Bozhou, my new home, entertains the largest Chinese Medicine Market in China, with over 3000 types of plants, herbs and other raw materials available for sale. While you can find some of the unpleasant ingredients of Traditional Chinese Medicine, such as dried snakes, seahorses or even dried human placenta, the majority of stands are selling herbs and plants.
I have always been fascinated by China’s floral medicine. Flowers are not just pretty to look at but also provide healing abilities when used as medicine. Floral medicine isn’t just specific to Chinese culture, but we all have encountered healing flowers. Take chamomile or lavender for example.
Since my husband started learning acupuncture, our living room is full of books and other material about traditional Chinese medicine: colorful posters explaining the Five Phases theory, old Chinese medical charts on acupuncture meridians and a whole series of literature about the essential energy of qi. But personally I prefer all the stuff about Chinese herbal medicine, especially how flowers are used in this aspect. Simply because it is something I can understand without much explanation or research.
I also think that Chinese herbal medicine can provide a great alternative to conventional medicine. When I have a common cold I usually go for Chinese herbal medicine. I am prone to always get very swollen tonsils in frequent intervals since I was a baby, and the only medicine which really relieves the pain is a form of Chinese herbal medicine powder you resolve in hot water and drink three times a day.
However, Chinese herbal medicine, and especially the use of flowers, is not always just for curing a specific illness, but is mostly applied more generally to maintain a healthy state of mind and body.
Below I will introduce seven of the most commonly used flowers in Chinese medicine. Please note that it is advisable to seek professional medical help from a certified doctor first for any kind of serious illness.
Seven frequently used flowers in traditional Chinese medicine
Chrysanthemum Flower (菊花 juhua)
The chrysanthemum flower is one of the most frequently used flowers in Chinese medicine. It has over 30 different species of which Chrysanthemum indicum and Chrysanthemum morifolium is most commonly used as a herbal remedy, usually in tea form. It is said that Chrysanthemum tea was first drunk during the Song Dynasty (960–1279).
In China several different forms of chrysanthemum flowers are used for this herbal tea. These include: Huangshan Gongju 黄山贡菊 or simply Gongju 贡菊 from Anhui, Huangshan; Boju 亳菊 from Anhui, Bozhou; Hangbaiju 杭白菊 from Zhejiang, Tongxiang near Hangzhou; and Chuju 滁菊 from Anhui, Chuzhou。
The chrysanthemum flower is a natural treatment for eye pain associated with stress or yin/fluid deficiency. It is also used to treat blurring, spots in front of the eyes or dry eyes. In combination with other herbs, this flower can also treat dizziness and high blood pressure. The tea can help in preventing a sore throat and reduce fever.
Actually, western herbal medicine has used chrysanthemum tea for centuries to make a compress to treat circulatory disorders such as varicose veins and atherosclerosis.
Lotus flower (荷花 hehua)
The lotus flower might be one of the most recognizable flower in Chinese culture and thus also in China’s traditional herbal medicine. Eight different parts are used for a variety of ailments and discomforts, for example the lotus seeds (莲子心 lianzi) and its embryo (莲子心lianzixin; heart of the lotus seed), lotus leaves (荷叶 heye), lotus stems (荷梗hegeng), rhizome nodes (藕节 oujie) or lotus stamen (连续 lianxu).
Depending on the part used, the function can differ. For example the lotus seeds can benefit the spleen, kidney, and heart. A thick soup made with lotus seeds can be eaten to treat diarrhea. It is said that the sweet taste and nourishing qualities of the seeds are responsible for the benefit to the spleen, which helps stop diarrhea associated with qi deficiency. It also nourishes the heart and calms the nerves to prevent insomnia.
Lotus nodes can be used to treat bleeding disorders, such as bleeding noses, and the lotus leaf has become popular for lowering blood lipids and treating fatty liver.
Safflower (红花 honghua)
The Safflower, or Carthamus tinctorius, is a high branched, thistle-like flower plant that has been commercially cultivated for vegetable oil extracted from its seeds. In traditional Chinese medicine the dried safflower is used.
Safflower can be used to alleviate pain, increase blood circulation, and reduce bruising. It is also used to treat menstrual pain and amenorrhea. Because of its ability to increase circulation and dissolve clots, it’s often used for the treatment of heart disease and joint pain. It has also been effective in easing cramps and eliminating warts.
Magnolia (玉兰花 yulanhua)
The magnolia, similar to the chrysanthemum flower, comes in a variety of different plant species (about 210!). Personally, my favorite flower, the magnolia is an ancient genus, being extremely resilient with fossilized specimen dating back 20 million years.
Traditional Chinese medicine uses the flower buds and bark, called 厚朴 houpo of the specie Magnolia officinalis, which is native to valleys and mountains in China.
It is the highly aromatic bark which is stripped from the stems, branches, and roots which is used as a herbal remedy. It eliminates damp and phlegm, and thus is one of the most effective treatments for stuffy noses and chronic sinusitis.
Viola Flower (紫花地丁 Zihua diding)
The viola flower is a genus of plants in the violet family Violaceae. It can be recognized at its typical heart-shaped, scalloped leaves.
Many Viola species contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, but the most commonly used species in Chinese herbal medicine are Viola yedoensis and Viola prionantha.
As dried leaves boiled in hot water and served as tea, the viola flower can clear away heat and detoxicate. It also has both anti-inflammatory and anti-pyretic effects, which means it can treat fevers and bacterial infections. Interestingly, it has been used for centuries to treat snake bites because it can reduce both swelling and toxicity.
It is said to be a potential anti-cancer drug. Even though there is no substantial evidence to prove the effectiveness on the cancer itself, a particular formula of Chinese medicine has been included in the traditional Chinese pharmacopoeia. It consists of five Chinese herbs including Lonicera japonica, chrysanthemum, dandelion, Semiaquilegia adosoides (DC.) makino and Viola Yedoensis. This particular formula has been used to cure many malignant furuncles and local inflamed, fever and pain for a long time. Recently, this formula has been widely applied in therapies for treating cellular tissue inflammation, tonsillitis, mastitis and others.
Japanese Honeysuckle (金银花 Jinyinhua or 忍冬藤 Rendongteng)
Lonicera japonica is a species of honeysuckle native to eastern Asia including China, Japan and Korea.
The dried leaves and flowers are being used to in formulas to treat heat-related symptoms like fever, headache, cough, thirst and sore throat.
It was not just one of the five herbs contained in the anti-cancer formula mentioned above, but was also one of the four herbs in a formula to combat the swine flu and has proven its antibiotic properties successfully through years of research.
Peony (牡丹花 Mudanhua)
The peony is found growing in the wild as well as cultivated in several gardens. They are native to Asia, Southern Europe and Western North America. My Chinese parents-in-law and most of their neighbors grow them for medical purposes. Commonly just the root and bark (白芍 Baishao or 牡丹皮 Mudanpi) of the herbaceous peony, or Paeonia lactiflora, is used to make a herbal remedy. For this, the root is washed, crushed and dried. The peony is sometimes called red peony and white peony. However, this does not refer to the color of the flower, but to the color of the processed root.
The peony root is often mentioned as a women’s herb, meaning that it is most commonly used to help regulate the female hormonal cycle and are considered to be highly effective in relieving menstrual cramps. It is also often used as a pain reducing agent and as an emotional stabilizer by women.
It can also help to alleviate headaches, stomach pains and infections of the bladder.
There are so many more flowers out there used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine. For example roses, lilies or orchids are other popular floral remedies. The above mentioned are just six out of hundreds of flowers used in China’s as medical treatment of simply for relaxation and stress relieve.
Maybe Chinese floral medicine can help us to look better after our body on a daily basis.
Have you tried Chinese herbal medicine? What do you think?
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