Botanical name: Bletilla striata
Common name: Bletilla rhizome
Family: Orchidaceae, orchid family
Part used in Chinese medicine: rhizome
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Restrains blood to stop bleeding, reduces swelling,
Photo 1: Bletilla striata; 07/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 2: Bletilla striata; 07/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 3: Bletilla striata; 07/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 4: Bletilla striata; 07/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
The Chinese name for Bletilla striata is Bai Ji. According to Peter Valder (1999) and Hu (1971), the meaning of the name has been confused and misunderstood over the years. "Bai" means white, and the original character for "ji" was pronounced "ji" but the character was different than the character for "ji" used today. The original character was one meaning "chicken". The plant was called "White Chicken" because of its fleshy white rhizomes.
Native to the cool to temperate regions of China, Taiwan and Japan, bletilla is a deciduous, terrestrial wild orchid. The plant has short rhizomes that develop corn-like pseudobulbs, growing partially underground. It is one of the few orchid species that is easy to grow without any special care. It can be grown outside if mulched to protect from cold winter conditions, or grown indoors as a houseplant. In China, it has been long used for its medicinal properties, but due to the availability of the wild plant, it has only recently has been cultivated.
Growing and Propagation
The plant grows in clumps about 12-24 inches high and wide, with pretty white or deep pink flowers blooming in May to June. Indoors, the plant can be grown in a soil-based potting mix with added leaf mold, and will do best in bright filtered or bright indirect light. It should be watered frequently in the summer and then left to dry out in the winter months. Outdoors, it prefers moist, well-drained, humus rich soil in a sheltered location with partial shade in the summer. It is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8. In cold regions it should be mulched in the winter or the bulbs can be lifted and stored in a dry, frost free place until planting outside the next spring.
In China, the plant grows naturally among ferns in woodland settings. They have a symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the soil that helps them obtain nutrients and compete with other plants. When grown in the garden, fertilizers and fungicides should not be used as they harm the symbiotic fungus, potentially killing the orchid plants.
Propagation of the wild orchid is by seed or division. It can be difficult to grow from seed, requiring soil with the symbiotic fungus. The fungal hyphae invade and enter the seeds, acting as a food supply for the plant until it becomes established and can use nutrients from decaying plant matter in the soil. When propagating by division, it is best done in spring. Each division should include 3 pseudobulbs on the plant rhizomes and it is best to keep each division in some of the soil from around the original plant in order to make sure there is fungus in the soil.
Harvesting and Preparation
For medicinal purposes, roots are harvested in early winter after 3-5 years of growth. The stems and lateral rootlets should be removed, dividing the young lateral rootlets for replanting in the spring. Soon after harvesting, the roots are blanched in boiling water for 3-5 minutes or steamed until the interior of the root turns from white to a greenish or yellowing white color. They are sun-dried until about half dry and then the outer cortex of the root is removed. The center of the root is then completely dried in the sun. Good quality Bai Ji consists of rhizomes that are large, translucent, solid, and hard.