Nee Uses Herbal Remedies for Everything

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 in other 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!