Eternal life in a cup of tea
It was a teatime favorite of Chairman Mao Zedong. But chrysanthemum's (ju hua) popularity in China stretches beyond the teacup. Not only has it been named one of China's "honorable plants," (others being plum, orchid and bamboo), but it's also a symbol of nobility and masculinity.
While this blossom may not be gracing any official favorite lists, its importance to China can be found by flipping a one yuan coin. Ju hua has also earned points with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctors. "After a hectic day work, it's ju hua time," says Beijing-based TCM practitioner, Stefan Brinkop.
Chinese medicine's versatile bloom
Traditionally, all parts of the ju hua were used in TCM: Its roots were boiled and used as a headache remedy, its petals were eaten in cold dishes, and its leaves were brewed to make drinks. During the Han Dynasty (206-220 BC) it was believed many plants and herbs used for medicinal purposes possessed magic-like powers, which if taken would be then passed to the user. Chrysanthemum's power: Eternal life. A Han legend tells the story of villagers from Henan Province who stumbled across a stream filled with chrysanthemum petals. It is believed that the villagers who drank from the stream lived to 130 years. Today, this belief has been replaced with the notion that ju hua promotes beauty, not longevity.
Calm the wind within
In Chinese medicine, there are five forces thought to disrupt the yin/yang balance within the body: Wind, heat, dampness, dryness and cold. Ju hua is a herb that used in TCM to calm wind symptoms. If wind is present in the body, all will be revealed via the liver, says Brinkop. Wind symptoms include fidgeting, dry, itchy eyes and a feeling of tension or tightness behind the forehead.
Prescription: "Chrysanthemum tea bags are quite pure, so don't be afraid to use them instead of leaves," says Brinkop. A few cups of hot ju hua tea throughout the day may just be the ticket to a less irritable day at the office.
Soothe skin irritations
"In the past, chrysanthemum was used as an effective disinfectant," says Brinkop. Nowadays, over the counter and prescription antibacterial lotions have replaced this natural remedy. "Using ju hua on skin inflammations and rashes will decrease itchiness, but never use it on open wounds," says Brinkop.
Prescription: For a cheap and natural alternative, store used chrysanthemum teabags in plastic wrapping and refrigerate. Dip teabags in cool water and rub over skin rashes to ease itchiness.
Diminish dizzy spells
"According to TCM, when the liver is affected, distress is shows up in the eyes," says Brinkop. Sitting in front of a computer screen all day can also lead to dry, itchy eyes. Ju hua contains vitamin A and B which both contribute to healthy eye maintenance.
Prescription: To make an eye-friendly brew, put ju hua and wolfberry (guo qi zi), (another well-known eye enhancer) in a mug with hot water and drink. Add sugar to sweeten.
* Add ju hua petals (available at organic stores) to cold dishes
* Refrigerate used ju hua teabags and place over swollen, tired eyes
* Teabags can also be placed on the face to soothe skin infections and acne