Year of Grace Day 158. More on the vine of immortality

Yesterday M and I had afternoon tea with Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum). I noticed that when the leaves steep longer than 5 minutes, the tea becomes bitter-sweet. However I didn’t detect the liquorish notes that the German herb and spice grower Rühlemann’s mentions in their description of this vine. Perhaps once my vine gets into its stride (it has just began to shoot), it will acquire some other flavours, instead of just being sweet and bitter. The herb and spice nursery lists 12 beneficial effects of Jiaogulan, which also happens to be their best-selling plant for use as groundcover, due to its rapid growth under good conditions. (I have translated the following from their website).

1. adaptogen: Jiaogulan contains saponins that have a balancing effect in the body: some are chemically identical with those in ginseng, and some are a separate class of saponins called gypenosides. Prevents stress-related illnesses.

2. antioxidant: contains the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), an extremely effective antioxidant.

3. cardiac tonic: improves the pumping of the heart, and thus general blood circulation.

4. against hypertension: maintains blood pressure in the normal range.

5. excess cholesterol: Jiaogulan lowers LDL levels and triglycerides, and could lead to weight loss among overweight individuals.

6. against stroke and heart attack: Jiaogulan prevents platelet clumping, thus decreasing the occurrence of life-threatening blood clots. Also a preventative against thrombosis.

7. immune system tonic: lymphocyte activity is enhanced in ill and healthy individuals.

8. blood formation: boosts the formation of white blood cells; beneficial for recovery after chemotherapy or radiological treatment.

9. against diabetes: lowers blood sugar and blood lipids.

10. cancer retardant: Jiaogulan contains the same tumor-inhibiting glycoside found in ginseng (ginsenoside Rh2), but in much greater concentration.

11. stress elimination: Jiaogulan has a balancing effect on the nervous system: frayed nerves are calmed, while listless nerves are stimulated. The results are better stress tolerance and, for athletes, increased endurance and thus better performance.

12. promotes metabolism due to better capillary and cardiac functioning, as well as improved blood count and other factors.

However, further reading uncovers precautionary warnings for those with auto-immune diseases, such as rheumatic arthritis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (which I have). As well it is good to note that Jiaogulan could interact rather negatively with certain drugs.

So… point well taken — everything in moderation, and I intend to drink Jiaogulan tea once a week or two weeks, the same frequency as I drink other herbal teas. Besides, my plant is just waking from its winter sleep, and needs to build up its strength before I snip any more shoots.

Rühlemann’s gives more ways of enjoying the benefits of Jiaogulan. Nibbling one or two fresh leaves apparently gives some of the nursery’s workers an energy boost. The tender shoot tips can be added to salads. And a few leaves can be crushed and macerated for 1 – 2 hours in the fridge in Sekt or Prosecco (or your favourite bubbly) for an unusual health-boosting cocktail. Zum wohl! To health!

Year of Grace, Day 157. A vine for immortality

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 ☺.