Gynostemma and Its Ghost

Gynostemma shoots in the early springThese are the new shoots of the delicate but rambunctious  Gynostemma. Towering over it is the ghost of Gynostemma past – a hint of what it could be if I leave it alone and unharvested as I unwittingly did last year.

There is no reason not to harvest Gynostemma – or Jiao Gu Lan as the Chinese  (and Horizon Herb Catalog) call it. It has a 5 star treasure rating in Ron Teeguarden’s book, The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs (formerly called Radiant Health). Five stars is the ultimate rating, “reserved for the elite of the elite. An herb in this category is among the ultimate life-promoting substances ever discovered by mankind and should be considered by everyone interested in achieving longevity and radiant health.” Well, I have not only considered it, I have grown it, impressed as I was by its attributes. It is an adaptogenic herb, like ginseng, schizandra, and astragalus, helping bring balance to the body under stress. It is also believed to slow down aging, prevent senility, reduce fatigue and increase vigor, improve digestion, strengthen the mind, calm nerves, improve sex, and ease pain. Is there anything Gynostemma doesn’t do?

It is even used to treat coughs, bronchitis, and  inflammation, and remove mucus – all actions that I surely could have used when I had some sort of flu over Christmas. But by then, my Gynostemma was pure ghost.

Recent medical literature of China and Japan relates the clinical effectiveness of Gynostemma for a long list of health problems:  high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, migraines, diabetes, insomnia, gastric ulcers, arthritis, various allergies, headaches, and premature aging and loss of hair. I hope I don’t have to get all of these before I decide to harvest my Gynostemma!

I would need a horticultural psychoanalyst to find the buried reasons I never harvested my large climbing crop. Maybe it was “Gynostemma Fear” which came to the fore more each morning as it appeared the vines were at least six inches longer than when I left them last evening. Or it could be a case of “Dumb Struck”, the main symptom of which is a sudden dropping of the jaw upon walking past the masses of Gynostemma vines. Then again, I saw a large garter snake lounging one day, strung across the vines, as if he just bought the real estate. I don’t like to cede territory, but I’ve really had enough of snakes.

All these larger than life occurrences (especially the snake) put together provided compelling logic:  the Gynostemma was NOT TO BE HARVESTED.

Delving once again into the psychology of the matter, I never even expected these plants to grow at all. Rico Cech of Horizon Herbs says they are hardy to 10 degrees only. We are in zone 5, where winter lows can reach minus 20 degrees. So why did I even plant this? This is another question for the psychoanalyist. I think my tendencies to fantasy and dreaming helped me out here – I Really wanted this herb, and in my dream world, it would grow! Besides, does anyone really know anything about growing Chinese herbs?

I bought my first 6 plants from Horizon Herbs and put them in my unphotographable greenhouse (which I will photograph soon) and sure enough, one cold spring night, the tops all died. Vowing to be more protective, I ordered 6 more (budget be damned). But before the replacements could arrive, the original 6 started sending up new shoots. This is the perennial concept, where tops die down and roots survive. Ever since, these perennial vines have spread and overgrown the greenhouse. They’ve also survived outdoors in the garden in normal good soil with a light straw mulch.

I’m actually looking forward to harvesting Gynostemma this year. But I am also going to look for a trained horticultural psychoanalyst, someone who knows just how shocking it can be to encounter a garden every day.

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