We have recently published ‘Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions’: i.e. tropical and sub-tropical regions. We rely on regular donations to keep our free database going and help fund development of this and another book we are planning on food forest plants for Mediterranean climates. Please give what you can to keep PFAF properly funded. More >>>

Follow Us:


Houttuynia cordata - Thunb.

Common Name Tsi, Chameleon, Rainbow Plant, Chameleon Plant
Family Saururaceae
USDA hardiness 5-10
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Shrubberies and damp places to 2400 metres in the Himalayas[51]. Often found as a weed in wet fields[187].
Range E. Asia - China, Japan, Himalayas.
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (2 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (4 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Wet Soil Water Plants Full shade Semi-shade
Houttuynia cordata Tsi, Chameleon, Rainbow Plant, Chameleon Plant

Houttuynia cordata Tsi, Chameleon, Rainbow Plant, Chameleon Plant


Translate this page:


Bloom Color: White. Main Bloom Time: Early summer, Late summer, Mid summer. Form: Spreading or horizontal, Upright or erect, Variable spread.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Houttuynia cordata is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.6 m (2ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 5 and is not frost tender. It is in flower in June. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs).
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) or semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers moist or wet soil and can grow in water.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Gymnotheca chinensis. Polypara cochinchinensis.

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Ground Cover; Pond; Bog Garden;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Leaves  Root  Shoots
Edible Uses:

Teder young shoots and leaves - raw or cooked as a pot-herb[2, 61, 103, 183, 272]. The leaves and young shoots are harvested in the spring when about 8cm long[264]. Strongly aromatic according to one report[183] whilst others say that it is rather smelly and somewhat like rotten fish[105, 178]. Our experience is that the leaves have a delicious orange-like smell and make a marvellous flavouring in salads[K]. One report says that there are two distinct chemotypes of this species. Plants from Japan have an orange scent, whilst those from China have a smell resembling coriander leaves (Coriandrum sativum)[238]. Some people seem to really like this leaf, others are indifferent to it or strongly dislike it[K]. It also varies quite considerably according to the time of year. In the spring and summer it has a very acceptable flavour, but by autumn a distinct bitterness has crept in[K]. Root - cooked[177, 183]. Same comments on the smell as for the leaves[105]. Fruit[183]. No further details[K], but the fruit is a capsule that contains many small seeds[200].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antibacterial  Antidote  Antiinflammatory  Antiphlogistic  Antiviral  Astringent  Depurative  Diuretic  
Dysentery  Emmenagogue  Febrifuge  Hypoglycaemic  Laxative  Ophthalmic  Women's complaints

The whole plant is antibacterial, antiinflammatory, antimicrbial, antiphlogistic, antiviral, depurative, diuretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, hypoglycaemic, laxative and ophthalmic[103, 116, 147, 174, 176, 218, 238, 240, 279]. A decoction is used internally in the treatment of many ailments including cancer, coughs, dysentery, enteritis and fever[218]. Its use is said to strengthen the immune system[176]. Externally, it is used in the treatment of snake bites and skin disorders[238]. The leaves and stems are harvested during the growing season and used fresh in decoctions[238]. The leaf juice is antidote and astringent[218]. A root extract is diuretic[218, 240]. The root is also said to be used in medicinal preparations for certain diseases of women[240, 243]. The rhizomes yield a sterol, resembling sitosterol, which stimulates the secretion of antibiotic substances from a gram-positive spore-forming bacillus[240]. An active substance, effective in the treatment of stomach ulcers, has been extracted from the plant[240].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

The Bookshop: Edible Plant Books

Our Latest books on Perennial Plants For Food Forests and Permaculture Gardens in paperback or digital formats.

Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions: 250+ Plants For Tropical Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.
Edible Tropical Plants

Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions: 250+ Plants For Tropical Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.

Plants for Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.
Edible Temperate Plants

Plants for Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.

PFAF have eight books available in paperback and digital media.
More Books

PFAF have eight books available in paperback and digital formats. Browse the shop for more information.

Shop Now

Other Uses

A good ground cover plant[200]. Plants do not form a weed-suppressing cover[K]. A spreading plant, it should be spaced about 45cm apart each way[208].

Special Uses

Food Forest  Ground cover  Scented Plants

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Landscape Uses:Border, Container, Foundation, Ground cover, Massing, Woodland garden. Requires a moist to wet soil or shallow water, partial shade and a sheltered position[1, 31, 56, 238]. Whilst it grows best in a bog garden, it will succeed in moist garden borders[233] and has also grown fairly well in a dry soil in Cornwall[K]. It succeeds in full shade[208]. Plants are hardy to about -15°c[187], the top growth is killed back by frost though the roots are much hardier. Even the roots, though, can be killed in severe winters[56]. A very ornamental plant, there are some named varieties[187]. 'Chameleon' has very attractively variegated leaves with the same flavour as the species[K]. The bruised leaves emit a strong citrus smell rather like orange peel[K]. Plants have a widely spreading root system and are very invasive, though they are easier to control in drier soils[200]. Creeps harmlessly between ferns[187]. Cultivated as a salad crop in Vietnam[103] and in W. China[187].. Plants seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits[233]. Plants growing in an area with a high rabbit population were not eaten by them although other plants growing nearby were attacked[K]. Special Features: Attractive foliage, Fragrant foliage, Not North American native, Invasive, Naturalizing, Wetlands plant, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms. The plant is heat tolerant in zones 12 through 1. (Plant Hardiness Zones show how well plants withstand cold winter temperatures. Plant Heat Zones show when plants would start suffering from the heat. The Plant Heat Zone map is based on the number of "heat days" experienced in a given area where the temperature climbs to over 86 degrees F (30°C). At this temperature, many plants begin to suffer physiological damage. Heat Zones range from 1 (no heat days) to 12 (210 or more heat days). For example Heat Zone. 11-1 indicates that the plant is heat tolerant in zones 11 through 1.) For polyculture design as well as the above-ground architecture (form - tree, shrub etc. and size shown above) information on the habit and root pattern is also useful and given here if available. The plant growth habit is a runner spreading indefinitely by rhizomes or stolons [1-2]. The root pattern is rhizomatous with underground stems sending roots and shoots along their length [1-2].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

Type a value in the Celsius field to convert the value to Fahrenheit:



The PFAF Bookshop

Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees,Edible Shrubs, Woodland Gardening, and Temperate Food Forest Plants. Our new book is Food Forest Plants For Hotter Conditions (Tropical and Sub-Tropical).

Shop Now

Plant Propagation

Seed - sow spring in a greenhouse. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and plant them out in the summer. Division in spring[31, 56]. Very quick and easy, it can be done successfully at almost any time in the growing season[K]. Larger clumps can be replanted direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them on in a cold frame until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the spring.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Native Plant Search

Search over 900 plants ideal for food forests and permaculture gardens. Filter to search native plants to your area. The plants selected are the plants in our book 'Plants For Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests and Permaculture Gardens, as well as plants chosen for our forthcoming related books for Tropical/Hot Wet Climates and Mediterranean/Hot Dry Climates. Native Plant Search

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment



Botanical References


Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here

Readers comment

Ian Powell   Sun Jan 30 13:06:45 2005

bruised and crushed and inserted in nose for headaches, traditionaly....really. tends to like growing under some shade in moist areas.

Mike Vowell   Mon May 15 2006

One the advice of my wife, a Thai, I eat a small quantity of fresh leaves daily. This has completely cured my quite severe long term halitosis. The Thai variety definitely does not have the orange flavour, more fish like but the taste/smell does seem quite subjective. I find it not unpleasant whereas my wife can't stand it. The fresher the leaves the better tasting they are.

Alec Bauserman   Tue Aug 29 2006

My wife is from SW China (Guizhou province) where the roots are used in traditional cooking. Definitely an acquired taste!

Nikolaus Prachensky   Wed Jul 4 2007

Nikolaus Prachensky I have made an extract and have used it to treat herpes simplex topically and internally - seems to work very well, shorter outbreaks and accelerated healing of the wound

Add a comment

If you have important information about this plant that may help other users please add a comment or link below. Only comments or links that are felt to be directly relevant to a plant will be included. If you think a comment/link or information contained on this page is inaccurate or misleading we would welcome your feedback at [email protected]. If you have questions about a plant please use the Forum on this website as we do not have the resources to answer questions ourselves.

* Please note: the comments by website users are not necessarily those held by PFAF and may give misleading or inaccurate information.

To leave a comment please Register or login here All comments need to be approved so will not appear immediately.

Subject : Houttuynia cordata  
© 2010, Plants For A Future. Plants For A Future is a charitable company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. Charity No. 1057719, Company No. 3204567.