Pluchea indica – the Indian camphorweed
Pluchea indica is a species of flowering shrub fof the genus Pluchea in the aster family, Asteraceae. In northern and central Vietnam, the plant grows naturally in the countryside, and people also cultivate it as a hedge. Its common name in Vietnamese is cúc tần.
- Family: Asteraceae
- Genus: Pluchea
- Species: Pluchea indica
- English name: Indian pluchea, Indian camphorweed, Indian fleabane
- Vietnamese name: cúc tần, từ bi, đại bi, băng phiến ngải
Pluchea indica is similar to another medicinal herb named Blumea balsamifera (Ngai Camphor), which is also in the same aster family, Asteraceae. The latter has longer leaves. Traditional folk medicine practitioners might use the plant to cure fever, cough, bone and joint disease, hemorrhoids, kidney stones. The leaves of the Indian camphorweed can be used along with other herbs in herbal sauna. Like the ngai camphor, the Indian camphorweed can also be cooked in a medicinal soup with pork brain.
The use of the Indian camphorweed in cooking is fairly common in the countryside where the leaves can be harvested. Its leaves have a bitter taste, and somewhat the smell of camphor like its name suggests. Normally, you cannot eat those leaves alone, but the leaves can be cooked in many ways. Like matcha powder, the cúc tần leaves, can be mixed with (glutinous) rice flour and make a cúc tần rice cake (Vietnamese: bánh nếp cúc tần) – or you can say camphorweed cake.
To make this camphorweed rice cake, glutinous rice four is mixed with ground camphorweed leaves (with some salt) to make the dough. In the sweet version, the filling is made of ground cooked mung beans and sugar. And in the savoury version, it’s a mixture of pork, ear-wood fungi, sauteed spring scallions. The cake is cooked by either steaming or frying.
Alternately, the Indian camphorweed is paired with fish in several steam or braise dish. The bitter taste will contribute to the full-taste dishes, i.e. sourness, hotness, saltiness, sweetness, and bitterness. Moreover, those leaves also help dispel the fishy smell, to some extent. Some types of fish often cooked with this camphorweed are: grass carp, crucian carp, mudskipper.