I am 26 years old and a first-generation Hmong-American. Growing up, we never really called my family’s use of herbal remedies “Traditional Hmong Medicine,” although that’s what it technically was. For us, it was just a way of life!
I am 26 years old and a first-generation Hmong-American. My
parents are from Laos; my dad immigrated to the U.S. when he was in his late teens
and my mother’s family came over when she was just a toddler. They met in St.
Paul and settled there to raise my six siblings and me.
Growing up, we
never really called my family’s use of herbal remedies “Traditional Hmong
Medicine,” although that’s what it technically was. For us, it was just a way of
life! Although we went to Western medical doctors for check-ups and shots and
injuries when I was a kid, we really used herbal remedies
as a first line of
defense for everything. We went to the doctor after we were treated by my
mother’s remedies at home, or because we had to get immunizations for school. It
was almost like an attempt to assimilate rather than a real belief that the
physician would really do much.
Whenever we would get sore throats or
colds, my mother would make herbal “balms” to rub on our skin. She also made
concoctions for us to drink. My mom would get the herbal ingredients at Asian
(mostly Chinese) groceries, and through a network of friends and relatives, both
in Minnesota and California. They mailed stuff back and forth to each other, a
lot of which they grew in their own gardens. We mostly used roots and barks at
our house, but some people in our community also used animal parts. Some of the
remedies tasted or smelled pretty bad, but we accepted without question that
that’s what you use to get better. For the most part, it worked. We were (and
still are) a healthy family.
We also used herbal therapies
ways, kind of to prevent problems. For example, when I had my two kids, my
mother had a lot of herbal remedies to avoid morning sickness, and to strengthen
the unborn babies. She also came to the hospital and prepared some herbal
mixtures (kind of like teas—warm liquids) that I had to drink, both during
delivery and after. The medical staff at the hospital seemed fine with it, and
accepted it right along with the methods they used. I had both of my kids
without Western pain medication.
Right now, I’d say I lean more toward
Western medicine than my parents do, probably just because I have grown up here.
My children have a regular pediatrician, and they go for regular check-ups. But
I still use the old remedies, too, and my mother has taught me how to grow and
use some of the herbs.
As I get older, I also find myself more interested in
traditional Hmong spiritual beliefs about what causes sickness and health. I am
interested in studying more about that, both by reading and talking with older
people. I would definitely like to pass these traditional herbal remedies on to
my own kids, and would encourage others to explore using them in addition to
their regular MD. It can’t hurt!