A popular garden perennial and well-known ornamental plant, Chrysanthemum, is beginning to grow roots at our farm. Typically referred to as florist “mums”, the plants are noted for their spectacular display of autumn flowers. Garden centers and grocery storefronts are heavily stocked with the alluring hybrid colors of pink, yellow, purple, red and white throughout September and October. In 1798, the first cuttings of Chrysanthemum were planted in Hoboken, New Jersey. Since then, plant breeders have transformed this Asteraceae-family flower from a typical daisy pattern into attractive pompons, buttons, anemone, single and double floral displays. The US national Chrysanthemum society has divided mum flowers into thirteen distinct bloom forms by the arrangement of its floral parts, and the flower occupies second position in the world flower trade behind roses. Modern floral exhibitions of Chrysanthemums resemble pictures from the popular Dr. Seuss books.
However, Chrysanthemums share a much older cultural heritage near its wild origins of China. As a native to Asia, historical evidence has documented Chinese cultivation of this plant as far back as the 15th century B.C. The Chrysanthemum flower, referred to “Ju hua”, along with plum, bamboo, and orchid are collectively referred to as the “Four Noble Ones”. Through several dynasties, mums were exclusive to the elite class and common people were not allowed to grow them. In China, leaves are steamed for cooking and the dried flowers are typically prepared as a tea for consumption on a regular basis. The pale white to yellow flowers are steeped in hot water to create a herbal tea with a floral aroma. Specifically, Chrysanthemum morifolium is cultivated for it’s broad attributes and especially noted to support eye health.* The dried flowers spread through Korean markets as popular support for sleep, and in the year 910, Japan adopted Chrysanthemum as their national flower. Japan’s annual festival of happiness is based upon recognition of Chrysanthemum’s role in herbalism.
At Herb Pharm, we are growing three cultivars of Chrysanthemum morifolium that are used in herbalism: Bo Ju hua, Chu Ju hua, and Gong Ju hua. Each variety is named after a specific region of initial cultivation in China’s Anhui province. We are fortunate to have received stem cuttings of these rare varieties from Peg Schafer’s certified organic farm in Sonoma, California. In 2011, Peg published a wonderful book titled “The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm” and claims to be one of the few, if not only, grower of these varieties in the U.S. The cuttings arrived rootless in the beginning of March, and our challenge was to sustain the tender cuttings until root development. Chrysanthemum morifolium does not grow true from seed, so cuttings are the only option for propagation. Stem cuttings require a high level of relative humidity, while maintaining a soil temperature of 70-75 degrees. Cuttings should never wilt and a continuous film of moisture should cover the leaves until roots are able to form. The plants grow best in well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Throughout the growing season, mums should be pinched back a few inches every month to encourage bushy, compact growth. Pinching stem tips will increase flower yield and create a healthy structure for future growth. Just remember not to keep pinching too late into summer, or you could lose the entire fall bloom. Also, mums will over-winter in our climate and last several seasons given the appropriate pruning and soil requirements. At the farm, we will be harvesting our first flowers in September/October for drying, and propagating from these original plants for many years to come. The dried flowers are a key component of Herb Pharm’s new Eye Health™ Compound, and we are excited to become one of the few farms outside of China to cultivate these varieties used in herbalism.
Originally published in June, 2014.