Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ai Ye Leaves In My Garden

Remember my joy at re-discovering mugwort or Ai Ye atop a hill in Balik Pulau? 

Well, guess what?

I am growing them in my garden now. 

The recent rainy weather has helped. The plants are flourishing. 

And mugwort is a plant that keeps on propagating too. Each time I pluck off the leaves, I stick its stem back into the earth or pot of soil and the stem soon starts growing! 

I love making omelette with mugwort leaves. There's something about the distinct fragrance of this plant that I crave. 

I also am a big believer that if I crave something, my body is telling me I need the nutrients in that particular type of food. So I go ahead and indulge myself. 

Still I find that my own mugwort leaves aren't as pungent as the ones my mom-in-law grows in her garden in Kuching. It must be the weather! 

Ai Ye or mugwort plants happily growing in my garden

Anyway, when my mugwort plants start to grow all over, I start plucking the leaves and storing  them in the fridge. No point letting them grow old and tough. 

Plucked Ai Ye or mugwort leaves ready to be stored in the fridge

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Have You Seen Curry Leaf Berries?

Ripe berries or fruits from my 9 foot curry leaf tree. 

This is a photo of the ripe fruits from my 9 foot curry leaf tree or known scientifically as Murraya koenigii . Yes, most curry leaf plants are about human height. 

Mine is a bit special because when it was still a young sapling, I used a lot of my own homemade compost. It had so much of nutrients that it started growing taller and taller. 

Right now, it is shading the compost pots! 

Which means I am cooler when I stand under this tree to do my daily composting. You see how wonderful it all works out to be? 

Because these berries attract the Asian koel (black birds with fiery red eyes which make the annoying loud "ku-yo, ku-yo" sounds), the curry leaf seeds get propagated everywhere. 

Yet some drop right under the tree and start growing. I have a curry leaf sapling attack haha. I keep pulling the saplings up as there's just too many. 

Besides throwing them into my curries (my most recent fave being this chicken paretel curry which is so easy to prepare it almost seems like cheating!), I have eaten it fried to crisps in Thailand especially in Chiangmai. They deepfry the curry leaves and mix with fried groundnuts, ikan bilis and dried chilies and kaffir lime leaves. It makes for such an appetising snack with a clear tomyam like taste. 

Curry leaves can also help with hair loss. I heard that chewing fresh leaves (3-5 leaves, not stalks) daily helps as the leaves are full of antioxidants. Still, I haven't made it a habit. I do however eat curry leaves especially if they're in curries. 

The other thing I found out is that you can use curry leaves, pounded into a mushy paste, as a hair and scalp mask. Leave it on for 2 hours (wear a shower cap). Wash it off and it seems your hair will be lustrous, dandruff-free and grow easily. 

One other remedy is to heat 5 sprigs of curry leaves in a cup of coconut oil. Cool and apply on hair and scalp for best results. I must try this soon!

This website mentions: "Curry leave contains vitamin B6, which is really effective in acting as a hormone regulator in the process of hair loss."

While writing this blog post, I started discovering that the curry leaf has quite a number of medicinal properties such as anti-diabetic, antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and can protect the liver from damage. Its bark can be used to treat snake bites.

Here's a list of what the humble curry leaf can do for you:

  • good for eyes as it contains Vitamin A 
  • stops diarrhoea
  • improves hair conditions & growth 
  • a leaf paste treats insect bites and mosquito bites
  • lowers bad cholesterol 
  • protects the liver 
  • fights cancer (as evidenced from research carried out by Department of Medical Chemistry at Mejio University)
  • skincare (apply the juice or paste)

Everyone should have a curry leaf plant or tree in their garden. It grows easily under bright sunlight and doesn't need much care at all.

The only thing is, everyone comes and plucks my curry leaves! (Did you know that Tesco sells these for RM1 a bunch?) I don't mind sharing my abundance with them but some people are just too greedy. Give them a few sprigs and they keep asking for more. But at least they ask.

Others just come and pluck as many as they please.

Anyway, that's why we hacked down our beautiful pandan patch. Nic was getting pissed that everyone came to pull and tug the pandan. We keep telling them to bring a knife and cut the pandan properly but people can be so stupid and stubborn. One guy, after Nic literally yelled at him, came back AGAIN to steal our pandan leaves!

The trials of living in apartment complexes with people who don't like planting their own food but love coming by to take others' hard work!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Watercress Soup Is The Best Cure For That Awful, Persistent Cough

I know. 

It isn't the sexiest cough cure around. 

It's not even exotic. It's just a plain vegetable.

But today I shall praises of the humble watercress because it is a well-known cure for the sort of incurable, annoying and keep-you-awake-at-night coughing sessions.

So what's in the watercress? 

In the West, it is commonly eaten fresh and raw in a salad or sandwich. 

Here in Malaysia, I've always eaten this cooked in soups. Never raw. 

So what's so fascinating about watercress? 

  • Watercress' botanical name is Nasturtium officinale. 
  • It is a fast grower in aquatic or semi-aquatic environments. It usually grows in ditches rapidly. 
  • It is one of the oldest known leaf vegetables eaten by humans.
  • The plant is native to Europe and Asia. 
  • It has a peppery flavour and is related to the cabbage and mustard family. 
  • The town of Alresford, near Winchester, UK holds a Watercress Festival that brings in more than 15,000 visitors every year. Alabama in the US is considered the Watercress Capital of the World.
  • Watercress contains significant amounts of iron, calcium, iodine, manganese, folic acid, vitamins A, B6, C, and K.
  • Its high Vitamin C makes it a good remedy for scurvy. It is also a significant source of Omega 3 fatty acids. 
  • It is believed to help with lung cancer.
  • It has more calcium than milk and more Vitamin C than orange.
  • Raw watercress may have greater cancer-fighting power than cooked watercress, as cooking inactivates the myrosinase enzyme that is responsible for hydrolyzing glucosinolates to beneficial isothiocyanates (says this article).

watercress vegetable cure for cough
Watercress is a cheap and plentiful vegetable sold in most wet markets across Penang. 

I've often found that watercress or any vegetable or herb usually is a much better cure for ailments and illnesses compared to medicines or cough syrups or cough tablets.

I also believe that eating something green, natural and healthy like watercress is a more positive method to combat coughs.

In Cantonese, watercress is known as "sai yeung choi" which I believe translates loosely to Western vegetable.

There is a "Sai Yeung Choi Road" in Hong Kong and yes I have walked down this street before, but I didn't see anyone selling watercress!

I guess I am a big believer in Mother Nature. If you'd like a watercress soup recipe, try this.

If you don't take pork, substitute with chicken. It still tastes good.

If you want a vegan version of watercress soup, I have one just for you too.

watercress vegetable cure for cough
Watercress leaf 

For more research or studies using watercress, considered a super food, check out

For raw watercress recipes, check out Martha Stewart's recipes

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

He Shou Wu Herb For Hair Growth

Remember I mentioned about he shou wu, a herb that helps hair growth?

It's also called Fleeceflower Root or Polygonum Multiflorum.

(My hair shenanigans were a big deal to me. You can read about Shou Wu Chih or my hair darkening tea posts.)

I bought some - actually RM5 worth of it - and boiled it a couple of times. Each time I also added some dried black dates too. Initially I'd simmer the herb over the stove but later decided to use my slow cooker. When i couldn't finish drinking it all I'd store it in an old-fashioned thermos flask.

Two weeks ago I was in town buying dried scallops and Chinese sausages for my mother in law when I decided to ask the shop assistant if they had he show wu.

Mind you, this was a Chinese medical store cum grocery store. 

So below was what they recommended to me.

he shou wu slice chinese herb for hair growth and preventing hair loss

It was RM16.50 for a 200gm pack. When I opened it, the slices were thicker and darker. It wasn't sliced thinly - in fact it was hard and knobbly like tree roots.

he shou wu slice chinese herb for hair growth and preventing hair loss

The herbalist said just use 2-3 pieces each time.

he shou wu slice chinese herb for hair growth and preventing hair loss

See how different this is from the previous he show wu that I bought? I used these he show wu pieces and simmered them in my slow cooker for a few hours. The resulting brew looked the same - a light black soup. It tasted the same too.

But the next time i shall ask the herbalist why the difference in the herb's appearance. Nic thinks it is different due to the different parts of the herb that's sliced. One could be from the outer root while the other is from the inner root. 

So now the results of drinking he show wu on a weekly basis. 

I did notice that my hair fall was less obvious. However I also added one more hair care step - i would apply coconut oil to my scalp and leave it on for 30 minutes before I shampooed my hair. 

I read that doing this pre-conditioned the hair and prevents hair loss. Plus hair is also more manageable and I didn't need to use a conditioner after shampooing (not that i am a fan of using conditioner).

I am optimistic about the outcomes of using both he show wu and coconut oil. Another thing is I also drink a tablespoon of coconut oil every other day. It's not as gross as it sounds. Coconut oil from organic stores are aromatic and not as oily as imagined. I started drinking it as I heard a friend's elderly father grew black hair after drinking this for a month. 

It's still quite early to say anything really conclusive but i do feel he show wu works.

The other outcome is that I feel more energised the morning after whenever i drink warm he show wu brew before I go to bed. 

Anything that benefits the liver should also benefit hair. 

I am writing this on my iphone while on a Chinese New Year break in Kuching. 

Before I forget, let me wish you a Goat Year of Goat Fortune and Goat Luck. Lots of goaty puns this year! 

Thursday, January 01, 2015

What Finally Helped Get Rid of My Persistent Cough

Happy New Year everyone!

That's me with that funny Xmas hair band and in a beige dress with Nic, my husband. This photo was taken at our Christmas party with our website clients - Kester (in green) and Wei Min (in red) are from

I am actually blogging this on New Year's Day because it's a holiday and I just got home after a lovely lunch of pork porridge at the famous Hon Kei cafe in Jalan Kampung Malabar, off Penang Road.

This pork porridge seller used to be just a simple stall on the same road, nearer Ho Ping Cafe, a corner coffeeshop.

My late grandmother used to love eating this pork porridge because it wasn't just minced pork - it has all the pig innards, pig brain, liver, kidney etc. It does sound gross but you just have to love pork and the old style porridge to enjoy this.

Hon Kei has upgraded itself into a two shop lot business - it's literally buzzing with customers all day. Of course besides pork porridge, you can also have lor bak,  toast bread with half boiled eggs and also noodles or rice with salted vegetable pork soup.

I think of my grandmother whenever I eat at this (upgraded) Hon Kei. It's a lovely memory.

And I think most of my memories, like most Asians, are tied to food and home. It's how we live and breathe.

If you are in Penang and I know most of my readers are from Singapore, try looking for Hon Kei Cafe. Try their food. It's old style, robust porridge served in a modern cafe. I must say they are quite hi-tech - their waiters take your orders with an iPad mini.

Drum Roll Please....

Anyway, I wanted to update this blog because remember my persistent cough?

Thank God that my cough is already gone! Hurray!

You know what finally helped ease my persistent cough?

The steamed orange was great but I still had oodles of phlegm. It did make my sleep at night better as I wasn't coughing and staying awake.

You can take it from me - it did help. But along the way I chanced upon a tastier remedy.

Watercress soup!

I was at the market and saw fresh watercress for sale. Decided to make watercress soup. To tell the truth I did buy a lot of watercress this time. So the soup was really good.

And when I do boil soup, I make enough for 3 servings (meaning, 2 bowls each time multiplied by 3 so this means I made about 6 bowls of watercress soup).

Soups are always best on the day they're made BUT they're tastier on the day after. The flavours have had time to combine and settle.

This holds even for regular dishes - if you braise or cook something, say chicken feet with mushrooms (and here's a tip - use a claypot and you spend less time braising the chicken feet because the heat retention in claypots are much better), after it's done, do not serve it immediately.

Cover the pot or kuali and let the food "rest" for 15 minutes at least before you serve it. I find the flavours are completely different this way.

So I had watercress soup 3 nights in a row (I usually attempt to eat a homecooked meal since we eat out for lunch a lot). Slowly the phlegm eased off, I felt better and slept the whole night through. And I managed to organize a Christmas party for some of our clients and hosted my mom, dad and nephew when they visited the week before Christmas.

So my verdict? If you are coughing a lot, make yourself some watercress soup. The recipe is here.

Since there has been a lot of bleak news last week concerning Malaysia (first our monsoon floods on the East Coast of the peninsula and then the crashed AirAsia plane), let's pray for a good year this year.

Plus, Thank You 

My grateful thanks to you too for keeping me blogging about soups, life, family and more. It isn't easy for me to find time to blog here since my business keeps me busy most of the time. Yet I would feel lost without this blog.

All of you have been generous and amazing with your shares and comments even though I am just like you - learning my way through this passion which I love, herbs and soups. I started this in 2006 because I could not read Chinese and yet I was deeply fascinated by the use of herbs in our Cantonese food.

I remember always as a child that my mom used to rattle off "pak kei, wong tong, kei chi" to the Chinese herbalist and he'd pack up these herbs in a pink paper packet. I was always curious about this trio of herbs. But my mom never knew much. She memorized these herb names so she could get the herbalist to make up the herbs for her.

I realized as I grew older that I HAD to know. I can't stand NOT knowing. I don't want to follow something blindly and not know why the herb was useful.

And of course, my late grandma instilled in me the love for soups. She always had a huge pot of soup simmering on a charcoal brazier in her wet kitchen a.k.a backyard. She'd fan the charcoal and let the soup simmer for hours. I guess that's her way of keeping the family together. You can refuse to eat rice but you can never say no to grandma's soups.

I have lots of plans for Soup Queen this year and I intend to make them all happen. I hope you will have your own soup tradition for your family. If that's one thing I am proud of, I am proud that I have continued blogging here and kept my love and passion for soups and Chinese herbs alive. I have more to post and more to get excited about!

Thank you for reading this.

Thanks for being a supporter of Soup Queen (I am amazed at my readership statistics!) and I wish you a brilliant, exciting, incredible year this year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Steamed Orange Cough Cure: Does It Work?

Here's the thing - remember that 3 days ago I wrote about trying out this strange folksy remedy with a steamed orange to help with my incessant coughing?

I tried my first steamed orange on Friday afternoon. I overdid the salt so I ended up with a saltier orange "juice" - the water that pools under the orange after steaming. I don't know what that's called but I call it juice since it is the water plus orange juice plus salt. I ate the orange pulp and drank up the salty juice. It was so salty my eyes were tightly shut as I drank it up!

Busy Saturday, Peppermint & Carrot 

On Saturday I was out and about starting from 9am. I was in a 3 hour workshop in an air-conditioned room and boy was it bad for my cough! My cough was definitely affected by extreme cold. I had to drink copious amounts of hot water to still my itchy throat. This was one of those coughing fits which was so bad that I teared up and my nose turned red. I had some relief by applying my Young Living peppermint essential oil, neat on the base of my throat.

(I never leave home without my peppermint essential oil - it's a life-saver for common colds, tummy aches, coughs and more! I once used it to repel flies at the Old Town Kopitiam outlet in Banting. I was so upset until I realized I had my trusty albeit expensive peppermint essential oil. Opened up the bottle and the flies all flew away! My parents were amazed.)

And more hot water! Luckily the event organizer had a thermos of hot water!

I didn't even feel like eating the curry puffs and cheese cake, tempting though they looked. My friend gave me another tip - actually a couple of friends started recommending all sorts of things to quell my coughing.

Kat told me to try soursop juice. (Where to find soursop? Not easy!)

Den told me to drink fresh carrot juice - pure juice, no ice, no sugar added. She said I needed to boost my immune system and carrot works for sore throats.

When the event ended, I was extremely hungry but I also had to run some errands. Drove home around 2pm, ate a quick lunch of fried rice before I had to go for a friend's new shop opening. I decided to swallow some Woods cough syrup first.

Miraculously No Coughing At Night

However, on Saturday night, I slept through the night without coughing! I didn't know whether it was Woods cough syrup (though I did take a tablespoonful before I retired to bed, just to ensure I was fighting the bacteria or germs of whatever that was causing my crazy cough).

The nights before I hardly slept because I was coughing throughout the night! It was no fun I tell you to wake up coughing.

On Sunday, Nic and I woke up early to check out the stalls at Beach Street and I felt fine, though I had the usual morning sputum. I did take a tablespoon of Woods cough syrup again just before I went out.

I ordered a carrot juice when we had our lunch - no ice and no sugar. I was also curious about carrot juice because I knew I loved juicing my own carrots at home. It's just that sometimes I am so lazy to wash the juicer after juicing carrots (my favourite recipe is to juice carrots and beetroot because together it helps with flushing out the liver plus beetroot has lots of iron - great for women by the way).

Carrot is actually good for the lungs (especially for smokers). It is also good for the Spleen, strengthening the Spleen and removing food stagnation. Carrots also contain high amounts of chlorogenic acid which can raise the body's immunity. Carrot juice is also closely tied to the liver meaning it is good for the liver but do not overdo drinking carrot juice as it can be too "yin" (says this website).

More Steamed Orange!

On Sunday afternoon I made another steamed orange (orange #2). Ate it up and drank up its juice.
Slept like a baby last night and only had a minor cough this morning when I woke up.

And today, I made steamed orange again (orange #3). Ate it right after my dinner.

I realized that immediately eating the steamed orange, I did cough and this coughing helped me expectorate sputum. But once the sputum was out of my body, I instinctively felt better!

I cannot describe the feeling but I do feel much better today. Nic told me to stay off the orange but I protested, "It works and I do feel my cough is much improved!"

And I can be quite stubborn so to hell with what the husband says. LOL. It's my body, my cough and if I can experiment with some thing as natural as an orange to cure my cough, well so be it. I'd rather eat a dozen mushy oranges than eat medicine!

Mardilyn, a friend whom I met on Saturday, was also coughing violently. I told her about this remedy. She asked how many times should she eat the orange.

I didn't have an answer for her but later realized that natural remedies aren't like pills - they don't work instantly.

It takes a couple of days and repeated "doses" to make it work. Still, there's nothing difficult or tedious about steaming an orange. All you need are 15-20 minutes. Prep time is even faster. Less than 5 minutes to slice an orange and chuck it into a steamer.

I am for one glad to report that the steamed orange cure works like an expectorant.

A Combination of Treatments That Worked For Me, Including This Exercise 

I am not sure if it was a combination of carrot juice (took twice), Woods peppermint cough syrup or the steamed orange. But these things seemed to work in tandem with each other.

Before I forget I must add that since my lungs were "cold" and my cough was a cold cough, I decided to warm up my body by eating grilled lamb chops for dinner on Saturday night! It helps that I love lamb and mutton. Lamb warms the kidneys and helps with weak kidney yang.

I also did some arm swinging exercise for 15 minutes each day to help with my circulation and Qi. This exercise is so easy to do and it has been a miracle cure for lots of serious illnesses and ailments.

Called Ping Shuai Gong, this exercise looks simple but after 15 minutes of repetitive arms swinging, I can work up a sweat! (Click the link to watch the 2 videos for the exercise).

You can do it any time, after a meal, on an empty stomach, morning, evening or night. Kids and adults can do it too.

I got to know of this last year when a friend sent me some Youtube videos on this super easy exercise. I haven't been doing it regularly but when I get ill, I start upping my Qi with this! I know, how lazy ya!

So yeah, if this odd combination of things work to help my cough, then it's great. I still think the steamed orange played a huge role.

I shall be updating my cough report soon.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cough Cure Experiment: Steamed Orange with Salt

Steamed orange with salt - a natural remedy touted for coughs. 

I don't know why I started coughing a week back.

But I also heard some of my friends have been having lingering coughs too. Weather? Maybe. It has been raining at night but blisteringly warm in the day. Change of temperature perhaps.

I have horrid experiences with coughing and it goes way back to my childhood days. Weak lungs maybe. Cold gets to me so I don't even wear bare back tops because my lungs might catch a cold! So travelling to cold countries is a bit of a love-hate relationship for me. I like that I don't sweat but I also know too much of cold and I get all wonky inside.

So yeah. From my past experience I only either get Wind Heat cough or Wind Cold cough. Both are terrible. 

Both are hacking, phlegmy and wrecks sleep especially at night. 

For the past week I have tried a lot of remedies. 

From drinking water steeped with Indian borage (plucked fresh from my garden) to eating royal jelly, I tried them all. 

Initially the cough wasn't so bad. 

But the past few days I was majorly annoyed. I was coughing at night and made me lose sleep. Had to wake up in the middle of the night to drink some hot water to soothe my itchy and dry throat.

It sucks when you don't get a full night's sleep. (I treasure my 8 hours. Since young I have always loved sleeping. If I don't get to bed by midnight I can get all heaty the next day and be grouchy.)

Finally Nic told me to grab Woods peppermint cough syrup from the Chinese medical hall. 

As an aside I noted that Woods now comes in 50ml and 100ml plastic bottles. When I was a kid, it came in larger glass bottles! How times have evolved.

Anyway I was taking 10ml of the pepperminty cough medicine 4 times a day. Seriously it did help. It loosens phlegm and disgusting as it is, we need to spit it out. So there I was running to the bathroom sink every few minutes to expel the loosened mucous. 

I also noticed that cold makes my cough worse - being in an air cond room for instance threw me into a coughing fit. I would tear up and turn red with all that sputtering. At some point I'd sneeze too. 

My cough was worse in the middle of the night and upon waking up. 

I actually finished one 100ml bottle of Woods peppermint cure in 2.5 days.

While waiting to go and buy another bottle, I recalled a cough remedy using orange. 

You see, I made a silly mistake last night. 

I sliced some oranges for Nic after dinner and thought since it is full of vitamin C I should also have some to boost my immunity. 

Bad idea. 

If you are coughing, avoid oranges like the plague. You will cough much worse and I experienced that last night. I was coughing like crazy! My throat was dry and itchy.

The other type of food to avoid are deep-fried or spicy food. That I was diligently avoiding.

So today I decided to dig up that remedy that I heard so much about. If fresh orange killed me, the opposite of that is steamed orange with salt which I believe will cure my cough.

I don't know why a steamed orange works the opposite way but changing the properties of natural food could change its effects.

It's quite easy. Just soak an orange in water for a while (just in case there are pesticides). Next slice about a third off the top. Using a fork, pierce the orange flesh while sprinkling some salt over. Caution: don't overdo the salt. Half a teaspoon is good. 

Cover the orange with its top. Place orange in a bowl. Put bowl into steamer or wok. Cover and steam over medium high heat for 15 minutes. Turn off fire - let the orange cool a little before you eat up the softened pulp. The orange "sweated" out some of its juice and salt into the bowl after 15 minutes and I also drank that salty liquid up. 

I am so crossing my fingers that this works. This is much better than eating cough medicines. 

Shall keep you posted on the results of my experiment.

P/S - I actually wrote a post about Chiangmai since I was there in November but that takes a backseat to this.