I’ve been growing Jiaogulan — also known as the plant of immortality — for two years now. It’s only this year though that I started to make tea with it. The amount of shoot tips (about 6 or 7) in the photo were sufficient to impart a pleasing sweetness to my small tea pot holding about 2 mugs’ worth of tea. A pity the leaves are scentless, and I meant to add lemon balm leaves (shown surrounding the tea pot and bowl on the table) to make up for it, but didn’t. I had wanted to enjoy the tea of immortality in its pure state. I nibbled on a raw leaf, and found it surprisingly sweet with a bitter aftertaste. I ended up eating the “tea leaves” once I’d drunk the tea — for even greater benefit. The vine is promoted as “like ginseng but works better than ginseng” by the German herb and spice supplier Ruehlemanns, who also recommends the leaves in stirfries.
Why immortality? Apparently in the mountains of Southern China where it originates (Guizhou), those who drink or eat it regularly are noted for good health and longevity. It is recommended for lowering high blood pressure, stabilizing blood sugar, lowering bad cholesterol, and anti-tumor activity, among other all-round beneficial health-boosting effects. Botanically known as Gynostemma pentaphyllum (each compound leaf has five parts; other related species may have three, seven or nine), Jiaogulan is regarded as an even better adaptogen (health booster) than ginseng for its greater store of antioxidants, discovered inadvertently by the Japanese researcher Masahiro Nagai, while searching for an alternative sweetener. (In Japan the plant is known as amachazuru, sweet tea vine). These antioxidants are doubtless what give the bitter aftertaste.
Speaking of bitter, in many foods such as tahina and coffee, those who regularly have these don’t sense or realize the bitterness, and shudder when I suggest bitter melon (Momordica charantia) to stabilize blood sugar levels (clinically tested btw). We’ll see what effects we get from immortality tea ☺.