Mai Van Phan, known as Nam Phan, 86, and his 80-year-old wife, Le Thi Doi, have spent the past twenty years making sure their neighbors in Cai Rang District, Can Tho City, situated in southern Vietnam, have access to traditional medicinal herbs.
Since 2003, Nam Phan and Doi have spent each morning hunting down medicinal herbs in the gardens and rice fields across Cai Rang District, cutting them into small pieces, drying them out, and bringing them to local herbalists to distribute to the community for free.
Prior to their retirement, the couple made a modest living raising ducks. Now that they are older, their goal is to make sure a healthy life is accessible to everyone in the community, regardless of their financial situation.
“He just laughs and refuses when people try to pay him for the herbs,” Doi said while cleaning licorice in a river near their house.
Finding the herbs is not an easy task. Nam Phan and Doi often find themselves rowing their boat dozens of kilometers in order to find particularly important herbs, such as polyscias fruticosa and licorice.
“Thanks to my good health, sound mind, and a little luck, I am able to find herbs wherever I go. I feel really happy when people take my medicine and become healthier,” said Nam Phan.
Nam Phan first learned how to identify medicinal herbs as a child from his father and grandfather – both of whom were skilled in treating diseases using traditional medicines.
Using that knowledge, he now both gathers and grows polyscias fruticose, licorice, solanum procumbens, celastrus hindsii, angular winter cherry, and mugwort.
Each plant that the couple collect has a purpose.
“This plant helps treat cancer, pains, and hypertension. It also improves appetite and sleep,” Nam Phan said while pointing to the celastrus hindsii in his garden.
|Nam Phan and his wife devote themselves to seeking medicinal herbs. Photo: Lan Ngoc / Tuoi Tre|
According to Doi, growing and foraging for herbs have given her life meaning and granted her good health and happiness.
Aside from finding herbs, Nam Phan and Doi also have a herb storage facility and a small area where they offer medical examinations and treatments with approval from local authorities. All of their services are free of charge.
In fact, news of their kindness and skills is so well known that some of their patients travel from as far as Ca Mau, Tien Giang, and Ben Tre Provinces.
According to herbalist Cao Van Ta, a resident of Ninh Kieu District in Can Tho and a traditional medicine specialist with over 30 years of experience, Nam Phan and Doi are admired in the local community for the dedication they show to their patients.
One of these patients is Nguyen Van Tam, a 67-year-old resident of Long Ho District in Vinh Long Province who suffered from sciatic pain and spent many years having trouble walking.
It was only after he met Nam Phan that he finally began to feel better.
Another patient, 42-year-old Nguyen Thi Kieu from Ninh Kieu District, Can Tho, has also been cured by Nam Phan.
“I had a recurring pain in my knees. Herbalist Cao Van Ta gave me some medicines [that Nam Phan collected] and now I feel much better. I am really happy,” she said.
According to Nguyen Thanh Duoc, chairman of the Red Cross Society of Tan Phu Ward in Cai Rang District, the local community is extremely thankful for the work Nam Phan and his wife do, including the 3,700 kilograms of herbs they have donated to pagodas, temples, and charity teams in Can Tho City and An Giang Province.
“Their golden hearts have helped contribute to treating people across southern Vietnam,” Duoc said.
“We really respect Nam Phan and his wife. In spite of their old age, they still help the sick without any complaint,” said Nguyen Van Tam, chairman of the People’s Committee of Tan Phu Ward.
“We encouraged them to continue spreading their love to the community.”