Botanical name: Chrysanthemum multiflorum
Common name: Chrysanthemum flower
Family: Asteraceae, aster family
Part used in Chinese medicine: flower
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Releases the exterior, dispels wind, clears heat
Photo 1: Chrysanthemum multiflorum; 09/2008; author C. Micleu: permission Jade Institute
Photo 2: Chrysanthemum multiflorum; 09/2008; author C. Micleu: permission Jade Institute
Photo 3: Chrysanthemum multiflorum; 09/2008; author C. Micleu: permission Jade Institute
The chrysanthemum is known as one of the "Four Gentlemen of Flowers" along with the orchid, flowering plum, and bamboo. The flower signifies longevity and a life spent in quiet retirement. It is the flower of autumn, seen as a romantic and melancholy season when the yang gives way to the yin and winter approaches. The flower became associated with the Confucian scholar because like the shortening days and beginning of cold weather, the scholar must stand firm in support of unpopular ethics and withstand disapproval and disfavor. If he failed, it was said that he might as well retire from public life and go to live a quiet life in the countryside.
The association of the flower with longevity and immortality came about with the custom of drinking chrysanthemum wine on the 9th day of the 9th month, in order to promote a long healthy life. The wine was made from the leaves and twigs of the blooming plants mixed with glutinous rice, and then fermented until the following autumn. Just as the chrysanthemum blooms late in the year, so in old age a person would continue ever blooming.
The common garden mum is the same flower used in Chinese medicine. The plants come in a variety of colors. Their disc flortets (center of the flower) are yellow, and petals can be yellow, white, bronze, reddish, pink or purple. The primary medicinal types are ones with white or yellow flower petals.
The white flowering mums (Bai Ju Hua) are reported to be higher in flavinoid glycosides and additional active ingredients. Traditionally these white flowers are said to be stronger at calming the Liver and clearing the eyes, while the yellow flowers (Huang Ju Hua) are stronger at dispelling wind-heat and draining heat toxin.
The benefits of long-term consumption of Chrysanthemum tea have been recognized throughout the history of Chinese medicine. It is said to prevent aging and to be a favorite of Taoists and poets, though the benefits are achieved only with drinking the tea over a long period of time. In the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, it says, "taken over a long time it facilitates the qi and blood, lightens the body and prevents aging." Chen Shi-Dou explains: "Sweet Ju Hua is light and clear in flavor and nature, and its effect is particularly leisurely, it must be taken over a long time before it starts to take effect, one cannot just take more to try for earlier results."
Growing and Propagation
Chrysanthemum plants can be propagated by seed, stem cuttings, or by directly dividing roots in autumn or spring. The plants do best when grown in full sun, protected from the wind, and in soil that is rich, sandy, and well drained. They grow from 12-36 inches high and flower in the fall, hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9. The plants may be cut back 3 times during the spring and summer, with the last cut in mid-August, to encourage bushy, compact growth and prevent spring flowering.
Harvesting and Preparation
Flowers are harvested around the third week of October. There are a variety of methods for drying and harvesting the flowers. Traditionally, the white mum flowers are picked, and then dried in the sun. The yellow flowers are baked over a light fire until dry. But in modern times, for all varieties it is common practice to simply cut the whole plant, tie it into bundles and hang to dry. The flowers are then removed when the plant is fully dried.