If you’re looking for a health-enhancing summer tea that tastes great hot or cold, you should try Chrysanthemum flower. It’s been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries to support skin and eye health, to improve circulation, and, generally, to cool and calm the body if it’s irritated. This cooling quality has made it a perennial favorite in Asia during the summer, and it’s a daily staple of many poets and Taoists who have praised it for its life prolonging effects.
The first recorded use of the Chrysanthemum flower appeared in the Divine Husbandman's Classic of the Materia Medica in the second century, and, by then, its properties and effects were already well known, so it was likely in use long before that.
Four Ways Chrysanthemum Flower May Improve Your Health
The yellow parts of the leaves are rich in beta carotene, which the liver is able to convert into Vitamin A -- known both for skin health and eye health. This may be part of the reason why it's used very commonly to help with certain disorders of the eye like redness, swelling, itching, and pain in TCM. It’s also been used to relieve fatigue, pain, and blurriness from eye strain.
Don't confuse this for correcting something like farsightedness. It won't do that. But if your eyes are aching from fourteen hours at the computer and your visions seems extra blurry, Chrysanthemum may be able to help you there. Your best bet for that is to lay down and apply a hot compress from Chrysanthemum directly to your eyes.
Topically, it's also shown some promise as an aid for irritated skin (especially when combined with other herbs, likes Gan Cao, Jin Yin Hua, and Pu Gong Ying.)
As a tea, it seems to help dilate blood vessels, which can benefit anyone who's prepping up to do any kind of intense training by facilitating better circulation to your working muscles. In Asia, it’s used to help ease the dizziness, light-headedness, and head-aches that come from changes in blood pressure.
Chrysanthemum’s Cooling Qualities
The cooling quality that makes it a summer favorite also clears heat from the Lungs and the Liver, and to a lesser (but still important) degree, cools the Stomach and Kidneys. Its cooling properties provide a generally calming effect, both physically and mentally. Since Chrysanthemum tea is naturally caffeine free, its fine to drink it right before bed.
Chrysanthemum flowers are often combined in a mixture with honeysuckle, cinnamon, licorice and ginseng to produce a tonic that balances the cooling and warming principle in the body.
Many people also add Gou Ji (Goji, Lycii berries) to a Chrysanthemum decoction for added vitamins and nutrients along with the additional health benefits of balancing the cool energy of the Chrysanthemum with the warmth of the Gou Ji and extra support for Liver Blood and Kidney functions. They also add natural sweetness to the tea and bring an element of color and beauty to the appearance of the tea (Yes, aesthetics do matter to some of us!)
Those who claim to have experienced benefits from Chrysanthemum tend to be those who drink it regularly and have been drinking it for a long time. This is a flower, not a drug, so don’t expect any overnight transformations.
How to Make A Tasty Chrysanthemum Tea
If you’d like to make chrysanthemum tea, first make sure you use only plants that have not been sprayed with pesticides, since these will quickly leech off into your tea water.
To brew it hot, heat some water to a boil and then pull it off the heat and wait for it to stop boiling before adding it to the leaves. If you have a kettle with a thermometer, aim for 200 degrees. 5 grams of flowers will make a gentle cup, and 15 grams will make a fairly strong cup.
You’ll be able to tell that you’re drinking something that’s made from flowers, and it may remind a little of chamomile. A well brewed cup should have a nice golden hue.
As a summer drink, you probably don't want to suck down a piping hot tea (unless you're like me and the feeling of a scalded esophagus after that first sip of French press coffee brings you some kind of masochistic pleasure.) So if you prefer it cool, just brew a larger pot at the same relative dosage (10-15 grams a cup) and then cool it in the fridge. It’s better not to ice the tea, since ice cold drinks can compromise your digestion and negate some of the health benefits. Make sure you store it covered, unless you like that stale fridge taint. (This I do not enjoy.)
It’s Easy to Grow Your Own
Unlike a number of the more exotic ingredients of TCM (dried scorpion, anyone?) Chrysanthemum flowers come from an easy to grow, perennial garden plant. If you've ever seem "mums" in a flower pot, that's it. "Mum" is just a nickname for it. The blooms usually range from a pale yellow to a bright red. The yellow-flowered chrysanthemums are preferred for decoctions; wild chrysanthemum flowers (ye ju hua) are white and have a more potent detoxifying effect useful for supporting healthy blood pressure and skin.
If you'd like to grow your own, you have a couple of options. You can certainly grow them from seed, but the stem cuttings will also take. Put them in rich soil that drains quickly (avoid clay) and try to keep them in full sun.
Expect the flowers to be at their best in mid to late October. Once picked, the traditional approach is to dry the white flowers in the sun, and to bake the yellow ones over a small fire. These days, it’s more common to remove the whole plant and tie it up to hang dry regardless of which color it is. If you have a food dehydrator, that can work well too.
The flower’s petals, leaves, and stalks can be also be blanched (briefly plunged into boiling water) and eaten in salads or on their own.
Try An Ounce and See!
If you’d like to give this staple summer tea a try, we keep a high quality selection of Chrysanthemum flowers available here. Why not try an ounce?