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Chameleon Plant (Houttuynia cordata) Thunb.


臭菜 [chau choi], 狗貼耳 [gáu tip yíh], 蕺菜 [chāp choi], 折耳根 [jit yíh gān], 十藥 [sahp yeuhk], 魚腥草 [yú sìng chóu]
Chau choi, Gau tip yih, Chap choi, Jit yih gan, Sahp yeuhk, Yu sing chou
臭菜 [chòu cài], 狗貼耳 [gǒu tiē ěr], 蕺菜 [jí cài], 折耳根 [zhé ěr gēn], 十藥 [shí yào], 魚腥草 [yú xīng cǎo]
Chou cai, Gou tie er, Ji cai, Tsi cai, Zhe er gen, Shi yao, Yu xing cao
CzechChameleon, Touleň srdčitá
EnglishChinese lizard tail, Fishwort, Heartleaf
FrenchPlante caméléon
GaroMaccha Turi
GermanChinesischer Eidechsenschwanz, Chamäleonpflanze, Buntblatt
HmarAi thang
HmongKio kau, Tshuaj kab raus
HungarianEzüst szirtőr
Japanese, 毒矯み, 毒痛み, 魚腥草, 十薬, 重薬
どくだみ, ぎょせいそう, じゅうやく
ドクダミ, ギョセイソウ, ジュウヤク
Dokudami, Dokudazoku, Gyoseisō, Gyoseiso, Jūyaku, Juyaku
Korean어성초, 카멜레온 플랜트, 약모밀
Eoseongcho, Osongcho, Kamelleon pullaentu, Yangmomil
Laoຄາວທອງ, ຜັກຄາວທອງ
Khautong, Pak Khautong
Manipuri (Meitei-Lon)তুনিংকোক
Tuning Kok
Naga (Angami)Gatha
Naga (Ao)Azüponhsmydü, Alimolitong (Changki dialect)
Naga (Chakhesang-Chokri)Gatha
Naga (Lotha)Dezhulumuthera
Nepaliगन्धे, गने
Gande, Gane
PolishPstrolistka sercowata, Tułacz pstry, Tułacz sercowaty
RussianХоуттюйния сердцелистая
Khouttyujniya serdtselistaya
SlovakHutínia, Chameleon
SwedishHoyttynia, Kameleontblad, Ödleblad;
Thaiคาวทอง, พลูคาว, ผักคาวทอง
Cowtong, Kaotong, Plu khao, Pluu-kao, Pak khaotong
VietnameseDiếp cá, Giấp cá, Ngư tinh thảo, Vấp cá, Dấp cá
Diep ca, Giap ca, Ngu tinh thao, Vap ca, Dap ca
Houttuynia cordata: Chameleon plant rhizomes on sale at Ima Keithel in Imphal, Manipur
Fresh chameleon plant rhizomes on a market in Imphal (Manipur)
Houttuynia cordata: Variegated chameleon leaf
Variegated chameleon leaf
Used plant part

Fresh leaves. The rhizome, too, is aro­matic, and is used in Mani­pur, a small area in North-East­ern India bordering Burma.

Plant family

Saururaceae (lizard tail family)

Sensory quality

Of this species, two different chemotypes (i. e., plants with different constituents, but otherwise identical features) are known: The Chinese/Vietnamese chemotype resembles coriander in its aroma, and the Japanese chemotype is characterized by a strange lemon or orange odour that is often compared to ginger; see also lemon myrtle on lemony spices. Some have compared the fragrance of chameleon herb with raw meat or fish, but I cannot agree.

The taste is aromatic, very close to Vietnamese coriander, but with an astringent aftertaste.

Houttuynia cordata: Chameleon plant (wild form)
The original chameleon plant (wild form or non-ornamental cultivar)
Houttuynia cordata: Sterile plant
Sterile chameleon plant with intensive leaf colouration (the plant was grown in full sun)
Main constitu­ents

The plant (Japanese chemotype) con­tains a varie­ty of flavonoids, flavonoid glycosides (afzerin, quercitrin, iso­quercitrin) and pyridine alkaloids; the essential oil was found to con­sist mainly of decanal (caprylic al­dehyde), do­decanal (lauryl alde­hyde) and 2‑hen­decanon (methyl nonyl ketone). (Planta Medica 61, 237, 1995)

Another work reports the essential oil’s main com­ponents being dodecanoic acid, 2‑hen­decanon and methyl decanoate.

The volatile oil of the Chi­nese/Viet­namese chemo­type was found to con­tain myrcene, 2‑hen­decanon, limonene and decanoyl acet­aldehyde (3‑keto­dodecanal). The latter com­pound seems mainly res­pons­ible for the charac­teristic flavour; it is a potent anti­bacterial agent. The plant is, thus, used in traditional Chinese medicine.


East Asia. Today, the plant grows wild in a vast area from Nepal via Thailand to Korea.

The chame­leon plant is often grown as an orna­mental in Europe and the USA; most popular are varie­gated culti­vars with attrac­tive three-coloured foliage.


The scientific plant name is in honour of Maarten Houttuyn (1720 – 1798), a Dutch biologist.

Houttuynia cordata: Wild form of chameleon leaf
Unvariegated wild form of chameleon herb
Houttuynia cordata: South Asian chameleon herb (lizard tail)
Chameleon herb strain native to South Asia

The name lizard tail (proper­ly referring to a closely related genus, Sau­ruria) is moti­vated by the acute shape of the leaves in both Sau­ruria and Hout­tuynia.

The name Chameleon plant (or chameleon herb) should be used only for the beautifully coloured variety which is most common as an orna­mental in the West, and whose triple-hued leaves (yellow, red, green) remember to the proverbial colour-shifting chameleon.

The English names fish­wort and heart­leaf refer, with some ex­ag­ger­a­tion, to the plant’s strong odour and to the heart-shaped leaves, re­spec­tively. See also mug­wort for the ele­ment -wort. A rather parallel name is Chinese yuxing cao [魚腥草] fish-stinking herb.

The Vietnamese name of the plant is diep ca [diếp cá], which is probably to be understood as lettuce (smelling like) fish; an alternative spelling is giap ca [giấp cá]. Other names reported, especially vap ca which is pretty common in English herbal literature, appear to be founded in writing errors in early Western reports. In Vietnam, that name is not known.

Selected Links

Sorting Houttuynia names (

Houttuynia cordata: Chameleon plant (variegated form)
The beautiful variegated cultivar of Chameleon plant
Houttuynia cordata: Chameleon herb with unripe fruits
Fruiting chameleon plant
The leaves of the chame­leon plant are sometimes found in Viet­namese salads and gar­nishes. In Vietnam, many other fresh herbs serve the same purpose (see Viet­namese coriander). Their fresh, aromatic flavour goes even well with European salads.

The North-Eastern Indian union state Manipur boasts of a highly original cuisine, which uses not only leaves but also the fresh rhizome of chameleon plant; it employs a host of further herbs (among others, a Medi­terranan-like type of basil, cress, dill, coriander, long coriander, Vietnamese coriander). The preference for aromatic leaves and an excessive use of fermented fish flavours puts Manipuri food far apart from Indian mainstream cooking, making it more comparable to the cooking styles of neighbouring South East Asia.

In Mani­puri cuisine, chame­leon leaves are often em­ployed in salads like singju [সিংজু, ꯁꯤꯡꯖꯨ], a mixture of raw leaves, lotus root slices and aromatic herbs; it is flavoured with nutty-tasting powder of sesame seeds, toasted legumes and pungent fermented fish; if available, slices of superhot local chiles (umorok [উমোরোক, ꯎꯃꯣꯔꯣꯛ]) might be sprinkled over it. Often, they are used in conjunction with fish, both fresh and fermented.

Houttuynia cordata: Wild plants with flowers, growing in Helambu area, Nepal
Wild form of chameleon plant growing in Nepal

The chop­ped rhizome may also be used, par­ti­cular­ly to cut the inten­sive fer­mented fish flavour of the local signa­ture food iromba [ইরোম্বা, ꯏꯔꯣꯝꯕꯥ], a type of liquid to dry vege­table curry with loads of fer­mented fish (ngari [ঙারি, ꯉꯥꯔꯤ]. The ground root is an in­gre­dient for fish cu­rries. Leaves can also be dipped in a batter pre­pared from chick­pea flour to prepare a fresh-tasting pakora [पकोड़ा], locally known as bora [বোরা, ꯕꯣꯔꯥ]; the same is also done with other robust herbs like long coriander.

A Chinese dish em­ploy­ing cha­me­leon root is zhe’er gen chao larou [折耳根腊肉]: Salt-cured bacon which is fried with the rizome of chame­leon plant. The recipe origi­nates from the hilly Gui­zhou [贵州] pro­vince in South Western China.

In Nepal, where chameleon plant grows widely in the mountains at an elevation up to 1500 m, it is little used, though some people appear to flavour pickles with fresh leaves or rhizomes.

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