Starting in 2003, Nam Phan and Doi have spent their mornings searching for medicinal herbs in the gardens and rice fields of Cai Rang District. They cut the herbs into small pieces, dry them, and then distribute them for free to local herbalists who distribute them to the community.

Before their retirement, the couple raised ducks for a living. Now, their goal is to ensure that everyone in the community has access to a healthy life, regardless of their financial situation.

Doi said, “He just laughs and refuses when people try to pay him for the herbs,” as she cleaned licorice in a river near their house.

Finding the herbs is a difficult task. Nam Phan and Doi often row their boat for dozens of kilometers to find important herbs like polyscias fruticosa and licorice.

“Thanks to my good health, sound mind, and a little luck, I am able to find herbs wherever I go. I feel really happy when people take my medicine and become healthier,” said Nam Phan.

Nam Phan learned how to identify medicinal herbs from his father and grandfather when he was a child. Both his father and grandfather were skilled in treating diseases using traditional medicines.

With his knowledge, Nam Phan gathers and grows herbs like polyscias fruticose, licorice, solanum procumbens, celastrus hindsii, angular winter cherry, and mugwort.

Each plant that the couple collects serves a purpose.

“This plant helps treat cancer, pain, and hypertension. It also improves appetite and sleep,” Nam Phan said, pointing to the celastrus hindsii in his garden.

Nam Phan and his wife devote themselves to seeking medicinal herbs. Photo: Lan Ngoc / Tuoi Tre

Nam Phan and his wife devote themselves to seeking medicinal herbs. Photo: Lan Ngoc / Tuoi Tre

According to Doi, growing and foraging for herbs has brought her meaning in life and granted her good health and happiness.

In addition to finding herbs, Nam Phan and Doi have a herb storage facility and a small area where they offer medical examinations and treatments with approval from local authorities. All of their services are free of charge.

News of their kindness and skills has spread, and some of their patients travel from as far as Ca Mau, Tien Giang, and Ben Tre Provinces.

Herbalist Cao Van Ta, a resident of Ninh Kieu District in Can Tho, has over 30 years of experience and admires Nam Phan and Doi for their dedication to their patients.

One of these patients is Nguyen Van Tam, a 67-year-old resident of Long Ho District in Vinh Long Province. He suffered from sciatic pain and had trouble walking for many years. It was only after meeting Nam Phan that he began to feel better.

Nguyen Thi Kieu, a 42-year-old from Ninh Kieu District, Can Tho, has also been cured by Nam Phan. “I had recurring knee pain. Herbalist Cao Van Ta gave me some medicine [that Nam Phan collected], and now I feel much better. I am really happy,” she said.

According to Nguyen Thanh Duoc, chairman of the Red Cross Society of Tan Phu Ward in Cai Rang District, the local community is grateful for the work Nam Phan and his wife do, including the 3,700 kilograms of herbs they have donated to pagodas, temples, and charity teams in Can Tho City and An Giang Province.

“Their golden hearts have contributed to treating people across southern Vietnam,” Duoc said.

Nguyen Van Tam, chairman of the People’s Committee of Tan Phu Ward, said, “We really respect Nam Phan and his wife. Despite their old age, they still help the sick without any complaint. We encourage them to continue spreading their love to the community.”