From Viet Nam News:
HA NOI — Consumption of medicinal liquor is on the rise as an alternative to home-made wine, despite concerns over the quality and health benefits.
Medicinal liquor, which has origins in traditional Chinese medicine, is believed to treat disease and improve health. The wine is a mixture of alcohol fermented with herbs, including ginseng and jujube. Seahorses, snakes and termites are also used.
Because of the perceived health benefits, many consume more units than the daily limit recommended by doctors.
Vu Quoc Quan, 62, is a dedicated medicinal liquor drinker. He buys his booze from a shop on Ton That Tung Street. Today, he is washing down his lunch with bee wine.
"This wine is good for you and I can drink as much as I want without worrying about being poisoned," he says.
Shop owner Nguyen Thanh Huyen backs him up: "This wine is very tonic. I made it at least five years ago. The ingredients include rare herbs, gecko, deer horn and snake soaked in alcohol. The wine can help cure many diseases and is very cheap, only VND30,000 (US$1.8) – 60,000 ($3.6) per bottle."
She points behind her to six big glass jars full of snake wine, saying this is more expensive, but good for different diseases.
"I choose the ingredients very carefully and make it myself," she says. "The alcohol comes from a well-known distillery in Nam Dinh Province, so there’s nothing to worry about."
According to the statistics of the Ministry of Health, out of the approximately 20,000 distilleries nationwide, only 10 per cent meet quality standards.
The director of Bach Mai Hospital’s Detoxification Centre, Pham Due, says although the number of people suffering alcohol poisoning is small, patients usually arrive in a critical condition.
"The two most recent cases of alcohol poisoning were due to medicinal wine," Due says. "One drank bee wine, the other termite wine. They both recovered."
Nguyen Dang Bao, owner of traditional medicine shop named Bao Thuan Duong on La Thanh Street, says tonic wine usually has a hallucinogenic effect.
"I myself don’t believe tonic wine is good for your health," he says. "Animal organs disintegrate after fermenting for three years. You would be lucky if the wine didn’t make your health worse."
According to traditional medicine practitioner Nguyen Van Duc, from Binh Duong Traditional Medicine Hospital, every animal or insect has different toxins which alcohol can kill but only over a certain length of time.
"In some cases tonic wine has health benefits. However, like any kind of medicine, users must choose the right wine to suit their ailment, or they could risk doing themselves harm," Duc says.
Only knowledgeable wine-makers should sell medicinal liquor, says the head of the Toxic Centre, Due. "It’s difficult to control the quality of medicinal liquor. A wine-maker who has little knowledge of herbs, could mix the wrong combination or make other mistakes in the wine-making process."
Can Tho City’s Market Management Department recently confiscated over 700 litres of medicinal wine produced by Long Giang Company after it was found contaminated with formaldehyde. Herbs and certain animals were also sold without a hygiene certificate. The company were fined VND4 million ($243). — VNS