“Cạo Gió”: Vietnamese Cold Remedy

Main Piece:

A: Cạo gió là hồi xưa ở Quê, không có biết là– đi bác sĩ, chừng nào nguời ta bị cảm, hay là bị bịnh chút chút… mệt mỏi, chừng thay nhức mỏi, thì lúc đó cạo gió, ngời ta feel better. Nguời ta cảm thấy khỏe lên, đỡ lên. Giống như cào gió cho cái chất dộc ra ngaòi. Cái hơi dộc trong mình nó ra ngaòi. 

  • “Cạo gió” = traditional Vietnamese practice of bruising the skin with some sort of round or hard object by scraping it on the body with medium pressure.
  • “Cạo gió is back then at Quê (city in southern Vietnam), we didn’t know– when someone goes to the doctor, when they have a cold, or when they’re a little sick… tired and sore, when your body is sore and aching, then that’s when you do cạo gió, the person will feel better. People experience that they get better, feel better. It’s like you do cạo gió to remove the harmful properties out of your body. The harmful elements in your body go out.”

Me: How do you do cạo gió?

A: Just xức dầu lên, dầu nóng lên, xong rồi dùng cái penny, cào nó tôi.

  • “Just apply menthol oil on your body, warm menthol oil, then get a penny, and just scrape it.”

Me: Do you have to do a specific shape?

A: (emphatically) Yeah. (gesturing) cào hai đường thẩng xuống, rồi hai bên– cào lên hai bên hông. Xong. Rồi xủc dầu lên. 

  • “Yeah. scrape two vertical lanes down the spine, then on two sides– scrape either side of the lanes. Done. Then apply more menthol oil.”


My mother is the one telling me this story. She first learned about this practice through her great-grandmother, who performed this on her father and her uncles when they were sick, back when she was a child in Vietnam. Since then, she has performed this on my sibling and me, as well as my father. She believes this to work, and also scrapes her shoulders when they feel sore.


This is a transcript of our live conversation. My mother was in the process of making dinner (which was phở: Vietnamese rice noodle dish in beef broth) when I asked her about this practice. It has been on my mind since the first day of the lecture when we discussed folk methods of curing colds.


This practice of scraping the back with menthol oil and a penny is something my mother has done for my sibling and me, and my father whenever we were sick. She mostly did this when my sibling and I were much younger, and I remember not understanding then, what the purpose of this practice was or how it helped. Now, it could be related to a more mainstream practice of cupping, which involves the same method of bruising the body to remove toxins. While this technique is folk medicine and folk practice, it can also be thought of as homeopathic magic. My mother specifically describes how the paths being scraped into the body mimic the body’s toxins’ passageway out of the body.