The Spices

Mr Cung Dang, an amateur food critic, claims that Pho is an efficient cold remedy exceeding the quality of Western chicken soup. Taking in consideration the medicinal qualities of its spices, the claim is non-disputable. Interestingly, the combination of spices using in cooking phở were intentionally formulated to increase body warmth and guard against cold, flu and respiratory diseases. It must have been created by a Chinese herbalist who focused on the needs of the initial phở’s clients who are mostly poor like porters and coolies along the dyke of Red river.

All  phở’ spices are highly aromatic to reduce the strong odor of beef which was not commonly used in Vietnamese cuisine until after French colonization. In addition, all of them are warm spices that help to increase internal heat, blood circulation, and relieve symptoms of cold and flu, as well as respiratory diseases. Most of the spices have anti-septic properties: anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacteria. Amazingly, going through the medicinal benefits of each herb in phở, we can see the indication of the harsh weather in North Vietnam, which is humid, rainy and bitterly cold in the autumn and winter as well as the sort of ailments suffered by the patrons. Notably, the original clientele of phở, the coolies waiting to be hired on the river docks were exposed to the drizzly rain and the cold northern wind all day long. As a result, many of them suffered from cold and flu, not to mention the common disease of tuberculosis and pneumonia due to malnutrition and poverty. The invention of phở contributed a nutrient, healing and affordable snacks to people of all classes but mostly, for the poor commoners in the era.


According to, here are a few of the medicinal value of the spices used in phở.

Star anise

Star anise is a warming spice that promote blood circulation and prevent cold-stagnation. In traditional Chinese Medicine, star anise tea is also given to people suffering from common colds, coughs and flu

It is also used to brew a gentle decoction, drunk prior or after meals to increase appetite and it also serves as a gentle digestive aid.


Cinnamon was traditionally used as a herbal warming agent, used to treat cold and induce warmth in the patient in the herbal medicine of both India and Europe. It can be combined with ginger to induce warmth in the body. It has an antiseptic quality as it is anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacteria. In oil form Cinnamon can reduce pain and used as a liniment during treatment of arthritis.


Ginger is an effective treatment for the reproductive and digestive systems because it stimulates circulation, and supports a good blood supply to these organs. Ginger has anti-inflammatory making it an effective pain killer.


One of the most valued spices of the ancient world. It is used to bring relief to the digestive system such as indigestion, excess abdominal gas and muscular cramps. The Indian used Cardamom to treat various ailment like asthma, bronchitis, kidney stones and anorexia.


Clove relieves pain from toothache, dental decay and eliminates bad breath. Clove herbal tea helps to treat nausea or excess gas in the stomach and the intestine. Clove tincture is used as anti fungal treatment as in athlete’s food. Its anti-viral properties help to treat infectious diseases in tropical areas of Asia. There, it is used to treat diseases like malaria, tuberculosis as well as in ridding the body of external disease caused by parasites such as scabies. It is used to treat coughs and other ailment of the respiratory system.