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Polygonum odoratumVietnamese Cilantro

Selected plant size: 3-inch pot

Polygonum odoratum Vietnamese Cilantro image

Polygonum odoratumVietnamese Cilantro

Selected plant size: 3-inch pot

About this plant

6 Inches
Perennial in Zones 10-11
Flower Color
Full/Part Sun, Evergreen
Culinary, Fragrant, Ground Cover,

Growing & using Vietnamese Cilantro

Polygonum odoratum Vietnamese Cilantro

Vietnamese Cilantro, also called Vietnamese Coriander and Rau Ram is one of those mysterious and exotic herbs. A pretty little plant in the knotweed family, Polygonum, it is often used in Vietnam interchangeably with peppermint and what we would call normal Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum. And, while we may be most familiar with normal Cilantro in Salsa, it is used in many different ways throughout the world.

There are three fairly well known plants that sport the ‘Cilantro’ flavor. Besides Cilantro, and Vietnamese Cilantro, there is also Culantro, Eryngium foetidium. And while not identical in flavor to Coriandrum sativum, Vietnamese Cilantro is by far the easiest to grow.

Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum, is a cool weather annual that does best when directly seeded. You can sow it in pots or directly into the ground in late winter. It can be transplanted but take care to do so gently. Any stress causes the plants to produce flowers. And, even though you may want to harvest the coriander seed, a three inch tall stressed out plant doesn’t do a thing but die after it flowers.

Culantro, Eryngium foetidium, is a hot weather perennial that dies at 32 degrees. The flavor is identical to Cilantro, but it is a thistle and that means thinking outside the box. This is not an easy plant to grow but we do offer it on occasion, usually in the late spring or early summer. The species name foetidium means ” foul smelling”, which is how a lot of folks feel about the aroma of Cilantro. You either love it or can’t stand it, although some do come to love it after living with it for a while.

Vietnamese Cilantro, Polygonum odoratum, is also a hot weather perennial that dies at 32 degrees. Grown in a large container through the growing season, it can be brought into a well lit, warm room before the first frost. The genus name Polygonum refers to the many sections of the stems which grow coarsely from joint to joint. It grows rapidly and can outgrow its container quickly. When this happens, the plant stops producing the lettuce like leaves and needs to be transplanted to a larger pot or broken up and repotted. This can happen several times in one season, depending on the size of the original container and the growing conditions. An understory ground cover, Vietnamese Cilantro grows best with afternoon shade or all day filtered shade and plenty of water.

The dark green, maroon- blotched leaves with their burgundy underside are ( also like lettuce) used fresh. As the recipe below, for Hue Chicken Salad from the nationally acclaimed Lemon Grass Restaurant shows, Vietnamese Cilantro can be used in place of Cilantro or Mint in most Vietnamese recipes. The leaves have the best flavor when they are young. As they age, they become tough and leathery and a bit acrid. The plant may be cut back to the ground at any time during the growing season to produce more fresh young leaves. If after cutting back, the plant seems to be slow on the rebound, it probably needs to repotted or divided.

Any plant that can provide copious amounts of healthy, flavor filled greens is a good candidate for my herb garden. That it is so easy to grow makes it a real sweetheart.

Hue Chicken Salad (ga bop)

Tasty served with an ice cold beer!

  • 1/2 whole chicken, thigh and leg scored for faster cooking
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, lightly toasted in a pan and ground,
  • or 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 small yellow onion, sliced paper-thin, rinsed (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 Thai bird chilies or 1 serrano chili, chopped or to taste (optional)
  • 1 cup loosely packed rau ram (Vietnamese Cilantro) leaves or mint leaves
  • 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 butter lettuce leaves, preferably inner leaves

Serves 4

The two most critical ingredients in this recipe are the chicken, which must be juicy and cooked just right, and the rau ram, which must be used liberally. In Hue, the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam where this dish originated, ga bop is served as a snack with beer or as a side to chao ga (chicken rice soup). To me it’s delicious served any way, even with just a bowl of steamed rice!

This technique for cooking the chicken is based on the Chinese method of submerging a whole bird in boiling water. This simple method produces moist, succulent chicken every single time.

  1. Fill a pot with 2 quarts water and bring to vigorous boil. Add the chicken and bring it back to another boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the chicken sit in the pot, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken and set it aside to cool.
  2. Remove and discard the skin and bones from the chicken. Hand shred the meat into 1/4 inch thick strips and transfer to a mixing bowl.
  3. Add the black pepper, salt and sugar and gently massage into the chicken. Add the lime juice, onions, chilies, rau ram and oil and toss gently. To serve, line a serving plate with the butter lettuce and place the chicken on top.

Many thanks to Mai Pham for her permission to reprint this recipe.
This and many more delectable Vietnamese delights can be found in her cookbook The Best of Vietnamese & Thai Cooking: Favorite Recipes from Lemon Grass Restaurant and Cafe.

Vietnamese Cilantro is one of the six plants included in our International Herb Garden Six Pack. It would also make a great addition to our Gourmet Herb Garden Six Pack.

This plant is often available in plug trays. These trays hold 128 of all the same plant. They are a great low cost way to fill a lot of space. Each cell is 3/4 of inch by an inch. Check here to see if Vietnamese Cilantro Plug Trays are available.