Growing up, I can always count on finding an accompanying plate of “râu sống” and/or “râu thơm” at practically every meal I ever had. The phrase “râu sống” literally translates to raw vegetables. “Râu thơm” is literal for fragrant vegetables. My limited understanding of this is that “râu sống” represents basically all the leafy greens like lettuces, Chinese cabbages, mustard greens that are eaten raw and that includes all the herbs. But “Râu thơm” is just the herbs and maybe fragrant vegetables like chrysanthemum greens-tần ô or tong o in Chinese. In any case, this ubiquitous plate of “râu sống” is never a front and center piece of a Vietnamese meal but is an important complement. It won’t take away from the main course but only serves to elevate the gustatory pleasures for our tastebuds. The following list highlights all the “râu thơm” I presently have in my garden. I will go into further details on how to grow, care and eat each herb as part of a series in the growing guides coming soon!
Botanical Name: Mentha spicata “Mojito Mint” and “Kentucky Colonel Mint”
Common Names: Garden mint and common mint
Flavor Profile: Minty and herbaceous but milder and sweeter than peppermint from the presence of compound carvone and lower menthol content.
Spearmint is a perennial herbaceous plant that got its name “spear”mint from the pointed leaf tips and is spread by underground rhizome. They do best in well drained and rich soil but will adapt to any type of soil conditions.
Botanical Name: Mentha piperita “Candy Mint” and “Chocolate Mint”
Common Names: Pepper mint
Flavor Profile: Minty, cooling and refreshing mentholic
Brief Description: Peppermint is a hybrid mint, a cross between watermint and spearmint. It doesn’t produce viable seeds and is propagated by cuttings. Mints generally prefer well drained and rich soil. They prefer full sun or partial shade. Sun helps mint develop flavor and essential oils. When there’s too much shade, the flavor suffers, the stems get lanky and prone to disease.
Dấp Cá-Fish mint
Botanical Name: Houttuynia cordata
Common Names: fish mint, fish leaf, chameleon plant, and fish wort
Flavor Profile: Lemony and “fishy”
Fish mint is a herbaceous perennial plant with alternate and heart-shaped leaves that thrives in moist soil with partial or full sun. It can be easily propagate from cuttings. It can easily take over a garden space because their roots run deep and can regrow from any segments of the plant.
Râu Râm-Vietnamese Coriander
Botanical Name: Persicaria odorata
Common Names: Vietnamese coriander, Vietnamese cilantro, phak phai, hot mint and Cambodian mint
Flavor Profile: Grassy herbaceous aroma with a citrusy and peppery taste.
Brief Description: Vietnamese coriander is a perennial plant that is native to Southeast Asia. It is fast growing plant that prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It grows best in tropical and subtropical zones in warm and damp conditions. The leaves are primarily used fresh in salads and spring rolls.
Botanical Name: Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora
Common Names: Thai basil
Flavor Profile: Anise and licorice like and slightly spicy
Brief Description: Thai basil is a variety of sweet basil that is widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine. It has small, narrow leaves, purple stems, and pink-purple flowers and is more stable under high temperatures than sweet basil. It can be grown from seed or cuttings. It can be grown year round in Miami, requires fertile, well-draining soil and 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight per day. Thai basil is harvested as needed, prune back periodically to encourage regrowth as well as pinching the flower heads to prevent the leaves from becoming bitter.
Botanical Name: Perilla frutescens
Common Names: Rau Tia To, Tia To, Dulketip, Kkaennip, Kkaennip Namul, Tulkkae, Jiso, Oba, Gee So, Zi Su, Shiso, Beefsteak Plant, Sesame Leaf
Flavor Profile: A blend of coriander, cinnamon and citrus
Brief Description: Tía Tô is a herb with bicolor leaves from the mint family Lamiaceae. It is commonly used as garnish with rice vermicelli noodles, salads, soups or stir fried dishes in Vietnamese cuisine. Tia to can be easily propagated from cuttings as well as seeds. Important to note that tia to seeds require sunlight to germinate and keep soil moist until germination. In frost free zone like Miami, they self sow very readily.
Râu Cần Nước-Water Celery
Botanical Name: Oenanthe javanica
Common Names: Java water dropwort, water dropwort, edible dropwort, minari (Korean), and seri (Japanese)
Flavor Profile: Mild herbaceous flavor reminiscent of carrot and parsley.
Brief Description: Râu Cần Nước-Water Celery belongs to the oenanthe genus of plants from the Apiaceae family. This genus of plants includes carrots but also some of the most poisonous plants namely hemlock. However, all parts of water celery is edible and is cultivated as vegetable in many different cultures. It is a low-growing, herbaceous perennial that thrives in wet moist conditions like marshes and ditches. It grows well in both full sun and shade although will more likely to flower only in full sun.
Râu Ôm-Rice Paddy Herb
Botanical Name: Limnophila aromatica
Common Names: Ngo Om, Rice Paddy Herb, Phak Kayang, Shiso-kusa, Zi Su Cao
Flavor Profile: Refreshing, citrusy, and herbaceous aroma with undertones of sweet cumin and curry flavor.
Brief Description: Râu Ôm is a tropical, perennial plant belonging to the Plantaginaceae or plantain family. It is native to Southeast Asia, where it grows primarily in semi-aquatic conditions, specifically rice fields. It can be easily grown from cuttings. Put cuttings in a deep cup or jar of water and leave it for a few days to develop roots. Plant it out in potting soil when there is enough roots. It does well potted and in partial shade.
Botanical Name: Eryngium foetidum
Common Names: Culantro, Puerto Rican coriander, sawtooth coriander, Mexican coriander, ngò gai, bhandhania,recao and eryngo
Flavor Profile: Herbaceous, citrusy, and grassy stronger flavor and hardier cousin of cilantro
Brief Description: Culantro is a cilantro-like herb commonly grown in Asia, Caribbean and Central America. Both cilantro and culantro are from the same plant family Apiaceae but their similarity stops at having slightly similar fragrant. Culantro thrives in Miami’s hot and humid weather making it a great substitute for cilantro during our brutal summer. Culantro does carry a much more pungent flavor. It has long and pointed serrated leaves. Because the leaves are more aromatic and tougher, culantro also retains its flavor better when dried and can be added while cooking.
Râu Khinh Giới-Vietnamese Balm
Botanical Name: Elsholtzia ciliata
Common Names: Vietnamese Lemon Balm, Vietnamese Lemon Mint
Flavor Profile: Minty and lemony
Brief Description: Râu Khinh Giới or Vietnamese balm is tender perennial with vibrant green serrated leaves from the mint family. It is easily propagated from cuttings as well as from seeds. In Vietnamese cuisine, it is often eaten raw alongside rice vermicelli noodles, spring rolls, salads and soups.
Botanical Name: Anthenum graveolens
Common Names: Dill
Flavor Profile: Fresh sweet herbaceous anise like flavor with some licorice
Brief Description: Dill is an annual herb with fine threadlike leaves from the celery family Apiaceae. Both leaves and seeds are used to flavor foods. In Vietnamese cuisine, the use of dill is regional and is mostly found in Northern cooking. Dill thrives in full sun and well drained soil rich in organic matters.
Botanical Name: Coriandrum sativum
Common Names: Coriander and Chinese parsley
Flavor Profile: Tangy citrusy and grassy flavor. For some with the gene that detects certain aldehyde compounds, cilantro has a floral soap taste.
Brief Description: Cilantro is an annual herb with feathery leaves from the carrot family Apiaceae. Cilantro leaves and seeds are most commonly used although all parts of it are edible from flowers to roots. It prefers full sun to partial shade and well drained soil rich with organic matters. Cilantro is a fast grower that can be harvest in about month. It’s best to direct sow cilantro since their taproot doesn’t transplant well.
Botanical Name: Allium tuberosum
Common Names: Oriental garlic, Asian chives, Chinese chives, Chinese leek
Flavor Profile: A mix of garlic and onion
Brief Description: Garlic Chive is clump-forming perennial plant with green, flat and wide leaves that grow all year round in Miami with little care and unbothered by the extreme temperatures and pest. They are easy to grow from seeds or dividing the clumps.
Lá Lốt-Wild Betel Leaf
Botanical Name: Piper sarmentosum
Common Names: Lolot pepper, chaphlu, japloo, phak i leu, pokok kadok, lá lốt
Flavor Profile: Unique peppery and herbaceous flavor
Brief Description: La lot is a plant from the Piperaceae family that is commonly used in many Southeast Asian cuisines. It is often confused with betel, Piper betle, which is also from the Piperaceae family but is commonly used as a wrap for chewing with areca nut or tobacco. La lot is a perennial herb with creeping rhizomes and thin heart-shaped leaves. It isn’t particular about soil, thrives in shade and partial shade and is virtually pest free.