Vietnamese Mint or Coriander or Laksa Leaf or...?
“If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.”
Language is the tool of communication and like any tool should be used correctly. All who use the tool need to understand and use it – correctly!
Botanists use the Latin name of a plant to identify and categorise it. Over the centuries these names have been reviewed and refined such that when they discuss a plant there is no confusion over which plant they are talking about. The general public however, uses a range of common names that relate to where a plant comes from, its morphology or its flavour – or any of a multitude of other characteristics. One plant can have multiple common names in each language which gives tens or even hundreds of names for each plant. To make it worse one name can refer to several completely different plants.
As discussed in an earlier article ‘Coriander’ is a flavour that manifests itself in many plants across completely different genera from completely different countries. Every plant with this flavour has ‘Coriander’ in the common name even though this is only one part of all the different items that make up the plant.
Vietnamese Coriander is a popular herb in Asia. The coriander flavour is a key component of most Asian cuisines. It is a strong flavour that adds aromatics and complexity to a variety of dishes. The flavour usually comes from traditional Coriander (Cilantro, Asian Parsley) but for many heavier dishes, like Laksa the herb doesn’t holds its flavour through the whole dish.
The Latin name is Persicaria odorata or Polgonum odoratum.
It is in the Family Polygonaceae and the genus is Persicaria. Being in this family means it has many physiological aspects that are common to all plants in this family which includes constituent oils and compounds that have been shown to benefit our health. When these are compared to the historical medical uses of both western and eastern medicine the correlation to modern pharmacological knowledge is stunning.
The genus name, Persicaria refers to a large group of plants known as Smartweeds. They occur across the whole planet and some species are viewed as serious weeds. They are attractive perennials with a long history in western landscapes and usually have pretty upright flowers, and are low growing shrubs with attractive foliage. There is also a lot of literature on its uses in Asian and Ayurvedic medicine.
Persicaria odorata is the only species that has made its way into the the western palette of edible and medicinal plants. It has a strong coriander flavour with overtones of mint and pepper. Unlike its namesake it can be used at all stages of cooking. The fresh young leaves are great to give an aromatic lift to salads and stirfries. The tougher, old leaves have a more bitter flavour and work well in the more intense dishes like Curry Laksa.
The common names are interesting: Laksa Leaf has some sense due to its use in the production of Curry Laksa. The names Vietnamese Mint and Vietnamese Coriander seem a little illogical as the plant originates across the whole of South East Asia and is as important in the cuisine of Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia as it is to the Vietnamese. The ‘mint’ reference seems to be related to its mint like love of part sun and very moist conditions.
The plant likes a part to full sun position with plenty of moisture, especially during the warmer months. It produces masses of jointed rhizomes and can be slightly invasive so should be planted in a contained garden bed. It should be cut back hard in late spring and the young leaves harvested regularly. Although best used in Asian dishes it can be used as a substitute for Common Coriander in pesto, salsa and dressings. It also doesn’t have the problem of bolting to seed.
To conclude, this plant like many that are used across Asia has a mass of different names.
A few of these are:
Persicare du Vietnam
Plus many more.
For an added zip toss in half a dozen small leaves into a traditional green salad.