Ant-plants in Vietnam
“Ant-plant” is an umbrella term for several plants that form symbiotic associations with ants. Usually, these plants bear big tubers where ants can build their colonies. Ant-plants can also be used both as bonsai or medicinal plants. In Vietnamese, such plants are called cây tổ kiến, or cây ổ kiến (common names, literally means “ant colony plant”), or bí kỳ nam (medicinal name). These plants usually grow only on the trunks of other trees, but they do not feed on the host plants like parasitic plants (like mistloes), but they only cling to the hollows of the trunk to grow independently.
There are two common ant-plants in Vietnam: common ant-plant (Hydnophytum formicarum) and prickly ant-plant (Myrmecodia tuberosa, synonym Myrmecodia armata).
Previously, ant-plants in Vietnam only grown in the wild and are harvested for their rhizomes to be used as a medicinal herbs. Vietnamese traditional medicine practitioners believe ant-plant can be used as a treatment of liver diseases like hepatitis, jaundice and several kidney diseases. A quick glance at US National Library of Medicine or PubMed suggests that both Hydnophytum formicarum and Myrmecodia tuberosa have antimicrobial effects.
The ant-plant tubers can also be submerged in Vietnamese rice liquor to make tonic medicinal wine. Ant-plant wine is more popular to Vietnamese men, because it is believed to be good for the body, especially in moderate doses. To make ant-plant wine, submerge 350 g dried sliced ant-plant tuber with 1 liter of rice wine of 40% ABV. Both glutinous rice wine, or plain rice wine can be sued, but one should not ignore bottled white wine because it will not bring out the natural flavor.