My first-ever guest blog post is about the medical properties of Chrysanthemum, written by Doug Crawford. This post originated from an online discussion about how beneficial properties of herbs, especially tisanes, herbal teas, are never clearly discussed in online references, and that when claims are made there is never substantial background for them.
In one other blog post I'd started into research about such properties related to mulberry leaf tea / tisane, but Doug goes a couple steps further in adding Eastern traditional use description and current Western research of nutritional content and health benefits. A bit more on him first:
Living in Bangkok, Doug Crawford is an American-trained and -licensed practitioner of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Inspired to help people heal, you can learn more about him at 68meridians.com, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wellspringheali….
On to the article then:
When most of us think of chrysanthemums, we probably don't think of something we would voluntarily eat. Also known as mums, chrysanthemums are flowering plants of the Aster family. Native to China, they were first cultivated as a flowering herb as far back as 1500 BC. They arrived in Japan in the eighth century AD, at which point the Emperor adopted the chrysanthemum flower as his official seal. By the mid-1600s over 500 varieties had been recorded. They were brought to north America in the late-1700s.
With their many petals and countless colors, chrysanthemums can now be found in gardens worldwide. They have been depicted in art for centuries, and are renowned as one of the Four Gentlemen in Chinese and East Asian art. They're not only pretty to look at, chrysanthemums are indeed edible, and they have been used as both food and medicine for at least 2000 years.
Uses In The Kitchen
Chrysanthemum greens, meaning leaves, are quite popular in Asian cuisines—Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Southeast Asian—during the spring to autumn seasons. The young leaves are eaten raw or used in salads, while the older leaves can be steamed, boiled, or wok fried with the addition of various flavorings.
For those of us in the West, though we may occasionally see chrysanthemum flowers used in salads, they're usually consumed as tea. Made from dried yellow or white flowers of either Chrysanthemum morifolium or Chrysanthemum indicum, the flavor is mild and flowery, similar to chamomile. Tea made from yellow flowers has a distinct golden hue, while that made from white flowers has very little color.
In Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, chrysanthemum tea is consumed for its cooling properties. Chrysanthemum flowers contains no caffeine, so if you're looking for a stimulant buzz, they're probably not for you. But if you're sensitive to the effects of caffeine, or you're just not into the anxiety, tension, or irritability that list among its side-effects, chrysanthemum tea may be just the ticket. And if you don't add any sugar, there are essentially zero calories.
Chrysanthemums are notable for their content of vitamin K, beta carotene, and Folate. Just under an ounce of chrysanthemum flowers, way more than you would use for tea, contain over 100% of the daily requirement of Vitamin K. Vitamin K is important for blood clotting, and for binding calcium to bones and other tissues. They also contain about 10% of the daily requirement of beta carotene, and Folate. Beta carotene is the red-orange plant pigment, seen in carrots and the like, that is converted to vitamin A in the liver. It's important for vision, healthy skin, immune function, longevity, and growth. Folate is a B vitamin, sometimes called B9. It's important for the production of healthy red blood cells, the prevention of anemia, and for DNA synthesis.
As for minerals, chrysanthemums are a significant source of the manganese, a mineral absolutely necessary for development, metabolism, and the antioxidant system in humans. They also contain small amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Calcium is important for the development of teeth and bones, iron for the transport of oxygen in the blood, and over 300 enzymes require the presence of magnesium for their catalytic action. Potassium, one of the most common elements in the human body, is an electrolyte we need to build proteins, break down and use carbohydrates, build muscle, maintain normal body growth, and control the electrical activity of the heart.
In spite of the many articles that claim chrysanthemum is a significant source of B and C vitamins, this simply is not true. One would have to consume an entire handful of dried flowers to get just two percent of the recommended daily requirement for these vitamins.
Use In Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine, the chrysanthemum flower is called Ju Hua. The earliest written record of its use comes from the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, a book of agricultural and medicinal plants dating from around 225AD, where it is listed in the upper, or noble, class of herbs. Noble herbs are considered the safest in the Chinese materia medica. In fact, many of the noble herbs are foods.
Chinese medicine ascribes to each herb, and food, an energetic flavor, an energetic temperature, and an affinity for specific internal organs. The flavors, each of which has a predictable effect when ingested, include spicy, sweet, bitter, sour, salty, bland, and astringent. Temperatures range from very cold to hot. Chrysanthemum is spicy, sweet, and bitter. Its temperature is cool to slightly cold. And it has an affinity for the Lung and Liver, although some sources also include an affinity for the Spleen and Kidneys.
Another way Chinese medicine classifies herbs is by function, meaning how they effect the body. An herb's functions and its flavor and temperature properties are closely related. Four primary functions are attributed to Chrysanthemum:
• Dispels Wind-Heat – Wind-Heat means febrile disorders, including colds and flu, with symptoms such as headache, fever, painful eyes, dry or sore mouth and throat.
• Clears Liver and benefits eyes – In Chinese medicine, pathology of the Liver can manifest in the eyes. This herb clears heat from the Liver and relieves redness, swelling & pain in eyes.
• Calms Liver Yang – Chinese medicine looks at the balance of Yin (water) and Yang (metabolic heat) within a person. Yang has a natural tendency to rise upward. Pathological symptoms can include hypertension, or dizziness. Chrysanthemum calms rising Yang.
• Clears heat, eliminates toxins – Pathological heat and/or toxins in the body, whether acquired from food, alcohol or drugs, or the environment, can express through the skin with various types of inflammation, sores or swellings. Chrysanthemum treats various dermatological conditions, abscesses and ulcerations.
As you can see from both its energetic properties, and its functions, chrysanthemum is definitely a cooling herb. As such, its helpful in clearing heat and cooling the body, as well as calming nerves. And while all of the benefits ascribed to chrysanthemum from the Chinese medicine perspective have yet to be demonstrated by contemporary scientific research, the empirical evidence is extensive. As mentioned previously, the herb has been in use for at least 2000 years. Three varieties are used clinically. They include:
• Ye Ju Hua – Wild grown. Best for clearing heat and eliminating toxins.
• Huang Ju Hua – Yellow flowers. Best for febrile illness.
• Bai Ju Hua – White chrysanthemum. Best for eye problems.
Countless medicines have come from plants. The study of chemicals that are derived from plants, called phytochemistry, looks at two basic types of compounds contained in plants. These are volatiles and flavonoids..
Volatiles are responsible for a plant's perfume and flavor. They serve to attract pollinators and seed dispersers, and play a vital role in a plants healthcare system and protection. In a medical context, volatiles have demonstrated anti-microbial and anti-mycobacterial activity, free radical scavenging and anti-oxidant activity, and possible anti-cancer effects.
Favonoids are the pigments responsible for producing a plant's colors. Some of their functions include attracting pollinating insects, participating in UV filtration, nitrogen fixation, and as chemical messengers. As for their benefits to humans, flavonoids are important as anti-oxidants, and have demonstrated anti-viral, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic capabilities.
The Western scientific community has only just begun to research chrysanthemums. In spite of the lack of a large number of studies, numerous individual compounds have been isolated from them, including at least 63 volatiles, and ten flavonoids. So what else have scientists discovered? Let's take a look.
• Cardiovascular: A 1987 study concluded that a water extract of Chrysanthemum Indicum directly and uniformly produced coronary and systemic vascular dilation in anesthetized dogs. Vascular dilation reduces blood pressure and improves blood flow. (1)
• Anti-Microbial: A study from 2005 demonstrated significant anti-microbial potential of the essential oils of Chrysanthemum Indicum. (2)
• Anti-Oxidant & Anti-Cancer: A 2010 chemical analysis of Chrysanthemum Indicum concluded that the flowers are “a rich source of bioactive phytochemicals.” Among the isolates were types which are known to exhibit anti-microbial and anti-oxidant activity, as well as those which induce the body's natural defense against cancer. (3)
• Anti-Biotic: In a 2012 study, chrysanthemum demonstrated excellent antibiotic effects on E. coli. (4)
• Anti-Inflammatory: The results of a study published in 2013 showed a positive anti-inflammatory effectiveness of an extract from the flowers and buds of Chrysanthemum Indicum in four separate animal studies. (5)
While none of these results are definitive, they do align to some degree with the empirical evidence gained from centuries of use in Chinese medicine. It's important to note when using relatively safe herbs such as chrysanthemum as tea that the quantities of active compounds are relatively small and thus relatively slow-acting. As such, unless taken in large quantities, which is definitely not recommended unless under the supervision of a skilled practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine, they need to be used long-term to experience their positive effects.
How To Prepare Chrysanthemum Tea
Chrysanthemum tea is best when prepared from dried flowers, as many of the prepackaged products contain sugars or other additives. Dried chrysanthemum flowers can be found in Asian or health food markets, or Chinese herbal pharmacies.
To prepare chrysanthemum tea, five to eight dried chrysanthemum flowers (approximately one gram) per individual serving are steeped in hot water (90 to 95 degrees Celsius/200 degrees Fahrenheit after cooling from a boil) in either a teapot, cup, or glass for about five minutes. If you want a bit of sweetness, you may add a little honey. Another way to slightly sweeten it is to add three or four goji berries when steeping.
In Chinese tradition, once a pot of chrysanthemum tea has been drunk, hot water is typically added again to the flowers in the pot (producing a tea that is slightly less strong). This process is often repeated several times.
Cautions & Contra-Indications
People who are allergic to ragweed or other plants may want to explore drinking chrysanthemum tea with caution. If you notice any skin irritation or respiratory issues while using, discontinue immediately. When consumed in large quantities, chrysanthemum can interact with various prescription medicines. If you're concerned about interactions, consult with your physician before using. Also, chrysanthemum is cooling, so individuals with digestive weakness, loose stools, lack of appetite, or particularly low energy, as well as individuals who tend to often feel cold should be cautious when considering consuming chrysanthemum.