Nutritional Values of Hmong Plants and Herbs

2008 Annual Report for FNC07-694

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:

Nutritional Values of Hmong Plants and Herbs


My initial goal was to determine actual nutritional values of each herb until consulting with Professor Craig Hassel with the University of Minnesota Extension services. After his brief informal consultation he advised me to collect and document how each herbs is prepared and grown and the medicinal usage and to not yet do the nutritional measuring of antioxidants within herbs.

Therefore I gathered information from the elderly, which is how I was able to collect all the different post partum herbs -- herbs that the Hmong community considered to be beneficial to those with low iron, loss of appetite and diabetes. I pressed over 18 herb varieties and planted over 30 varieties of herbs. I grew them from plant starts and transplanted them into organic ground. In doing so I documented each of the herb’s usage and then looked for the botanical names and common names (in English). It is has been a challenge since there are no seeds for Hmong Post Partum Chicken diet Herbs.

[Editor’s Note based on conversation with Mhonpaj Lee. After the birth of a child, Hmong women go on a month long chicken/herb post partum diet. The diet includes 18-20 herbs and the meat must be chicken that is lean from birds grazed /raised on pasture. The diet is meant to increase appetite and nutrition. The women aren’t supposed to eat anything but the chicken/herb diet during the month following birth. The herbs used in the diet are exotic herbs. Mhonpaj received plants from her mother that were brought from Laos in 1975 by Mhonpaj’s grandmother. The plants don’t typically go to seed but are reproduced from cuttings.]

Working along side Hilary the Botanist who is well known for her books about Minnesota and forest plants, we were able to identify one plant and that was the Chinese plant used for tea.

I then was on the track to find other plants that were used after interviewing Hmong elderly. We were able to get the majority of the popular herbs used throughout the Twin Cities in Minnesota. The Hmong greens and how to prepare them were a topic of interest within Western communities.

I was interested in informing others on how to prepare Hmong Greens and post partum herbs. So I hosted three citywide workshops. As part of the education component, we were able to contact Channel 2 TV and do a short segment on eating Healthy by incorporating greens and vegetables into the diet. We also hosted workshops at Roseville Arboretum on how to grown your own herbs. We observed most varieties of the herbs for women after post partum – these were grown in a raised bed. Mill City Museum we did a workshop on how to prepare different varieties of Hmong Greens. The authentic Hmong diet does not include flavoring but is a bland and nutritious diet that uses herbs to supplement smell and taste.

As we figure out the botanical names for the Hmong herbs we will make identification photo cards on how to preserve and prepare the herbs and what medicinal purpose these herbs are used for. Hopefully we will receive more funding to continue work with Craig Hassel of the University of Minnesota Plant Medicine Department.

This grant has shown me that Herbs are used for various reasons. Usually we think of herbs to use as a tea or with food, but these herbs can also be used for the external body for pain and bruises. I’ve also learned that the Hmong culture is very patient. It’s been a cultural understanding that making, preparing, planting and giving away seeds and transplants are very important to the community. Gardening is a sign of wealth. Nowadays people view gardening as a poor man’s job and only those who are poor garden. But for the Hmong community a garden is a sense of pride and wealth. You can take ownership and not have to depend on anyone else. It’s a form of independence.

I’ve also shared the information with other immigrant farmers like the Spanish speaking community and they have very similar values and herbs. The Spanish-speaking farmers have opened up a discussion about their herbs and medicinal uses and how the medicine women use similar herbs to Hmong herbs. I believe that having an organic and cultural plot to research herbs brings about a discussion about shared values and that is something that we often forget in today’s society. I’d like to continue conversations with other farmers so research about how to preserve our authentic herbs and vegetables will continue to grow. Working alongside and in this melting pot we can only add more ideas and more research that will continue a sustainable food system. The advantage is that the grant allowed us to interview, grow inside a greenhouse and preserve the organic transplants that may carry on for the next generations. In the future I would ask for other farmers to collaborate with other indigenous cultures and be open to researching these herbs together and compiling cultural ways of preparing herbals. Also I would like to have to have a chemist and botanist work alongside the farmers and have a larger grant to incorporate in-depth studies of antioxidant levels and nutrient levels of these herbs.

After conducting interviews with local community members, a majority of the surveys from members all agreed on similar uses of each herb. They concluded that most of the herb gardens in Laos are a smaller plot size and each woman is responsible for the plants grown -- every woman there has her own small plot for herself. The herbs in Laos grow best near the termite houses because of the sandy and moist soil/climate. (May Lee)

The following is the data gathered. These are Hmong Herbs:

1. Zab zi, Allergic reactions
2. Kaw Taw os liab (Parsley family), Increase appetite
3. Suv ntsim, Heart burn (It gives off a red color at the roots)
4. Tsah xyoob, Uterus help so it doesn’t wrinkle
5.Qws qws, Kidney stones
6. Nkaj liab (Coleus family), Iron- makes more blood
7. Qaub yab, Tastes sour & makes salavation and better vision
8. Tshuaj saw nyiaj, Like Viagra - increases men's energy
9. Tshuaj mob cancer
10. zej ntsua ntuag
11. Nplooj tuaj kaus, Canker and cold sores inside mouth
12. Si toj, Releases bad odor & keeps bad spirits away -good for heart problems
13. Teng nyug, Swollen Fingers
14. Kaj Toog, Ulcer & tug leeg
15. Nrog Nyob Hauj, Regular periods, not good if you are pregnant it will cause you to lose baby
16. Tsuaj Qib, Mix with zab zi, tsuaj cua txoj to cure baby with high fever
17. Daws liab, Prevents fever
18. Tsuaj kua txos
19. Qua muas mis, Produce more breast milk
20. cua blai dee
21. gout stem, Grows
22. Blooj tsej tus, Below ground-rise root, - shaman good for energy. Eat raw or dry make powder
23. Tea with white flowers make into beads, Urine kidney stone w lemons also good for beads
24. Tsuaj Qib, Mix with zab zi & tsuaj cua txoj to cure baby with high fever

Some of these herbs were identified by:
J.L. Corlettet al. (2002). “Mineral Content of Culinary and Medicinal Plants Cultivated by Hmong Refugees Living in Sacramento, California.” International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 53: 117-128.

The following data is from this resource:
TshuajNpuavHniav= Achillea millefolium(Milfoil, Yarrow)–Used for cold sores, swollen gums
PawjQaib= Acorus gramineus (Aquatic Sword Grass, Chinese Sweet Grass)
KoTaw Os = Angelica (Angelica)–Cooked with chicken to help regain strength
HmabNtsha= Basella alba (Ceylon Spinach, Indian Spinach)–Cooked with chicken to alleviate arthritis, back pain and as a general tonic
QhauLiab= Canna indica(Indian Shot)–A remedy used for coughing, indigestion, stomachache and as a general tonic
ChaisQav= Crassocephalum crepidiodes (Velvet Plant)–Used to treat heartburn and indigestion
NtxabKoob= Dendranthema indicum (No common name)–Cooked with Chicken, used as a general tonic and to alleviate cough as well as externally to reduce bruising
Ntiv= Eupatorium lindleyana (No common name)–Cooked with chicken, used as a general tonic, as well as externally to treat feelings of weariness in arms and legs
KabTsaus= Houttuynia corda

This is only preliminary research but our results have shown us how to collect, use and prepare these herbs and cooking styles of these herbs.

Most of these herbs had a higher yield when planted in a raised beds -- growth was about 4.5 feet tall. Most of the herbs in the field yielded the same height but it took a longer time in the organic field. We did not use any fertilizer or treatment for the land. The land was fresh land that had not been tilled. The potting soil used for the raised bed was normal organic potting soil. The location of the raised bed was behind the building and facing west. The plants survived longer in the raised beds because there was less air blowing on the leaves of the herbs [the site was protected]. However, the roots became intertwined and it was harder to repot at the end of the season.

The herbs grown out on the organic field in rows in the more conventional way of growing tended to wither, the height was not as tall, and plants were more vulnerable to disease. A few plants had spotting on them out in the field but surprisingly no bugs were attracted to these herbs.

Most of these herbs are used to treat bruising of the skin which was interesting; they are used to soothe sprained body parts or bruised skin.

These herbs also have a distinct smell -- most of them have a unique smell. There are a few varieties that can be dangerous to men, or assist men in arousal as indicated in my chart.

Most of the herbs listed in the chart are used for women post partum with low iron levels, low appetite. It is believed that if you eat any other food during the month after giving birth you will gain weight or have a shaking syndrome, sensitivity to cold, become obese. The herbs are important for recovery post partum.

In Hmong culture, all women after post partum will go on this chicken diet with all of the following herbs. This research consisted of growing organic Hmong Herbs, collecting ways to prepare the herbs and finding the Latin botanical names to identify over 18 different herbs.

We are renting the greenhouse, providing gas heat, and setting up benches to prepare for growing the Hmong Transplant Seedlings.

Make a history of how each herb has been grown organically and document. Make plant markers with photo and Latin names for herbs.

Continue to research more herbs used for Hmong medicinal purposes and see if Dr. Hassel is willing to identify some of the herbs used to help prevent diabetes.

Work with assembling a Hmong cookbook specific to Hmong Herbs.

Incorporate research findings into Mhonpaj’s Garden Website.

Outreach to regular museums and more farmers. Also participate with Ramsey County Master Gardener Program.

Mill City Museum- We are invited to go back again this upcoming year for a Hmong Vegetable and Herb demonstration along with a display of research. Expecting 300+ people.

Roseville Arboreteum 20-30 people: Still setting up a meeting with coordinator to discuss Arboreteum incorporation of Hmong herbs. Scavanger hunt of Hmong herbs for families.

Open up greenhouses and organic farmland for Minnesota Food Association Tour for individuals and families.