China South of the Clouds

Traveling and Cooking in China's Yunnan Province

In the Yunnan Kitchen: Chrysanthemum Greens

March 11th, 2014

According to Chinese food traditions, only barbarians eat raw vegetables. Fortunately, Yunnan is full of these “barbarians” (the historic term for anyone in Asia who wasn’t of the majority Han ethnic group). And in Yunnan, the one vegetable that is consistently served raw is the fresh, lacy leaves of the chrysanthemum plant (tónghāo, 茼蒿).

Tónghāo are, technically, the leaves of the Chrysanthemum coronarium, an herb native to the Mediterranean and East Asia that boasts white and yellow daisy-like flowers.  In the US it is usually labeled as the garland chrysanthemum, edible chrysanthemum, or crown daisy, and it is often planted as an easy to care for decorative shrub. The greens themselves can sometimes be found in Asian markets, where it’s usually called by its Cantonese name, “tong ho,” or labeled as chop suey green. They have a distinctive, slightly aromatic flavor, and they are almost always served dressed as a salad with nothing more than a bit of soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil and a sprinkling of fresh chiles as a dressing.

Photo: Georgia Freedman