Tian Hua Fen
Botanical name: Trichosanthes kirilowii
Common name: Trichosanthes root, Chinese cucumber, Snakegourd
Literal name translation: heavenly flower powder
Family: Cucurbitaceae, gourd family
Part used in Chinese medicine: root
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Drains heat, generates fluids, alleviates thirst,
transforms phlegm, reduces swelling
Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Trichosanthes kirilowii; 07/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 2: Trichosanthes kirilowii; 08/2003; author Michael Wolf; permission under GFDL
Trichosanthes is a perennial, twining, quick-growing vine with decorative, feathered, white flowers and round fruits that turn from yellowish green to yellow or orange red with maturity. Native to Japan and China, it is grown for its young fruits which are pickled, for its leaves and young shoots that are cooked as a vegetables, and the root which is used fresh in cooking or dried for Chinese herb decoctions. When the root is used for food, it harvested in the fall, cleaned and cut into thick slices, then soaked for 4-5 days. The water is changed daily until the root disintegrates and can be mashed into a fine pulp, and this starchy mass is used for making cakes and dumplings.
Growing and Propagation
The vine grows quickly to a height of 6 feet, or up to 20 feet in very warm climates. It is hardy only to zone 8, about 20 degrees F, but the tuber can sometimes survive the winter underground, even in the snow. The plant can be grown as an annual, or the large tuber can be stored in a cool, frost-free, dry place in winter and replanted in spring of the following year. It grows best in humus rich, fertile, well drained soil, and a full sun environment at a minimum 68 degrees F. The soil should be dug deeply, to a depth of 2 feet and the plant must be watered well during the growing season
Flowers bloom from July to September, and seed ripens from September to October. The plant is dioecious, so there must be both a male and female plant in order to produce fruit. For fruit production, propagation done by seed is best, while root division is best for root production. Seed is sown in spring in a warm greenhouse, and seedlings planted outside as soon as possible after the last frost. Germination will be facilitated by soaking the seeds in warm water for 24 hours before planting.
Male plants are considered best for root production. Roots are dug in the fall, and healed in sand over the winter. Before they begin to grow leaves in the spring, the roots are divided into 3-5 inch sections and planted about 6 inches deep.
Harvesting and Preparation
The root of Tricosanthes kirilowii is dried for the herb Tian Hua Fen, while the whole fruit is dried as the herb Gua Lou, the fruit peel is Gua Lou Pi, and seeds are Gua Lou Ren. Roots are harvested in late fall when the plant is dormant. The rootlets are cut off and root bark shaved off. Large roots may be split, then are cut into oblique slices, and dried in the sun.
The fruit is harvested in late autumn just before winter when very ripe. When the surface of the fruit starts turning yellow and begins to develop a white powdery exterior, it is completely ripe. It is harvested with the stem intact and groups of the fruits are hung together to dry in the shade for about two months. The stems are removed at that time. In rainy regions, the excessive moisture can easily cause molding and mildew, so the fruits are cut into sections and dried more quickly.