Pueraria mirifica – Women’s ginseng in Vietnam
Pueraria mirifica or Pueraria candollei var. mirifica (Vietnamese: sâm tố nữ) is a plant with tuberous roots similar to jicama roots. The plant is thought to be indigenous to northern Thailand and Myanmar. However, it turns out the plant is native to mountainous region in northern Vietnam as well. Locals consider the plant as a wild kudzu with round tubers (called sắn dây củ tròn). (The commom kudzu plant in Vietnam is Pueraria thomsonii).
In 2011, during a survey in a village of Son La province, an officer of the National Institute of Medicinal Materials named Ngô Văn Trại discovered Pueraria mirifica there. Fllowing further researches on this plant, Vietnamese scientists also discovered that the plant is also distributed in the northwestern provinces of Vietnam such as Sơn La, Yên Bái, Tuyên Quang and some mountainous districts of Nghệ An and Thanh Hóa provinces.
In Vietnamese, “sâm tố nữ” means “gingseng for beautiful women”. Women of the Thái ethnic people (not to be confused with those in Thailand) are known to use the roots regulary to cover their face, drink the root juice to keep their long hair, smooth skin, slim waist. Pueraria mirifica is nown known to have high amount of phytoestrogen and possesses anticancer activity.
In the wild, due to the limited quantity and the medicinal benefits, Pueraria mirifica is expensive. If you are lucky enough to dig in small quantities, many people often do not sell but turn them into dishes. The most common cooking method is boiling or steaming.
The plant is now commercially cultivated to be eaten fresh or processed into commercial beauty products. Of course, the customers are mainly women.