Sunday, May 11, 2014

Nước rau má | Yo Mama's pennywort juice (Gotu Kola)

Word to Yo Mutha

Uống nước nhớ nguồn
Drink water, remember the source
Ơn Nghĩa Sinh Thãnh by my favorite Viet singer Hoàng Lan

In honor of Mother's Day, I'm posting a recipe for a beverage that your mother approved.

Rau má | "mother's herb"*--alias Centella asiaticapennywortgotu kola/mandukaparni (Ayurvedic), 
崩大碗 ("chipped big bowl" TCM) not Lei Gong Teng/雷公藤 (important correction below)**  is a powerful herbal cure-all that has been called the "elixir of life."  (The many other names of pennywort throughout Asia.)
Apart from wound healing, the herb is recommended for the treatment of various skin conditions such as leprosy, lupus, varicose ulcers, eczema, psoriasis, diarrhoea, fever, amenorrhea, diseases of the female genitourinary tract and also for relieving anxiety and improving cognition. [Source]
"yo mama's so wise that Yoda calls her for advice"

Centella asiatica (rau má , pennywort, lei gong teng, gotu kola)
Influenced by Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, in Viet folk medicine--which is based on humoral theory--the body is governed by gió mát (âm)|cooling winds (yin) and gió nóng (duơng)|hot winds (yang) humors.  In this folk medicine belief and practices, food is medicinal and is governed by these properties.  If your body is suffering from too much yang-heat, you consume yin-cooling foods and drinks to balance yourself to homeostasis.

Nước rau má is a popular juice made from a wetland medicinal herb native to Asia and is widely used in AyurvedicTraditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and South African/Madagascar healing modalities.  It is considered a cooling drink in thuốc Nam | Viet folk medicine (versus thuốc Bắc or Chinese medicine).  

Rich with chlorophyll, vitamins, and minerals, rau má is mild adaptogen, is mildly antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcerogenic, anxiolytic, a cerebral tonic, a circulatory stimulant, a diuretic, nervine and vulnerary.  It's being researched as a potent anti-cancer medicine.
Active ingredients are asiaticoside (a triterpene glycoside) (triterpenoid), brahmoside and brahminoside (both saponin glycosides), madecassoside (a glycoside with strong anti-inflammatory properties), madecassic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine, vitamin K, asparate, glutamate, serine, threonine, alanine, lysine, histidine, magnesium, calcium and sodium. ... high concentration of thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2) and pyridoxine (vitamin B6).  (Source)
Though I've drank it throughout my life, I first
 encountered its folk medicinal purpose when I was doing ethnographic fieldwork in Vietnam in 2000.  Between my daily cà-phê sữa đá, chronic dehydration, and the tropical heat, inevitably I started to experience a mild urinary tract infection considered nóng | hot-yang in the the Viet folk system. Though I had brought all purpose international travel antibiotics (this is back when antibiotics were given out like candy), I was reluctant to use them.  My aunty (a real aunty, not the fictive kin that white anthropologists love to claim adopted them, not understanding that in kin-relational languages lacking a 2nd person pronoun like "YOU", if one is not kin, one doesn't exist; and since one can't not exist, one is assigned a kinship pronoun, not adopted.  If one was really adopted, one would have family obligations like getting random phone calls every few weeks to fix this that and the other and to cook/buy/make/deliver this that and the other for such and such relation even when one lives 500 miles away.  Not that I mind because I adore my phamily.  Ahem)--So my aunty ran out to the market and returned with a bunch of rau má.  With one glass, the infection was gone.

Shaken, not shtirred.
The other week, as I was suffering from some "hot wind" (...) and the heat wave, my MIL picked up some rau má at Vietnamese market for me.  The leaf is astringent tasting and the juice is not pleasant in and of itself. Typically this is served with a grip of sugar to counter the astringency.  Since I am low to no sugar, my MIL suggested coconut water as complementary cooling liquid.

Lacking fancier juice extraction equipment I used my handy dandy Cuisinart immersion blender (bought on clearance from Sur le table) to pulverise it with some water and then used a nut bag to strain it.  This left a little fine debris so next time I would use a cheesecloth instead.  I tried some as a straight shot.  Regretted it.  Gave some to my husband as a straight shot because I like to share the joy.  Haha.  Wish I took a photo of his face the moment it hit his tongue.  Tried some with Stannard Farms organic grade B maple syrup.  Then I remembered I had some with some Trader Joe's coconut water which was a vast improvement.  (I also have some fresh coconuts that I froze in the deep freeze--note: do not freeze coconuts ever again--but didn't have the patience to partially defrost them and macguyver a filtering system so that the semi cracked coconut didn't melt everywhere.) Then for the remainder, I just poured it into my daily, organic herbal infusion of red raspberry leaves, stinging nettle and red clover with a teaspoon of himalayan sea salt.  It's really quite uh, special.  The things one gets used to...  After lingering for a week and a half despite cranberry juice, bearberry/cranberry/mannose extract supplements up the wazoo (I haven't done antibiotics in over 14 yrs), my "hot wind" cleared up with 2 days of drinking r
au má.

I recommend using coconut water to blend the rau má, fresh if you can source the young coconuts or use your preferred brand of the bottled/boxed kind.  The more coconut water you add, the more you dilute the astringency.

We've become so accustomed in our (post-) modern, consumer-driven society to consuming our nutrients in pill form as concentrated, isolated elements.  This is not how our biological systems optimally function.  It is best to get our nutrients from whole foods.  Prepared correctly within its cultural context/foodways, medicinal herbs are an excellent way to obtain these nutrients.  

Before you run off and start adding this to your chia-goji-quinoa-dragon fruit-blue green algae-superfood smoothie, keep in mind: Like any medicinal plant, pennywort is best to drink in moderation and not on a ongoing, daily basis. There is conflicting info about using this herb during pregnancy and breastfeeding mostly because no one has officially studied its use in mothers (this is true of most herbal remedies even when folk medicinal practices do condone it during the childbearing year).  Use your own common sense.

Straight up now tell me do you want to love me forever?  Woah oh oh! Or are you just having fun?

Word to the Mutha!

Aaaaaaand... I couldn't resist Mr. T's rap about yo mama.

*I'm not clear on the etymological/ethnobotanical origins of Rau má which translates as "mother's herb".  Some Western herbalists purport that it aids in breastfeeding.  I haven't heard of any mother-specific uses in Viet folk medicine, but then I've never investigated it.

** I've been informed by a careful reader that Lei Gong Gen | Thunder God Vine is actually a different TCM plant Tripterygium wilfordii that is mistakenly attributed as Pennywort and is toxic if not consumed properly.  Thanks, Hai for catching that!

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