Mums Aren’t Just For Fall

The chrysanthemum used in Traditional Chinese Medicine may not be as showy as their counterparts seen in the fall, but they offer great healing to the body.

by Dawn Combs

Mums are typically associated with cooler, fall temperatures. It’s a common time to find these beautiful flowers in front of garden centers and grocery stores. Every year, I have watched all my spring and summer color fade away and am captivated by the deep yellows and maroons of the fall mum. Last year my son’s school sold mums in September. I brought home a pot and planted it in my barren flower bed and enjoy it until frost. These mums are not cold-hardy, so unless you bring them inside or heavily mulch them, they won’t last the winter.

Mums That Heal

This once-a-year love affair was on my mind as the frosts struck last year. I was researching our farm’s plan to explore the world of plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. As I was planning how to extend the life of my delicate mums I discovered Chrysanthemum morifolium, a very important herb in Chinese healing practice. C. morifolium is hardy in zones 6 to 9, so it won’t be hardy in my area of Ohio. We are looking into putting up one or two hoop houses here on the farm for the purpose of expanding our hardiness zone, though. C. morifolium will be one of the first candidates to put into this area.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, mums are used fresh and dried for eye ailments, fevers, colds and to support the liver. They are called Ju Hua. I first came upon chrysanthemum as a tea component in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It was so enchanting to watch the dried flower “rebloom” in a pot of tea. I came home and quickly bought a larger amount of them and have played with them in formulations ever since.

Planting Chrysanthemum

This year, I am looking forward to picking my own mums and using them fresh. I’ll be planting C. morifolium earlier than their more showy relatives I normally plant in fall. While I won’t see the little white and yellow blooms until late fall, by planting early I will assure myself of the best crop of flowers.

Chrysanthemums like a sunny spot on the garden where the soil will be well-drained. Some of the chrysanthemum species actually benefit their neighbors by giving off chemicals in the soil that prevent insect predation. I haven’t been able to find any specific information about C. morifolium, but at the very least, the white flowers may help protect your late-season broccoli from moths if you plant them nearby. You’ll need to find a nursery supplier of this particular specimen as it doesn’t come up well from seed.

Once you get your own supply of mum flowers, you might choose to dry some of them quickly in a well-ventilated, very warm area. In China, this medicinal easily graces not only a good cup of tea but is also welcome in a delicious chicken broth. Imagine how cheery it would be to receive some homemade chicken soup for your fall cold and find the small white mum flowers among your noodles.

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I love the idea of growing plants specifically with an eye toward picking the flowers and using them in various teas and confections. As my life gets more and more busy, having plants in our operation that literally require me to stop and observe the flowers keeps me grounded.

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