast Asian cuisine and grown in their communities worldwide. Naturally, these people have brought their favorite herbs with them as they migrated to our country. Early immigrants from Europe did the same.

Vietnamese coriander looks very much like the ornamental plant we call "wandering jew." Some people compare it to smartweed. It has the same growth habits. I always grew some in a container protected from winter cold. During mild winters, my garden-grown plant sometimes survived.

Today, you will find information about this herb on the internet. Seed, plants and recipes are available. However, it is now referred to as Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata). It is not unusual to find plants with more than one Latin name.

You might find this herb locally. Whenever I go to Lowe’s or Home Depot, I always look at the beautiful display of Bonnie Plants herbs. However, I rarely see an unusual herb such as Vietnamese coriander offered.

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is an annual herb that grows to a height of 1-3 feet. It is a delicate plant with lacy foliage. Umbels of pinkish-white flowers ripen into coriander seed that we find on spice racks.

Cilantro (also called Chinese parsley) is the lacy, green foliage of the same plant. (Confusing, isn’t it?) The dried form can be found on the spice rack, very near cilantro, too. Of course, fresh, homegrown leaves give our recipes a much better flavor than the dried variety.

I am a bit shocked to find coriander listed as a medicinal herb. The FDA includes it in a list generally considered safe. The use of coriander began long ago, probably before records were kept. The early Egyptians considered it such a basic necessity that seeds have been found in some of their pyramids. Noted Greek and Roman physicians (Hippocrates, for one) prescribed it as a digestive aid and for gas remedy. In one culture, it was considered to be an aphrodisiac. It has other folklore medicinal uses.

Coriander’s main use is as a seasoning. It is an ingredient in curry powder. It is added to cakes, cookies and candy as a flavoring. In 16th century England, coriander seeds were used as the centers of hard candy. Queen Elizabeth loved these candies that have evolved into what we call "jawbreakers."

My growing days are over; however, memories are made of them.

As usual, I advise you to check with your physician before taking herbal remedies.

 

Nadine Johnson can be reached at PO Box 7425, Spanish Fort, AL 36577, by calling 251-644-5473, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..