Botanical name: Akebia trifoliata
Common name: Akebia vine
Family: Lardizabalaceae, lardizabala family
Part used in Chinese medicine: caulis (stalk and stems)
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Promotes and unblocks urination, promotes urination and drains heat
from the Heart via the Small Intestine, facilitates lactation
Photo 1: Source Point Herbs; Image source unavailable
Akebia is native to northeastern China, Korea, and Japan. A vigorous, twining vine, its natural habitat is the forest margin and when cultivated in a garden setting it can easily become invasive and overwhelm other plants. Its woody stems have conspicuous tubes running through them, hence their use in Chinese medicine to dredge and unblock small collaterals and blood vessels.
Historically, what is now known as Mu Tong, Akebia Caulis, was originally called Tong Cao. However in modern times the name Tong Cao has been given to the herb Tetrapanacis Medulla. There are other plants that have been known by the name Mu Tong, inlcuding Aristolichiae manshuriensis caulis (Guang Mu Tong) and Clematidis armandii caulis (Chuan Mu Tong).
Guang Mu Tong has toxicity that, while possibly minimal when used in small doses, is concerning enough that the plant should not be used medicinally. Due to problems associated with the nephrotoxin, aristolochic acid, the plant is now illegal for use in the U.S. and several European countries, and reportedly is soon to be outlawed in China as well. At present, Akebia trifolata caulis is the plant used for the herb Mu Tong, as it is effective and entirely safe.
Growing and Propagation
Akebia trifolata is deciduous or semi-evergreen, staying green most of the year with leaves that emerge early in spring and stay into December. The vanilla-scented flowers are interesting and unusual, but small and generally remain hidden under the foliage. The development of fruit (called Ba Yue Zha) is dependent on the cross pollination of both male and female flowers. Female flowers are deep chocolate-purple in color, while the male flowers are smaller and lighter colored.
The plant is very adaptable, doing well in sun or shade conditions, moist or dry soil, and low or high pH. It grows 20-40 feet long and can be difficult to get rid of once established unless pruned regularly. Propagation is by seed in containers or in a cold frame as soon as the seed is ripe. Root cuttings can be planed in summer. The plant is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8.
Harvesting and Preparation
Stems and stalks are harvested and sun dried.