Medicinal Wine – Rượu Thuốc
Vietnamese people have a strong belief in the healing properties of medicinal rice wine. It’s made by putting rice wine in large earthenware or glass jars along with herbs, animals or animal parts. This can be done with a single kind of plant or animal or a mixture of several, depending on the medicine’s desired effect.
We’ve heard there are around 100 kinds of ruou thuoc, but the reality is that there are probably many, many more. The combinations are endless and anything imaginable — sometimes unimaginable – seems to have been used to make it. From bull penis and ginseng to starfish and snakeheads, all things natural have their place in Vietnamese medicine wine.
How it’s made
Distilled rice wine, typically with an alcohol content of 45% or higher, is the main ingredient. It is said that the higher the alcohol content, the more effectively it can extract the active ingredients or properties of whatever’s added to it. This can take as few as 7-10 days, but longer is better. It takes time for the ingredients to infuse thoroughly, and a 10-year-old wine, for example, can fetch a large sum of money.
Some wines are heated first, to help speed up the process. Some wines are buried for hundreds of days. Many are kept, drank slowly over time, and topped up with more wine if the liquid gets too low.
How it’s drunk
Ruou thuoc like most rice wine is drunk in small thimble size glasses. Depending on the patient’s condition, a small glass or two is drunk before or with meals. At other times it can be the basis of a full-blown drinking session – volume really comes down to each specific wine, the prescribed volume for treatment, and the situation you find yourself in.
Additionally it can also be used to treat the body externally through washing, soaking, covering or even massage.
Although many Westerners might consider ruou thuoc a nostrum, belief in its powers is strong in Vietnam. (Scientific studies of ingredients such as ginseng and Lin Chi mushrooms have proven that at least some traditional medicine is effective.) It is thought that alcohol helps whatever medicine it contains to enter the bloodstream quickly.
Viet Tracks in no way condones the consumption of endangered plants or animals. We hope to raise awareness and help prevent it.