Zhe Bei Mu
Botanical name: Fritillaria thunbergii
Common name: Fritillaria bulb, Thunberg fritillaria
Literal name translation: shell mother from Zhejiang
Family: Liliaceae, lily family
Part used in Chinese medicine: bulb
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Clears and transforms phlegm heat, dissipates nodules
Fritillaria are known for their unusual pendulous flowers that bloom in spring or early summer. They can be bell shaped, tubular or saucer-like, and are often checkered. There are about 100 species, many of which are fragile and require special care to grow well. Zhe Bei Mu, or fritillaria thunbergii, is one of the more robust, tolerant species, though the pale coloring of the flowers makes it less commonly cultivated as a horticultural plant.
Growing and Propagation
Bulbs should be handled carefully to avoid bruising and damage. They should be planted to a depth 4 times their diameter, best started in a soil-based potting mix with added grit and leaf mold. They germinate best when in full sunlight, watered moderately and left almost dry during the dormant period. In the second year plants should be fed monthly with a dilute liquid fertilizer. When transplanted to the garden, the ideal growing conditions are in full sun, and in a climate with dry winters and summers, and wet spring weather.
The small creamy white flowers of Fritillaria thunbergii bloom in spring and are very faintly checkered or veined green. The plants grow to 2 feet high and are hardy in USDA zones 6 to 8. Propagation is by bulbs planted in the fall. They do best when grown in containers for the first 2 years. In late summer the bulbs of mature plants can be divided by digging the plants, then breaking off and planting the rice-grain sized bulblets.
Harvesting and Preparation
For medicinal use, Zhe Bei Mu is generally used in its unprepared form. Good quality herb comes from solid, hard, dried bulbs that have a white, powdery appearance.