Lian Qiao

Botanical name: Forsythia suspensa
Common name: Forsythia fruit

Family: Oleaceae, olive family
Part used in Chinese medicine:  fruit

Major Chinese medicine actions:
Clears heat, resolves toxicity, dissipates clumps

Lian Qiao

Lian Qiao

Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Forsythia suspense; 04/2008; author Kenpei; permission under Creative Commons
Photo 2: Forsythia suspense; 04/2008; author Kenpei; permission under Creative Commons

Forsythia suspensa is one of only 11 species of Forsythia, most being native to eastern Asia and found growing in the wild in thickets, moors, cliffsides, and grassy valleys. It is now widely cultivated in gardens across the U.S., though the species Forsythia suspensa is not as commonly seen in gardens as some other varieties such as Forsythia intermedia which is a cross between F. suspensa and F. viridissima.

One of the earliest winter bloomers, their dramatic bright yellow sprays of scentless flowers appear on arching or trailing bare branches in late winter to late spring, usually from February to April. When the flowers finish blooming, lush green foliage follows. The plant is a very hardy deciduous shrub growing to 10 feet high and 8 feet wide, but can stay at a 1 foot high if trained to grow and meander along the ground. It is easy to grow against a wall or fence as a screen, pruned to look like a small tree, or used in containers.

Growing and Propagation

Forsythia is very adaptable, doing well in full sun or light shade though will also grow in full shade. It prefers acid, well-drained soil but will grow in almost any soil including alkaline conditions and heavy clay. It requires moisture and will wilt in very dry weather, but other than the occasional watering, it almost thrives on neglect. Forsythia is pest and disease resistant and is cold hardy to about 13 degrees F, growing in USDA zones 5 to 9. Flowers are produced on wood that is more than 1 year old and plants will bloom even in freezing temperatures. Any pruning should be done after it has finished blooming.

To propagate by seed, they should be sown in spring in a cold frame. The seed takes about 2 months to germinate, and then when large enough to handle, the seedlings can be planted in pots and grown in a greenhouse over their first winter. They may be planted outside the following late spring or early summer after the last frost.

Plants can also be propagated by cuttings taken in spring or summer, with branch pieces that include a node. Cuttings of mature wood can be planted directly in a sheltered outdoor bed. If taken from half ripe wood, they should be planted in a cold frame and transplanted outside in the spring. Cuttings will generally root quickly, within about 3 weeks.

Harvesting and Preparation

Normal forsythia plants bear relatively few fruits, which are the part of the plant used in Chinese medicine, and attempts to increase fruit production have received a good deal of attention in China. For medicinal use, “green” forsythia (Qing Lian Qiao) is more commonly used than “yellow” or “old” forsythia (Huang Lian Qiao) as they have a relatively higher saponin content.

For Qing Lian Qiao, seed capsules are harvested when they are still green, before they ripen in very early fall, usually late August to early September. They are par-boiled or steamed and dried in the sun. For medicinal use, good quality consists of cleaned fruit that are completely closed and without seeds that are blackish green in color.
Yellow forsythia is the ripened seed capsules, harvested in mid to late fall, usually late September to early October when they have turned yellow and split. They are dried in the sun. For medicinal use, good quality consists of cleaned fruit that are yellow but not browned.