Post by Garden Director, Reba Luiken with photos by Intern, Lauren Jenny
This summer, our kitchen garden features plants from three local communities: Hmong, American Indian, and African Diaspora. Today’s post features the Hmong part of this garden.
The plants in this garden were all suggested by members of the local Hmong community. With the help of Yimmuaj Yang at Groundswell Conservancy, I met with local Hmong elders this spring to discuss possible plants for the garden. They agreed that herbs used in their Chicken Soup for New Mothers were the most unique and best representation of Hmong gardening. They sent me a list of plants to purchase including the names of the plants in Hmong and pictures.
In late May, a Hmong farmer had a pop-up farmstand where Nou Thao who works at Rooted helped me to select plants for our garden. Nou and Hmong elders who were shopping at the market steered me toward the right plants, added a few additional plants to my list, and made sure I didn’t buy too many. A few of the plants, like lemongrass, were familiar to me, but many I have not seen or used before.
Below is the list of Hmong plants we have this year. You will notice that some of these plants do not have English names and for others, I haven’t even been able to find a Latin name!
Most of these plants are used as part of the Hmong Chicken Soup eaten to recover after childbirth. While it is also a healthy soup eaten by Hmongs at many times, most of these herbs have special characteristics that help with recovery from childbirth and keeping a new baby healthy.
Hmong cooks usually follow traditional recipes, which means they make things the way they were taught by their elders and do not use written recipes or standard methods of measure. Although Chicken Soup with Hmong Herbs is a common dish among the Hmong community, recipes can vary greatly from person to person.
Here is an example of one recipe from Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang’s Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. p. 94-95.
Fresh Chicken with Hmong Herbs (Soup for New Mothers)
Nqaij Qaib Hau Xyaw Tshuaj
- 1 whole fresh chicken (the kind purchased from a Hmong market or farm)
- 10 cups water
- 1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves and root removed
- 1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Hmong herbs (each cook has their favorites, but many use ones that are similar to those in our garden)
Clean and chop up the chicken into about 16 pieces. Refrigerate the giblets for other uses. Pick or buy the herbs shortly before using, and wash them carefully. Several sprigs of each herb is the customary amount. In a medium-sized pot, bring the water to boil. Add the lemongrass, salt, and pepper. Bring the water back to a boil and add the chicken pieces. Boil 15 minutes (do not overcook the chicken). Add the herbs and cook a few more minutes. Remove the lemongrass and serve with rice.