Huo Xiang

Botanical name: Agastache rugosa
Common name: Agastache, Korean mint

Family: Labiatae, mint family
Part used in Chinese medicine:  leaves and stems

Major Chinese medicine actions:
Aromatically transforms dampness, releases the exterior,
harmonizes the middle, alleviates nausea

Huo Xiang

Huo Xiang

Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Agastache rugosa; 06/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 2: Agastache rugosa; 06/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute

Comments:
There are two plants grown for the Chinese herb Huo Xiang, and it is unclear which is the best for medicinal use. According to Bensky, Clavey and Stoger in the “Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica”, at the time the book was published in 2004, Pogostemonis Herba, or Guang Huo Xiang, was considered the superior and therefore standard plant. Guang Huo Xiang is also known by its common name, Patchouli.

Agastaches Herba, or Tu Huo Xiang, has the same properties and may be used medicinally, but is less aromatic and considered less effective. Agastaches rugosa, or Korean mint, is considered an acceptable species for medicinal use and is much more commonly grown in the U.S., pictured in the above photos. It is native to China, Japan, Korea and Siberia, growing in grassy areas in mountains, by streams, and in meadows up elevations of 5,000 feet.

The plant is commonly cultivated in backyard herb gardens. It is hardy, easy to grow, and bears attractive flowers. The young leaves are edible and have a strong anise like fragrance, commonly used for flavoring or as a pleasant tasting herb tea to aid digestion.

Growing and Propagation

Agastache grows best with full sun though will grow in partial but not full shade. It prefers light, loamy, well-drained soil and is drought tolerant once established. The plant grows up to 3 feet tall forming a slowly spreading clump. Lovely 2-4 inch bluish-purple flower spikes appear from July to September, and seeds ripen in early fall. The plant can tolerate temperatures down to 14 degrees F, and is hardy to USDA zone 8.

Plants are propagated by seed, best planted in spring in a greenhouse. The seeds should be just barely covered with soil. When the seedlings are large enough they can be planted outside in the late spring or early summer. Plant clumps can also be divided in the spring, and if large enough, can be planted directly into the garden.

Harvesting and Preparation

For medicinal use, good quality Huo Xiang includes the stems, branches and leaves of the plant. The color of the dried plant should be green, and the majority of the plant matter should consist of leaves having a strong fragrance.