Herbal Chicken Soup (Ga Ham Thuoc Bac) is not only delicious, but it can also warm and heal your body. It will provide you with energy to fight off illnesses in colder months.
What is Herbal Chicken Soup
Herbal Chicken Soup is one of my go-to dishes when I don’t feel well, especially in winter. This dish is popular in both Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines. In Vietnam, chicken soup is often considered light and easy on the stomach, while herbal medicines are believed to have healing properties.
With the right amounts, Chinese herbal medicines can help to restore energy by balancing the opposing forces of energy in our body – yin and yang. Simmering chicken with herbal medicines results in a nourishing and healthy soup which is also easy to absorb by the body. We call the soup “gà hầm thuốc bắc” or “gà tiềm thuốc bắc“.
Why this Recipe Works
My version has the lightness of chicken broth, some bitterness from herbal medicines and light sweetness from coconut juice. Very well-balanced in flavors in my opinion.
There are also other Vietnamese versions of this soup that don’t use coconut juice, and Chinese herbal chicken soup also doesn’t use it, but I think adding fresh coconut juice really balances and rounds out the flavors. The chicken meat will be very tender by the time we finish slow-simmering the soup. You can eat the soup on its own, with rice or with noodles.
The main ingredients for this Vietnamese herbal chicken soup is chicken, fresh young coconut juice (or water) and Chinese herbal medicines. You can use water instead of coconut juice.
Small chicken like cornish hens (about 1.5 – 1.75 lbs each) and silkie chicken (small black chicken) are traditional choices. Regular chicken or chicken parts with bones will also work if you cannot find cornish hens or silkie chicken.
There are different ways to combine the herbal mix for this dish. The herbs I use are among the most common ones:
- angelica sinensis (đương quy): a warming herb, which is said to help with blood circulation. It has a quite strong and distinct herbal fragrance.
- astragalus root (hoàng kỳ)
- dried Chinese yam (hoài sơn)
- goji berries (kỷ tử)
- red dates (táo tàu)
Goji berries and red dates are also used in some other Vietnamese soups, such as this duck noodle soup (mi vit tiem).
You need to use juice from a fresh coconut for the best result. I don’t recommend using packaged/canned coconut water. It is fine to use just plain water and the soup will still be delicious.
Where to Buy Herbal Medicine Mix
You can buy the herbs above at Asian grocery stores or on Amazon (for example, goji berries). Asian grocery stores often sell packages of individual herbs or packages of mixed herbs for herbal soup.
I came across Root and Spring, an online store selling packaged herbal mix, and they have quite a lot of positive reviews. You may want to check out Root and Spring herbal soup mix. Regardless of where you buy the medicinal herbs, rinse them to get rid of dust and dirt.
How to Cook Herbal Chicken Soup
Cooking this herbal soup is easy. All ingredients will be slow-simmered in one pot to desired strength of the soup or tenderness of the chicken.
The longer you simmer, the darker the soup will be and the medicinal herbal flavors will also be stronger. For a cornish hen, simmering for about 45 minutes is perfect for me. You may want to taste the soup throughout the cooking process and stop when you’re happy with the flavors.
You can also tweak the ratio of coconut juice and plain water depending on how sweet and how much coconut flavor you like. I like 1-2 parts of coconut juice to 1 part of water.
I like to serve the whole cornish hen with soup in a bowl, and then pick out the meat when eating. If you use a regular larger chicken, you can shred the meat before serving. I hope you will give my Vietnamese coconut herbal chicken soup recipe a try.
I’d love to hear what you think about this dish, so please feel free to leave a comment. New recipes are added every week so let’s connect on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram for the latest updates. You can find my collection of Vietnamese recipes here.
Herbal Chicken Soup
- 1 cornish hen (about 1.5-1.75 lbs)
- 0.7 oz astragalus roots (about 4 slices)
- 0.7 oz dried Chinese yams (about 6 slices)
- 0.4 oz angelica sinensis (about 2 slices)
- 0.3 oz goji berries (1 1/2 tablespoons)
- 4-8 red dates (depending on their size)
- 2 1/2 cups fresh young coconut juice (juice from about 2 young coconuts, or substitute with water)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2-inch piece of ginger
- 5 large garlic cloves, peeled
- scallions, thinly sliced
- Rinse all herbs (astragalus roots, dried Chinese yams, angelica sinensis, goji berries and red dates) under water to remove dirt. Soak in water for 5-10 minutes, then drain and set aside.
- Rub cornish hen with a lot of salt and rinse under water to clean it. Or you can parboil it in boiling water for 1-2 minutes.
- In a clean pot, add cornish hen, ginger, garlic, coconut juice and water. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam. Reduce heat to a simmer and add all the medicinal herbs and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt (or to taste).
- Gently simmer for 40-45 minutes, or to desired strength of the soup and tenderness of the chicken.
- Serve hot and garnish with sliced scallions.
- If you cannot find cornish hens, you can also use regular chicken or chicken parts with bones.
- The longer you simmer, the darker the soup will be and the medicinal herbal flavors will also be stronger. You may want to taste the soup throughout the cooking process and stop when you're happy with the flavors.
- You can also tweak the ratio of coconut juice and plain water depending on how sweet and how much coconut flavor you like. I like 1-2 parts of coconut juice to 1 part of water. The soup is still delicious with just water.
- You can eat the soup on its own, with rice or with noodles.
- This recipe can serve 1-2 people.