Growing Chinese Herbs In Texas: Jiaogulan

We have talked about the key to growing “medicinal herbs” that are truly medicinal.  It is all about the growing environment and how closely it resembles the conditions the plants natively flourish in.  The medicinal compounds in an herb typically develop from the plant’s reaction to the combination of soil conditions, sun and water exposure and other environmental stimuli.  These environmental stimuli can be as varied as local toxin levels (pesticides, air pollution, etc) to wind conditions.

When I set out to start growing medicinal herbs, I did alot of research into figuring out which herbs might do well natively here in North Texas.  And which others I might be able to grow by creating growing conditions that closely resembled their native habitats.

Chinese Adaptogenic Herb Jiaogulan

And I have had success with most of the herbs I have experimented with.  One of the herbs I was very interested in cultivating was a Chinese herb called jiaogulan.  Jiaogulan, a member of the gourd family of plants, is an amazing adaptogenic herb.  And we all know how much I love adaptogens for their beneficial body balancing and stress management effects.

I originally purchased my jiaogulan seeds from Horizon Herbs and sprouted them under lights.  The germination rate ran about 60% for that first batch, which is pretty good considering how finicky a starter jiaogulan can apparently be.

What native conditions does the plant thrive in?  Jiaogulan natively grows in the mountainous regions of southern China, the rural areas of Japan and in parts of South Korea.  It is a vine herb that likes partial sun, rich soil and, as I have found out, alot of room to spread.

I created a plot for my jiaogulan in an early morning sun exposed raised bed filled with top soil amended with brown compost and shredded leaves.  Due to the minimal sun, the bed stays fairly moist.  I was looking to replicate the meadow type conditions that jiaogulan loves.

Once I transplanted the seedlings from the grow lights to the ground, the jiaogulan plants took a couple of weeks to stabilize in their new environment.  I think I lost one or two from the shock.  But after that initial adjustment period, the remaining plants took off.  I ended up putting in a mesh trellis around the bed to give the vines room to spread.  By the end of that first growing season, the fencing was covered in deep green jiaogulan vines.

Okay, so I had a bed full of pretty jiaogulan vines.  How could I know if the medicinal content was in there?

Well, short of sending plants off for expensive testing and analysis, the only real way to judge an herb’s medicinal quality is through it’s appearance, taste and scent.  According to reputable Chinese literature, native jiaogulan is a vine with serrated 5-leaf clusters and has a slightly sweet scent and taste.  Jiaogulan contains chemical compounds called saponins that give the plant it’s sweetness.  Saponins also provide many of the incredible medicinal benefits associated with jiaogulan.  Asian ginseng also contains saponins.  But as powerful as Asian Ginseng is, jiaogulan actually has 4 times the saponin content as that popular healing herb.

The jiaogulan I am growing fits the qualities that the Chinese references describe.  It has the serrated 5-leaf clusters and has a unique sweetness when I munch on it.

I harvest my jiaogulan and typically store it in tincture and tea form.  During the growing season I will also throw jiaogulan leaves into salads or my green smoothies.

What attracted me to jiaogulan to begin with?  Again, it is a powerful adaptogenic herb with an extremely high level of saponin content that provides a range of health benefits including:

  • Increasing athletic endurance
  • Reducing the effects of stress on the body
  • Normalizing blood pressure
  • Lowering serum cholesterol
  • Fighting diabetes

If I’m able to grow a finicky Chinese herb like jiaogulan here in the dust bowl of North Texas, chances are you can grow it where you live.  As a general healing herb, it provides a wide range of body strengthening benefits.

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