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Cook With Chicken, Makes Body Strong

Photo of Song.

While visiting one of the local greenhouses that supply the Friends School Plant Sale, Henry found a plant he had never seen before. But when he showed it to the head grower, she said, “Oh, those are Song’s plants.”

Luckily for Henry, Song is the only Hmong employee at the greenhouse who speaks English.

She called the plant “cook with chicken, makes body strong.” She said in white Hmong the name translates to “duck foot.” It looks a little like celery and has a pleasant taste and aroma. It’s is used in dishes such as spicy wedding chicken and a chicken stew made for women who have just given birth.

Song said it’s a perennial, but only likely to survive our winters with heroic protection. She got it from her sister in California.

Knowing that the Friends School Plant Sale was in the midst of expanding our offering of herbs and vegetables from Asian and other world cooking traditions, Henry tried to find out more.

But he found that there’s very little info about Hmong plants available, including at libraries. He visited the Hmong ABC bookstore on University Avenue, where a helpful young man assured it was indeed “cook with chicken, makes body strong,” but he knew no more about it than that. He said to ask an elder, saying, “Any elder would know.”

Henry went to the Hmong library and cultural center where the librarian introduced him to a roomful of elders. They all agreed the plant was “cook with…,” and Henry learned it is not actually one plant at all, but several that are combined and cooked together with chicken. He also found out that Hmong writing cannot be sounded out using American phonetics.

The plant Henry had first seen is called: ko taw qos liab.The newly released Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America calls this koj liab. “Liab” is pronounced like the name “Leah,” and it means red. The Hmong have one word for red and it covers all the reddish hues including pink and purple. The plant has purple stems.

Green leaves of the herb ko taw qos liab
Ko taw qos liab

A second herb that Song said fit into the same “common” name was chuaj rog (tshuaj rog in the Hmong cookbook). Henry couldn’t figure out how to write it phonetically. The first word is pronounced choo (not like a train but with the oo from hook), while the second starts with a “t” sound but does not rhyme with dog. This name means “fat medicine” in English (because it’s used to improve appetite). It comes in three different colors, green, red and white.

Green leaves with red stems of the Hmong herb chuaj rog
chuaj rog

In addition to the plants from Song, we also found out about a few of the other herbs that are part of the Cook with Chicken, Makes Body Strong medley, and will have them at the sale:

ntiv — also called sweet fern (not the same as the North American native sweetfern).

licorice flag, Acorus gramineus, whose Hmong name is pawj qaib (pronounced pakai)

All of these plants can be found in the Herbs at H036. We assume they would like full sun for best growth. Their heights are a bit unknown to us.

(According to Cooking from the Heart, another herb that is traditionally used as part of Cook with Chicken, Makes Body Strong is one of our local “weeds,” the common day flower. We won’t have that at the sale, but you may have it growing in your yard!)

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