One of my mother's favorite flowers to grow (besides her beloved roses) was the chrysanthemum. She sent me some to grow in my own gardens when I moved to Minnesota and I have always appreciated their blooming in the fall when most plants are done flowering. They often are still in bloom when the first snows arrive here in Northwestern Minnesota.
There are a lot of varieties of "mums" and most of them do have the same medicinal qualities we look for as herbalists. Chrysanthemum indicum and morifolium are often listed in herbal books (garden mums, perennial), chrysanthemum coronium is very popular in Asian countries,especially eating the greens of the plant (annual with larger flower diameter and fewer petals). The two of the coronium species I grow are Shungiku and Tong Ho (seed from Baker Creek Heriloom seeds). All chrysanthemums are easy to grow from seed and/or propagate from stem cuttings.
The first chrysanthemums were grown in China, so it makes sense that it is in China that chrysanthemum tea is so popular. How often have you seen chrysanthemum tea in the market or on the restaurant menu here in the US? It's a shame and perhaps we can let you in on the secret of a good tasting tea that has a lot of health benefits. I personally like drinking it in a blend with other herbs and flowers (Kanji Naturals has a blend "Sunny Soul" that includes Chrysanthemum).
So first, let's talk about it's health benefits then about how to best grow these chrysanthemums.
Chrysanthemum has both moistening and astringent properties--a rare and valuable partnership in one plant. "This is a cooling herb full of fortifying, tissue-protecting nutrients and antimicrobial constituents. In Chinese Medicine it is a mild Yin tonic that clears heat, disperses wind, purifies the blood, calms the liver, brightens the eyes, refreshes the mind, and rejuvenates the body. It has a soothing effect on the nervous system and can gently open the heart. I've heard it described as 'imbibing a ray of sunshine'. " (1)
Chrysanthemums are high in Potassium which helps reduce high blood pressure and is used for angina chest pains and increases blood flow to the heart. Several studies have also shown it can increase sensitivity to insulin and has an affinity for the kidneys which may help deal with kidney stones.
Mums are also high in antioxidants and minerals (Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium, Beta-Carotene, Vitamin C and B vitamins) which allows it to act as a nerve relaxant, anti-inflammatory (especially helpful in throat and lungs during cold and flu season), immune booster and bone density builder. It can also be used topically to deal with eczema and skin irritations. There is some newer research saying it is helpful with Lyme disease.
As you can see, this beautiful flower provides a wide range of benefit and it is so fun to eat broken up on a salad or in a tea. Precautions are listed for women who are pregnant or nursing as there just isn't enough research to know if there is a risk. It is also recommended you check with your doctor before consuming chrysanthemums if on prescription drugs as it interacts with many, though mildly.
If you have ever grown chrysanthemums, you know they are not fussy and pretty easy to grow. They like full, early sunlight, though the coronium species like part shade some of the day. They are susceptible to mildew so make sure you plant them in a dry area and not crowded so there is good air circulation (plants typically grow to a height and width of 1-3 feet). Fertilize monthly with a good 10-10-10 fertilizer up until the flower buds emerge.
The secret to growing mums is pinching back the plants several times early in the season. Pinch back the tips when 6 inches tall, then again when 12 inches tall up until mid-July, then stop pinching the tips. This will give you a nice, bushy plant loaded with blooms in late summer/fall. If you don't pinch, you will still get flowers but they will be on leggy stems that fall over and hard to appreciate. That's the big secret - pinching. The secret in the most nutritious and tasty tea is to harvest the flowers while they are closed or half open. If harvest the full open flower you loose flavor and some nutrients. If you find you love chrysanthemums so much you eat the flowers on your food daily and drink the tea, I would recommend eating only the petals as the center of the flower contains pyrethrins that can be irritating if consumed in large amounts. For most of us, that is not a problem.
So drink up and enjoy a cup of chrysanthemum tea or tea blend. Get some seeds and start sprouting your new chrysanthemum plants and transplant them out in your garden late May. Their beautiful, tasty and healthy.
(1) Rebeccas Herbal Apothecary Rebeccasherbs.com
(4) Materia Medica