Jiaogulan – characteristics, cultivation, use and curative effects

Jiaogulan
Jiaogulan - by manfred.sause@volloeko.de - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30640082

The herb of immortality, as Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is also called, is originally from southern China. There, the herb is greatly appreciated for its numerous health-promoting properties. Here, too, Jiaogulan is becoming more and more popular as a universal medicinal herb, as it is easy to use as an anti-aging agent and has a lasting effect. Especially tea and smoothies are very popular.

Profile of Jiaogulan:

Scientific name: Gynostemma pentaphyllum

Plant family: Cucurbitaceae

Other names: herb of immortality, amachazuru

Sowing time / Planting time: April – May

Flowering period: June – August

Harvest time: all year round

Location: partially shaded to sunny locations

Soil quality: moist and nutrient-rich soils

Use as a medicinal herb: colds, inflammation, diabetes, exhaustion, restlessness, circulatory disorders

Use as spice herb: smoothies, sweets, salads

Plant characteristics and classification of Jiaogulan

Origin and distribution of Jiaogulan

Jiaogulan is native of southern China. Today, it is widely distributed in East and South Asia and can be found, for example, in Korea, Thailand, India or Malaysia. Since it is a very robust plant, it occurs both in the lowlands and at altitudes up to 3,000 meters (9,000 feet). Their natural range are the regions influenced by the southwest monsoon. Jiaogulan is found in dense mountain forests, mountain valleys, roadsides, riverbanks and shady meadows.

The well-known herb is now also cultivated in many European and North American countries and can therefore be found in some gardens.

Plant order of Gynostemma pentaphyllum

Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is a member of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae). The plant is therefore related to the cucumber and the pumpkin. Most of the plants in this family are from Asia. The genus Gynostemma includes about 20 species.

Synonyms of Jiaogulan are: Herb of Immortality, 5-leaf ginseng, Xianxao, Amachazuro and Dungkulcha.

Look and characteristics of Jiaogulan

Plant

Jiaogulan is a perennial climbing plant that can reach heights of growth up to 9 meters (27 feet) under optimal conditions. In our latitudes (Europe / North America), however, the herb is usually much smaller.

Leaves

The leaves of jiaogulan are slim, mostly dark green and slightly sawn at the leaf margin. The surface of the leaves shows a conspicuous leaf venation, which continues in a V-shape from the leaf base to the petiole. Both sides of the leaves are rough. There are four to nine leaves on each petiole (usually only 5), with the lower leaves usually smaller than the upper ones. The edged stems are slightly hairy.

Flowering

Jiaogulan forms male and female flowers, the male flowers are usually larger. The rather inconspicuous flowers consist of 5 petals, which are arranged star-shaped and are whitish, green or yellowish colored. The female flowers also consist of two to three rotundy ovaries. Jiaogulan plants cultivated in temperate climates often bloom between mid-June and late August.

Ripening

Logically, both male and female plants must be present for fertilization. If a fertilization takes place, female plants form small, smooth and greenish to black berry fruits, that are not more than 1 cm (0.4 inches) in diameter. The fruits of jiaogulans contain slightly brownish, edged and relatively small seeds.

Jiaogulan – cultivation and care

Jiaogulan is so popular here that many gardeners and herbalists want to grow their own herb of immortality. However, when cultivating the popular herb, there are significant differences in whether jiaogulan is to be grown from seed, or whether it is grown using finished plants from the trade. The latter is the much simpler variant.

Location

Cultivation of jiaogulan the natural site conditions should take into account. Basically, the herb is a very undemanding plant that can adapt on many locations. Optimal, however, are partially shaded to slightly sunny locations (not full sun) with moist, nutrient-rich and humus-rich soils. Waterlogging should be avoided despite the preferred moist soil, otherwise the roots can quickly be damaged. If jiaogulan grows in sandy locations, the soil should be mixed with compost and bentonite. Growth in commercially available potting soil is possible, and for reasons of sustainability, peat-free soil should be selected.

Sowing

Raising jiaogulan from seeds is a patience and sometimes time consuming task. For a successful propagation a loose and easy growing substrate is needed. Optimal is a mixture of mineral components (vermiculite, perlite) and organic components (topsoil, potting soil). Sowing of jiaogulan seeds should be done on the window sill or in the indoor greenhouse between April and May. If you want to give it a try outdoors, you will only succeed if there are no more frosts. A sunny and warm place is indispensable for the cultivation. Jiaogulan is a dark germinator, meaning the seeds need to be pressed about 3 to 4 cm (about 1.5 inches) into the ground. Before the seed is put into the soil, it should be placed in warm water for 24 hours. The substrate should always be kept light but not too moist.

Cultivation on the balcony and terrace is possible in principle. However, it should be ensured that jiaogulan plants are placed in generous plant pots. Optimal are balcony orientations in west or east facing. Full sunshine should be urgently avoided.

Propagation

Possible and recommended is the propagation of jiaogulan over cuttings. For best results, do a slant cut under the leaf axils of each leaf section. The cut piece is put in a glass of water for about 3 to 4 weeks. When the roots reach an appropriate length (about 2 to 4 cm (1 inch)) the cuttings can be placed in a pot filled with soil.

Watering

When pouring, take into account that the soil never completely dries out and is always slightly moist. It is best to pour in the morning or evening. Too much moisture can damage the plant.

Fertilization

Since jiaogulan is a perennial plant, the herb must be fertilized from time to time. Suitable fertilizers for jiaogulan are first of all compost or mineral liquid fertilizers with relatively balanced nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium ratio. Concentrated fertilizers should always be diluted with water. A good choice are also long-term fertilizers such as cattle dung or sheep manure in pelleted form, which are incorporated into the soil. If the plant is in a pot, no long-term fertilizer or depot fertilizer is used. Every three to four months nutrients are given. Jiaogulan plants in fresh potting soil should not be fertilized for the first three months. Commercially available flower or herb soil is usually pre-fertilized and has a sufficient nutrient depot.

Diseases and pests

With good care jiaogulan is relatively robust. However, sometimes aphids, insects and mildew infest the plant, which can usually be removed by simple means such as comfrey dung water or simple dabbing (lice). In case of greater infestation, the individual leaves or shoots should be completely removed. Unfavorable locations such as full sun can cause burn damage to the leaves, which are usually noticeable by white to slightly brownish spots. If such phenomena occur, the plant should be placed in a more shady location.

Wintering

Jiaogulan can tolerate large temperature differences without any problems, which is why cultivation is possible in many parts of the world. The herb has a tolerance range between – 16 and +40 ° C (3 and 104 °F). A wintering outdoors or on the balcony is thus easily possible in relatively mild winters. For harsher winters, it is recommended to cover the ground-level plant parts with brushwood.

Jiaogulan leaves
Jiaogulan leaves – by Doronenko – Won work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2095034

Jiaogulan and its use

Jiaogulan is now primarily used as a medicinal herb for many different medicinal purposes. However, it is also often eaten in salads or other foods.

Jiaogulan in the kitchen

Jiaogulan is used quite often in the kitchen in the form of salads, breads, herbal curds or smoothies, but enjoys no reputation as a particularly valuable aromatic herb. The taste of fresh jiaogulan is described as slightly sweet, slightly bitter with a touch of anise. Young leaves taste more intense than older ones.

In Japan, the herb is still occasionally used as a natural and healthy sweetener. It is used there in ice creams and industrially produced beverages.

The herb of the immortal comes as an ingredient in many smoothie recipes. A quite tasty and healthy option is the processing of jiaogulan with banana, linseed, walnuts or cashews, raspberries and oat milk. Such a smoothie should bring a lot of energy for the day. Another possible smoothie recipe consists of a few proportions of jiaogulan mixed with cucumber, lemon and mint.

Another option is to use jiaogulan as a salad herb. The herb is put either raw directly into the salad or can be used for the preparation of a salad dressing. In addition to the jiaogulan herb, such a dressing consists of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pepper, salt, natural yoghurt and lime juice.

Jiaogulan as a medicinal herb

Jiaogulan is an ancient and traditional Asian medicinal plant that is still widely used today. In old herbal books, Jiaogulan is recommended to people living in regions with poorly-managed soil. At that time, however, the plant was known exclusively as a food.

It was not until 1578 that Chinese physicians and herbalists mentioned jiaogulan as a medicinal herb. It was especially recommended for cuts, throat pain, hot flashes, edemata and bloody urine.

Surprisingly, jiaogulan is not one of the classical plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). One of the reasons is that most of the Chinese medicinal plants mentioned in the TCM medical books come from central China and not from southern China like jiaogulan. However, in recent years it has also been used as a medicinal herb in TCM. There it is mainly used for the immune boosting of cancer patients.

Nevertheless, in many Asian countries, it is a popular and widely used herb. Jiaogulan is used for the following complaints or illnesses:

  • cold
  • inflammation
  • hyperviscosity (reduced fluidity of the blood)
  • chronic bronchitis
  • diabetes
  • cancers
  • exhaustion
  • headache
  • circulation problems

The use of the herb for these complaints is for the most part scientifically justified. The ingredients present in jiaogulan, especially the numerous saponins and flavonoids, are responsible for the many medically effective properties. It is now known that jiaogulan has the following effects:

  • cholesterol-lowering
  • anticarcinogenic (helping or preventing cancer)
  • antimutagenic
  • anticoagulant (antithrombotic)
  • immunstimmulierend
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • stress prevention
  • circulatory tonic

In many households, jiaogulan plant is used as an anti-aging herb. Here, above all, the effect of the numerous saponia comes into play, which have antioxidant properties. These act as a so-called adaptogen, which allows the body to adapt to stress situations more quickly. In this case, jiaogulan helps to improve self-regulation (homeostasis), in which the endocrine system, the nervous system and the immune system are uniformly stabilized.

In some Asian countries jiaogulan is also used for the treatment of circulatory diseases as well as liver diseases such as hepatitis.

Jiaogulan may also be conceivable in the treatment of cancer. For example, it has been noticed in laboratory experiments that jiaogulan increases the number of T-scavenger cells. These are among others responsible for controlling malignant cells.

A much-noted approach is the use of jiaogulan tea for people suffering from diabetes (type 2). In a clinical study from Vietnam, patients suffering from type 2 diabetes were given a jiaogulan tea for eight months. As a result, insulin resistance was improved in favor of the patients.

Disclaimer:

Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Preparation of a jiaogulan tea

For the preparation of a jiaogulan tea you need 1 teaspoon of crushed jiaogulan leaves, which are spilled with 250 ml (8.5 fl oz) of boiling-hot water. The tea should be let steep for about 5 to 10 minutes. Specific dosage recommendations are currently unknown. However, very high doses (more than 5 grams per day (0.15 oz)) can cause nausea and should therefore be avoided.

Side effects

In pregnancy, the consumption of jiaogulan should be avoided as effects on the unborn child have not been adequately studied.

Buy Jiaogulan – What is there to pay attention to?

Jiaogulan has become very fashionable in the last few years, by what there are now quite a few products of medicinal herbs in the trade.

Fresh plants are now available in many plant centers, DIY stores and in some cases in larger supermarkets. When buying, make sure that the plant is not infested by scale insects. These are usually recognizable on the underside of the leaves as small white and flat dots. Furthermore, the soil should not be dried out.

It is much more difficult to get seeds. This is because it is relatively difficult to grow healthy and vigorous plants from the seeds. Occasionally there are seed at online retailers as well as at some online marketplaces.

Those who want to drink jiaogulantee from dried herbs, have to fall back to alternative products. It could be forbidden by your government to bring these so called „novel foods“ from other countries directly into the market. Before jiaogulan herb is commercially available again as a tea, a distributor must first carry out an expensive approval process. Many traders bypass this by selling potpourri or jiaogulan for decoration, for example.

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