Residents of the central province of Quang Tri have long prepared wild foliage into a special kind of glue which boasts certain medicinal properties and serves as a chemical-free alternative to dietary supplements.
Vietnamese people have made use of, and benefited from, medicinal herbs and leaves for centuries.
Many of these leaves have been condensed into glue for convenience’s sake.
The glue of natural forest plants growing in the infertile soil of Quang Tri has become a special herbal medicine and been sold across Vietnam to prevent and possibly treat several common illnesses.
The forest plant glue manually cooked by Quang Tri residents has been favored as a gift, a memento, and a folk remedy.
The glue can be used as a herbal medicine or as a beverage by diluting it with hot water.
A few plants native to Quang Tri are used for the prevention and treatment of some health problems, such as lá vằng for gout and detoxification, lá đung for stomachache, lạc tiên for insomnia, andrau má for easing fevers.
Other forest plants include kim tiền thảo used for removing kidney stones, thìa canh for diabetes, cỏ xước and vòi voi for bone and joint problems, and hù thủ for premature grey hair.
The plants are often cooked with water for days in accordance with a certain recipe to produce different kinds of glue.
Cooking medicinal glue
Adding sticks to a burning fire with a 300-liter cauldron above, Bay from the Phu Hai glue cooking firm said it takes her three consecutive days to simmer 35kg of dried leaves and stems of lá vằng and she uses nearly 300 liters of fresh water to turn them into glue.
She bought the plant from collectors in the hilly areas of Cam Lo, Khe Sanh, and Hai Lang.
The adhesive substance was primarily used to add nutrients to pregnant and nursing women’ diets, but has now been increasingly popular with the general population as a wholesome drink and complementary medicine.
Its many medicinal properties include fighting obesity, ridding clients’ bodies of toxic substances, and stimulating their digestive system.
Over the past recent years, the local supply of raw leaves has shrunk notably, leaving glue makers, including Bay, with no choice but to turn to the central provinces of Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh for alternative ingredient provisions.
Before, each kilogram of dried lá vằng cost VND15,000 (US$0.7) but the price doubles now due to scarcity.
The cauldron containing 300 liters of water and 35kg of lá vằng is cooked until its content is condensed to just a half.
The remaining 150 liters is filtered to ensure purity and then the cooking work continues in another cauldron till it has only 70 liters left.
After several times of filtering, the mixture becomes a condensed glue of just five kilograms.
The glue is extracted into small packets of 50 grams each for sale at an average price of VND100,000 ($4.5).
The Quang Tri lá vằng glue is now famous in Vietnam and often carried abroad by overseas Vietnamese.
A small amount of the glue is diluted with hot water and used as lá vằng tea, believed to have medicinal properties that help one lose weight, spur detoxification, and stimulate appetite.
The glue is favored because it is user-friendly and requires less labor to prepare for each time of usage.
Most firms in Quang Tri also process around ten kinds of glue from other species of plants.
The province now has many well known glue cooking areas such as Tan Lam, on the ninth national highway, Cua in Cam Nghia and Cam Chinh Communes in Cam Lo District, and Hai Phu in Hai Lang District.
Dinh Son Village in Cam Nghia has 150 households and 80 of them cook plant glue.
The trend of using medicinal glue has driven Quang Tri farmers to grow the forest plants to provide for glue cooking firms instead of just collecting them in the wild.
The forest management unit in Cam Lo is now mulling the planting oflá vằng in their region.
It is estimated that a bush of lá vằng planted on farms can produce 100kg of leaves and stems a year.
A farm of 100 bushes can generate a profit of VND100 million ($4,500) per annum.
The story of lá vằng
Locals said that the holy land La Vang, located just four kilometers southwest of the ancient Quang Tri Citadel, is named after the lá vằng plant.
It is said that a large group of Catholics ran away from the hunt of then-reigning King Canh Thinh in the late 18th century. They hid in the area which is now La Vang.
It was in the year of 1798 and the refugees suffered myriad diseases in the then-deserted land.
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in their dreams and advised them to use lá vằng cooked in water as the treatment.
Recovering from the diseases, those refugees built a chapel on the top of a hill commonly called Lá Vằng, named after the native plant.
Soon later, the French came and wrote the name in their language without tones: “La Vang.”