HOT TUNA, YU-XING-CAO: Recently, while visiting a nearby nursery, I saw the ornamental version of this plant (called “Chameleon”) described as having a “citrus scent.” The Chinese name, however, means “fish-smell herb.” Take your choice, but keep in mind that eating the raw leaf will impart a fish-smell to your breath. The Japanese name, dokudami is more descriptive of its medical properties, meaning “detoxicant.”

It is used traditionally for treating infections of the upper respiratory tract and has been used externally as a poultice for skin cancer, snake bites, boils and psoriasis. It is diuretic, antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral.

Likes a cool, shaded situation with rich, moist soil. It is ornamental, and this variety has many small white flowers that appear all summer long. Its leaves are dark green with a slight purple edging.

Culinarily the leaves and roots are eaten fresh and are called in China chu p’i ku (pig thigh).


An ornamental cultivar of the previous having leaves mottled with white and red on the dark green background.