Botanical name: Aster tartaricus
Common name: Aster root, Purple aster, Tatarian aster
Literal name translation: purple aster
Family: Asteraceae, aster family
Part used in Chinese medicine: root
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Relieves cough, expels phlegm, facilitates flow of Lung qi
Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Aster tartaricus; 10/2006; author Kenpei; permission under GFDL
Photo 2: Aster tartaricus; 08/2008; author Pascalou petit; permission under GFDL
There are about 250 species of aster, Aster tartaricus being one of the tallest, growing 6 to 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide. There is a recently developed dwarf cultivar of the same aster available, called “Jin Dai”. The plants bloom mid to late autumn with lavender blue daisy-like flowers that attract butterflies, especially the Monarch.
Growing and Propagation
Easy to grow, these asters do best in fertile, moist soil in full sun, but will tolerate light shade. They can be cut back 6-8 inches, or up to one half their height, in late spring or early summer to encourage a bushier plant, to control mature height, and prolong bloom time. This cutting back must be done prior to mid-July or it will reduce the number of blooms. Plants are hardy in USDA zones 3-9.
Propagation is relatively easily and the plant often re-seeds and spreads on its own. Seeds can be planted in directly in the ground in the spring after the danger of frost has passed, or in pots in a cold frame in autumn. Germination takes about 15-30 days. Mature clumps can be divided in early spring or late autumn after flowering is over.
Harvesting and Preparation
For medicinal use, the best quality Zi Wan consists of roots that are long and pliable and purplish red in color. Zi Wan is commonly prepared with honey (mi zhi zi wan) when treating yin deficient conditions or Lung dryness. In this case, the herb is baked or fried with honey until it is no longer sticky.