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Houttuynia Herb: Exploring its Folklore and Cultural Significance in Asia


Houttuynia cordata, commonly known as Houttuynia herb or Chameleon Plant, holds a special place in the hearts and cultures of various Asian countries. Beyond its culinary and medicinal uses, this versatile herb has deep-rooted folklore and cultural significance. In this article, we embark on a journey to explore the captivating tales, traditions, and symbolic meanings associated with Houttuynia herb in Asia. From its role in ancient legends to its presence in festivals and rituals, Houttuynia herb offers a fascinating glimpse into the rich tapestry of Asian cultures.


Houttuynia cordata, with its vibrant green leaves and distinctive aroma, is not merely a herb in Asian cultures; it is a symbol of tradition, folklore, and cultural significance. From ancient legends to culinary customs, Houttuynia herb has woven itself into the fabric of Asian societies, leaving an indelible mark on their stories and traditions. This article aims to unravel the tales and cultural significance surrounding Houttuynia herb in various Asian countries, shedding light on its multifaceted role in the region's heritage.

The Legend of Houttuynia Herb

China: The Tale of Star-Crossed Lovers

In Chinese folklore, Houttuynia herb is linked to a tragic love story known as the "Butterfly Lovers" or "Liang Zhu" (梁祝). This legend tells the tale of Liang Shanbo, a scholar, and Zhu Yingtai, a young woman who disguises herself as a man to pursue an education. During their time together as classmates, Liang falls deeply in love with Zhu but is unaware of her true identity.

Tragedy strikes when Zhu's identity is revealed, and she is betrothed to another man. Liang dies of a broken heart, and at his graveside, a beautiful plant with heart-shaped leaves, believed to be Houttuynia herb, begins to grow. The plant is said to symbolize the enduring love and tragic separation of the two lovers.

Korea: The Transformation of Eoduksan

In Korean folklore, Houttuynia herb, known as Eoduksan (어둑산), is associated with a fascinating legend of transformation. According to this legend, Eoduksan was originally a chameleon that transformed into a beautiful woman to escape captivity. However, she longed to return to her chameleon form to see her family again.

One day, she meets a kind-hearted man who helps her return to her chameleon form. In gratitude, she leaves behind a plant with heart-shaped leaves, which is believed to be Houttuynia herb. This herb came to be known as Eoduksan, a tribute to the chameleon woman's transformation.

Vietnam: The Tale of Fish Mint and the Dragon King's Daughter

In Vietnamese folklore, Houttuynia herb, called Rau Dấp Cá, is linked to the legend of the Dragon King's Daughter. According to the legend, a Dragon King had a beautiful daughter who fell in love with a mortal man. Their love was forbidden, and as punishment, the Dragon King transformed his daughter into a fish and cast her into a river.

Over time, a fisherman caught the fish, and when he opened it, he found a beautiful plant with heart-shaped leaves inside. He planted this mysterious plant, which grew into what we now know as Houttuynia herb. The plant's name, Rau Dấp Cá, translates to "fish mint," in reference to its origin from the fish.

Cultural Significance and Traditional Uses

China: Spring Festivals and Herbal Medicine

In China, Houttuynia herb is celebrated during the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day. Families visit the graves of their ancestors to pay respects and clean the burial sites. Houttuynia leaves are sometimes placed on graves as a symbol of remembrance and renewal.

Additionally, Houttuynia cordata has a long history of use in Chinese traditional medicine. It is believed to have detoxifying properties and is used to treat various ailments, including infections and inflammation.

Korea: Culinary Delight and Medicinal Uses

Korean cuisine prominently features Houttuynia herb, known as Eoduksan, in dishes like naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles) and jeon (savory pancakes). Its fresh, peppery taste adds a unique dimension to Korean culinary traditions.

In traditional Korean medicine, Eoduksan is valued for its potential health benefits, including its role in reducing inflammation and aiding digestion.

Vietnam: A Flavorful Culinary Ingredient

Vietnamese cuisine incorporates Houttuynia herb, or Rau Dấp Cá, in various dishes, especially salads and spring rolls. Its peppery flavor and refreshing aroma enhance the taste of these dishes.

Beyond its culinary applications, Rau Dấp Cá is believed to have detoxifying properties and is used in Vietnamese traditional medicine.

Contemporary Uses and Festivals

Today, Houttuynia herb continues to play a significant role in Asian cultures, not only in culinary traditions but also in festivals and rituals:

China: Qingming Festival and Tomb-Sweeping Day

During the Qingming Festival, which typically falls in early April, families visit the graves of their ancestors to honor them. It is a time of remembrance and reflection, and Houttuynia leaves are sometimes placed on graves as a symbol of renewal and the enduring cycle of life.

Korea: Houttuynia Festival

In Korea, there is a regional Houttuynia Festival that celebrates the herb's cultural and culinary significance. The festival includes various events, including food tastings, cultural performances, and exhibitions.

Vietnam: Houttuynia Festival in Chợ Lách

The Chợ Lách district in Vietnam hosts an annual Houttuynia Festival, celebrating the herb's role in local culture and cuisine. The festival features culinary competitions, cultural performances, and displays of Houttuynia-related products.

Symbolism and Significance

Beyond its folklore and specific cultural uses, Houttuynia herb carries broader symbolic meanings in Asian cultures:

1. Love and Separation: Houttuynia herb is often associated with love stories and tragic separations, symbolizing the enduring nature of love and the inevitability of parting.

2. Transformation: In Korean folklore, Houttuynia herb represents transformation and the idea that beauty can emerge from unexpected places.

3. Renewal: In China, the placement of Houttuynia leaves on graves during the Qingming Festival signifies renewal, both in the natural world and in the memory of loved ones.

4. Culinary Tradition: Across Asia, Houttuynia herb symbolizes the rich culinary traditions of the region, adding depth and character to dishes.


Houttuynia cordata, known as Houttuynia herb, transcends its role as a culinary and medicinal ingredient in Asia. Its deep-rooted folklore, legends, and cultural significance reveal a profound connection between nature and human imagination. From the tragic love stories of China to the transformative tales of Korea and the symbolic meanings in Vietnam, Houttuynia herb is a testament to the power of plants to inspire and shape the cultures of Asia. As it continues to be celebrated in festivals, rituals, and kitchens across the continent, Houttuynia herb serves as a living link between the past and present, reminding us of the enduring heritage of Asian cultures.

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