Sunday, July 13, 2014

Finally I Found Ai Ye!

Ai Ye leaves or mugwort (artemisia vulgaris)


One of the herbs which I liked a lot is this herb - Artemisia Vulgaris. However I didn't know its name before this. I got to know this herb thanks to my mother-in-law. Whenever we visit her in Kuching, I'd go looking at her garden and she'd have these patch of plants in the garden. She used to call them "hnia" which I think is the name of the herb in Hokkien dialect. 

Now this "hnia" has a peculiar taste which is an acquired taste. You either like it or you hate it. My mom-in-law would pluck the young leaves of this plant and fry them up with egg,  in an omelette. She would serve this with the other dishes at lunch or dinner. The downside to this herb was that it made one release gas (a.k.a fart!). 

She said it was good for getting rid of "wind" and the herb was good for women. 

I always wanted to bring some of the herb home to plant in my own garden BUT my husband detested the herb. You see, when fried with egg, the herb had a minty, bitter taste. I don't know why I took to it but it tasted yummy to me. 

And each time, the husband conveniently forgot to pluck the herb for me!

I have always been curious about this herb and wondered if it only grew in Sarawak! Apparently the herb was used for women during their confinement (again for its "wind releasing" properties) but other than this I had no idea what it was called (except its Chinese name "hnia"). 

But here's the thing - I found it some 2 weeks ago when I went on an excursion with my friends to Balik Pulau. Balik Pulau in Penang is quite the rural area - it is a long drive from George Town and it used predominantly used for agriculture. In the recent years, development has come upon the sleepy town of Balik Pulau. And of course Balik Pulau is well known among Penangites and Malaysians for its delectable durians and nutmeg and the famous Penang laksa. 

We were at this friend's eco-tourism village called Hakka Lodge (yes she is Hakka and we were there to partake in the Hakka lunch on a blistering hot Saturday afternoon). She was showing us around the top of the hill where her lodge was located and we chanced upon this herb. She said it was called Ai Ye (in Mandarin) or "hnia". I was so excited I asked if I could pluck some before we left. Unfortunately after lunch and a quick bout of durians, I forgot! 

At the bottom of the hill, I was feeling regretful that I didn't manage to pluck some of the herb. God must have been listening as I then saw bunches of the herb near a small shack where an old wiry man and his wife (Hakka folks) were selling nutmeg and mangosteens. My friend and I asked him if he were selling the herb and he said no. We then asked if we could get the herb for ourselves. He pointed us to a weedy patch near his shack and told us to help ourselves! 

The herb was growing wild everywhere! 

When I got back, I plunged the herb into some water before transplanting them into some pots in my garden. Funnily though as I was planting them, my neighbour came around. She saw the herb and immediately asked if I liked the herb. She said that this herb was growing wild in her mother-in-law's garden! She loved eating the herb (fried with eggs) but her husband did not. So perhaps this acquired taste of the herb was something women enjoyed. 

I of course went online to google and find out more about Ai Ye and realized it's called Mugwort. (Wasn't there a character called Mugwort in the Harry Potter series?) 

Mugwort is definitely a herb for women.  It is a herb used for moxibustion treatments. 

It's not just an Asian herb either. 

According to Wikipedia, mugwort was used for protection during the European Middle Ages. It's also used to get rid of insects like moths. It's also used to prevent fatigue and protect travellers from evil spirits and wild animals. 

WedMD states that mugwort root can be taken to boost energy. Women use mugwort to regulate irregular periods and for menstrual problems. The herb can be used for stomach and intestinal problems such as colic, diarrhea, constipation, worm infestations, weak digestion. Mugwort is also a liver tonic. 

A friend also told me that when she was young, she knew of her grandmother using Ai Ye leaves to make a steamed green kuih, very much like an "ang koo" kuih. I have never seen this kuih but I believe her.

I am just ecstatic that I finally found this herb and have now planted them in my garden!

(A lot of stuff that grows can be considered either a weed or a herb, depending on how you look at it. If it is useful and you know what it can be used for, it is a herb. If you don't know what it is, it is then a weed! How funny life is. These days I try to identify the "weeds" in my garden because I know many are useful herbs...it's just that I don't know what they are and think they're ugly weeds.) 

Look out for Part 2 where I show you more of this lovely herb!



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