Designing An Ornamental Traditional Chinese Medicinal Garden

You can use this garden design plan whether you will be using the herbs or not. 
It can be ornamental and a realistic vision of  a Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden and 
and creates Zen space. It can also be used as the basis for a Tea Garden or Yoga Garden
For an over-the-top design, you can incorporate this design into the 
Hindu and Ayurvedic Healing Garden
, Chakra Garden, or Buddha Garden designs.
These herbs can become a part of any or all of your ornamental or herbal garden spaces.

TCHM - Holistic healing with traditional chinese herbal medicine 
- The Theory and Science Behind It.

According to the principles of all Chinese medicine, health exists when the body is balanced and its energy is freely flowing. The term “energy” refers to Qi, (or "chi") the life energy that is said to animate the body. The term “balance” refers to the relative factors of yin and yang—the classic Taoist opposing forces of the universe. Yin and yang find their expression in various subsidiary antagonists such as cold vs. heat, dampness vs. dryness, descending vs. ascending, at rest vs. active, and full vs. empty.

In an ideal state, yin and yang in all their forms are perfectly balanced in every part of the body. However, external or internal factors can upset this balance, leading to disease. Chinese medical diagnosis and treatment involves identifying the factors that are out of balance and attempting to bring them back into harmony. Diagnosis is carried out by means of “listening” to the pulse (taking the pulse with extraordinary care and sensitivity), observing and palpating various parts of the body, and asking a long series of questions.

Traditional Chinese medicine, based primarily on plant materials, has been adopted throughout much of the Western world, and has become one of the fastest-growing healthcare choices in the United States. Evidence of growth in the practice of Chinese medicine is probably best illustrated by the increase in number of licensed Chinese medicine providers in the US.

The most obvious difference is that the Western herbal tradition focuses on “simples,” or herbs taken by themselves. In contrast, traditional Chinese herbal medicine makes almost exclusive use of herbal combinations. More importantly, these formulas are not designed to treat symptoms of a specific illness; rather, they are tailored specifically to the individual, according to the complex principles of traditional Chinese medicine. For this reason, TCHM is potentially a deeply holistic healing approach.

Sometime between the second century B.C.E. and the second century A.D., the theoretical foundations of traditional Chinese medicine were laid, but the focus was more on acupuncture than on herbs. Only by about the 12th century A.D. were the deeper principles of Chinese medicine fully applied to herbal treatment, forming a method that can be called TCHM. This was further refined and elaborated during various periods of active theorizing in the 14th through the 19th centuries. Western disease concepts entered the picture in the 20th century, leading to further changes.

To use Chinese herbal medicine in the most traditional way, you must visit a Chinese herbalist’s shop. There, experienced herb preparers will chop, grind, fry, and slice dried herbs according to the prescription given by an experienced herbalist. You will walk home with a packet of dried herbs that need to be prepared according to the instructions, which typically involve adding water, boiling for several hours in a ceramic pot, pouring off the liquid, adding more water, and repeating the process twice more. Certain herbs are supposed to be added right at the end, while others require extra-long preparation. I have visited many Chinese practitioner shops and purchased many healing herbs and remedies on my trips to Chinatown in NYC. I'd rather purchase from a practitioner's shop and see it, than to mail order and not know if the dried stuff i get is an actual herb. I like to ask questions.

The increase in traditional Chinese medicine practitioners has increased the demand for medicinal plant material. Yet, practically all of the plant material (cultivated or wildcrafted) used in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine in the US is imported from China. Since many of the imported Chinese medicinal plant species are produced in environments similar to environments in the US, the possibility of domestic production of these plants for the US Chinese medicinal market exists. Domestic production of these botanicals would help insure the safety, freshness, and quality of the material. 

Medicinal Herb Farming should be a "thing" by now, accepted, inspected, and regulated, as any other food farming. Small-scale farmers should be encouraged to grow safe, medicinal crops from all cultures to fill the demand for them. This opens a very large opportunity for the family farm, and it shouldn't be handed over on a silver platter to large, commercial, and possibly pharmaceutical-influenced, agricultural corporations. We can keep U.S. farms alive. The government should fund our small farms to expand and fill in harvest gaps. No sense railing against importing from foreign suppliers, if we do not take the opportunity to grow our food and medicines domestically. I prefer to buy U.S.-grown and produced safe medicinal herbs. But I will grow them or get them where i can find them. It's just as simple as that.

You can grow many of these herbs in your own organic garden, along with ornamental plantings and decor utilizing Asian and sacred influences.

The practice of traditional Chinese medicine or 2000+ years, through observations of patients by clinicians, is based on a holistic philosophy. Traditional Chinese medicine defines health as body integrity, adaptability, continuity, and balance with the doctor prescribing traditional plant, animal, and mineral remedies to sustain a self-regulatory status in the body (a balance of yin and yang). This contrasts with Western medicine in which health is defined as the absence of disease symptoms and the doctor diagnoses and prescribes clinically tested medicines to eradicate disease symptoms.

Traditional practitioners in Chinese medicine are trained to give dietary advice, including recommendations of seasonal foods and foods with energetic properties to restore metabolic balance to the patient. Herbs are prescribed only in formulas that follow traditional practice, although these may be modified slightly to accommodate the individual needs of a patient. Formulas typically contain 8 to 15 different plant materials.

Start with a theme for your atmosphere...... you can incorporate the medicinal herbs into any of our ornamental Zen, Buddha, Japanese, Herbalist, Chakra, or Hindu Garden Designs for decor ideas. My  suggestions for plants and decor design for a medicinal and healing garden follow. Many plants make beautiful ornamentals, as well as medicines. If you have room for them, add a pergola, metal/twig arches and a gazebo. A small water feature and bird baths add soothing sound and movement. You don't have to stick to a strictly Chinese decor - mix in all types of Asian and Buddhist symbols. Japanese, Chines, Tibetan, Hindu - represent them all if you like. They lend a lot of Zen to your landscapes and gardens. Examples would be Buddha and Quan Yin - there are differing representations in different Asian cultures. And they're all beautiful in a healing garden. If you want to focus on Buddhism and Hinduism for your decor, there is a lot you can add to your garden for symbolism and serenity. The Tibetan female Buddha of Longevity is lesser known in garden decor and medicine, but she is known as "Mother Buddha", The Buddha of Longevity. If you can find White Tara, she deserves a spot in the ornamental and medicine garden.

To Read The Scientific Stuff and Get Right To The List of Medicinal Plants 
To Grow in your Traditional Chinese Medicine Garden,
click here.

Ornamental Chinese Medicine Garden plants
 - Many plants are quite fragrant, which adds to the healing and serenity properties of your medicinal garden.

You can pack a lot of plants, into a small area by growing most plants in decorative pots, along fences and on trellises, in elevated raised bed garden planters. Including dwarf asian ornamental and fruit trees. Many ornamental and medicinal vines can be grown on trellises that take up no horizontal space. There are many beautiful asian ornamentals, vegetables, shrubs and trees. Weeping dwarf trees look stunning in a pot as a centerpiece, at the entrance to the garden, or surrounding the garden beds. I have several, and i placed one on either side of my garden bench seating area, and in other accent spots in my zen gardens.

The most important thing to remember...... this is a medicinal and healing garden. You will be eating or ingesting plant materials, and the garden is meant to heal, not harm. Do not use chemical fertilizers, soil amendments, potting soil with chemicals, chemical pesticides or weed killer anywhere in this garden. Visit these pages for natural pesticides and fertilizers. You can make your own potting soil, too.

Decor Suggestions:
-Candles, incense, rain chains, windchimes, temple bells, a variety of small bamboo or metal birdcages hanging from tree limbs.

-A seating area or bamboo benches are a must-have. Place these in different areas and nooks for serenity and quiet enjoyment of your garden.
Add a bistro table and chair, and store your favorite tea things - pot, cup and saucer, culinary herbs in a container nearby - where you can sit and have tea and silence (except for the birdsong).

- Solar string lights in warm white (non-blinking), lanterns and path lights add the finishing touches. Add a small, ornamental firepit. The fire element goes well in Zen and Asian serenity/healing gardens.

-Rocks, stones and gravel - as a path, pot filler, or as accents in the garden beds. If you have a covered patio, hang a few red paper lanterns. Some of these lanterns have solar lights fitted in.

- Small solar cascading fountains and solar fountains in the birdbaths and large, shallow decorative bowls

- Lotus flowers - great if you have a small pond, but a little difficult to grow and care for - realistic-looking lotus on lily pads are better as floaters in bowls and birdbaths. I use several. They look so real, the pollinators are fooled. You can find these in floral suppy shops and from pool/pond suppliers.

- Statuary - Medicine Buddha and other Buddhist and Asian statues, Quan Yin, White Tara, peacocks, pagodas, dragons, cranes and egrets.

 Zen and Asian-style Perennial Plants For the Ornamental Areas of  Your Garden
 -  Check for cold hardiness in your area before picking a plant. 

Before planting, sketch a tentative plan for where you want your plants.
You can choose to grow just about anything ornamental with the words "Chinese, Japanese, Asian, weeping or dwarf" in it's name. These plants have attributes that make them perfect in a Serenity or Zen Garden. They also add texture, fragrance, color, and some of them also have edible or medicinal parts.

Mix 'em up
When choosing your plants you may want to extend the beauty of the garden's blooms by choosing plants that perform in every season. Evergreens work their magic all the time, and many also have pretty blooms. Use bulbs. They will fill in with their blooming times in early spring through fall. Plant these in spots around the other plants and plant them last. Consider them "filler". Plant late-blooming shrubs and plants that will put on a show in fall through winter, and plant among the plants with different blooming times. This way, you can assure that the garden is active and gorgeous all the time. No bald spots. You can also choose your focal point shrubs and trees so that they are beautiful with blossoms, berries, unusual leaves, unusual bark, contorted shapes, or changing colors for most of the season.

To design your groupings, start with an odd number of each plant in any configuration within your design (3, 5,7, etc. and 1 focal point or large shrub/tree plant per section). It's the same concept used in interior design. A group of 2 plants looks pretty blah. A grouping of  3 with one plant in the center and 1 on either side looks way more balanced. You can use one tall accent plant and two or three taller in the center of a grouping of  5 or 7 plants. You are not limited by anything other than the size of your space and your budget. Use any number of plants spaced close enough together or far enough apart to fill each area of your garden design. 

After choosing your plants, and before planting, clear the soil of weeds and rock, add good potting soil and compost, and dig or rake it in, and then lay down good quality landscape fabric (weed block) on top before planting. Icing the cake. You'll be very happy you did that instead of having to pull weeds all season.

Decorative and Practical Suggestion: place a cedar plank rollout garden path as a center or place a few between sections of the garden if you have space.. if you don't have a lot of space in your design, place one path to the garden, itself. These are available in 6-8 ft. lengths. I add several every year to all of my landscaping. Very practical as row dividers and to keep your footwear dry. As well as a great help if you're using wheelbarrows for harvest or maintenance. They're a stunning acccent in Zen and Asian Gardens.

Arrange and poke in any tall trellises or ornamental fencing that you might be using. Set down your statuary and focal point elements. Don't install any fending around the entire garden or borders until the end.

Begin by planting around your ornamental focal and accent points, like bird baths, statues, fountains, arbors, gazebo, arches.
Plant the tall focal points or accent plants and trees first. Including vines that will grow up and against trellises and obelisks.
Plant the "filler" or smaller plant groupings next. Plant ground cover plants and bulbs last. 

Try not to arrange and plant all of the same color together without a contrasting or complementary color pop around or among the plants, or the addition of taller or shorter plants. You can use the same variety of plant, and just use different shades of the same color or differeing heights. You don't want a sea of the same color and height, unless it's a filler or border. You want to keep the eye busy and interested, and show off each type of plant. Arrange according to desired heights and colors in each "section" or goup in your design. Pay attention to fences and structures in the broader landscape, and tie them in by planting around or on them with the same color palette and the addition of vines or sculptures. Don't even think about leaving them unadorned. They need to feel like part of the garden whether they are or not. Make use of trellises and arbors. The structures will make the garden look bigger and will tie the back/front yards together, as well as the gardens. Don't ignore patios and doorways. Use fragrant plantings along paths.

Use planters and pots for as many plants as you can. These can be used as entirely for your medicinal plants and will be easily appreciated and cared for. This can also double the amount of space you have to plant things into. They can be used for non-hardy ornamentals, as well, and plants can be carried easily into the house to winter over. They're awesome as vehicles for your houseplants to spend summers outdoors among their friends. Your garden can then show off any plant. Even those that aren't perennial.

This is a medicinal and herbal garden design. All other things are ornamental. Plant your medicinal plants among the ornamentals and tie it all together. Those that have blooms should be planted near ornamental plants that bloom in the same colors, or use as an accent or  pop of foliage or bloom color. Plant these medicinal in bowls, baskets and hanging planters, if you have a structure. Spread the herb plantings in all parts of your landscape. They don't have to be totally confined to your medicinal garden design.

Cut the holes in the fabric when and where you intend to plant something. Place the pots of plants on the fabric where you will want them, re-arrange if necessary, then cut a hole, and plant. There are some types that have precut holes. I don't use it because my spacing is generally closer together than the holes. Use landscape achoring pins to keep it down. I also place a few rocks on it to keep it down while i'm waiting to plant so that the wind doesn't lift it.

Use ground cover plants, rocks, rubber mulch or gravel between them. 
For plant spacing and how to care for these, use info on the plant label. Plant the groundcover by plugging the plants in closely together (read label for spacing and size of plants) after all the other plants, the decor and statuary, and before mulching.

If you are creating a combination Chinese Ornamental and Herbal Garden Design into a landscape,
This list is for you...

Choose perennial plants for your garden conditions (sun/shade/dry/wet) and choose those that are hardy in your area if planting directly into the ground.  For pots and planters - anything you like can be grown for your zone if you'll be bringing plants indoors for winter.

Try to grow dwarf ornamental trees and tall plants in pots. 
You get more plants in less space, and you can "re-decorate" your spaces by moving them around to your heart's content.

Peonies - Deep reds, white and yellow peonies. These are a must-have in a fragrant, ornamental Asian garden.

Skullcap - Yellow flowers, Chinese medicinal herb.

Ginseng - cold hardy perennial.

Red, yellow and orange chrysanthemums. Grow the shorter, fuller and mounding varieties and those with large blooms - like Football Mums. Choose several types that bloom in succession from early to late fall.

White, orange and yellow irises in differing patterns. There are hundreds of varieties in all heights. Choose dwarfs or provide support. The tall irises will definitely topple over and look messy without it. Japanese irises are perfect when grown in clusters in any Asian-style design.

White, yellow, dark orange and deep red lilies. And lots of them - Trumpet or "spider" type flowers, all heights. Choose mostly upright bloomrs. There is a tree-type called "Orienpet" - perfect near a fence line. Not really a tree, It grows to about 4-6 ft at maturity. These have a long bloom time at different times between spring and fall.

Deep red and white Giant Hardy Hibiscus plants and Rose of Sharon Trees - It would be hard to find a more beautiful and towering flowering plant - stunning along a fence line, or staked in pots. Both are hardy, and pollinators love them. Slow to start setting out leaves or shoots. My Hardy Hibiscus tower to 6+ feet and bloom until the frost kills them, or I cut them down. They die down to the ground. I use the thick and fibrous dead stalks as kindling for my firepit. Rose of Sharon should have all suckers pruned out when you see them. I grow mine as small trees with one trunk. Fast-growing, with long-lasting blooms mid-summer til fall.

Climbing vines with red, yellow or white flowers, and choose some that produce berries. Jasmine vines and Trumpet vines are perfect.

Clematis vines - white and red varieties. I allow mine to scramble up my Rose of Sharon Trees - they're pretty well behaved, have thin vines, and they fill the gap between bloom times by blooming most of spring and summer right on the tree as it climb. It looks like it's actually part of that tree. Some bloom well into fall.

Dwarf Chinese Wisteria Tree - white (tree form grows on one trunk, do not get the invasive vines). I have 2 and they're staked in big pots. Remove most reaching  and vining "arms" as they develop on the tree before fall to keep it short and well-behaved. You can leave a few, but they are looking to attach themselves to something, and they might find it.

Dwarf Chinese Fringe Tree - fragrant, feathery white blooms.

Camellias - white, red yellow and other colors. Beautiful evergreen flowering tree with blooms that resemble roses in colder months. Lovely fragrance, easy to grow.

Sweetspire (Itea)- white, very fragrant, pendulous blooms cover this weeping shrub in mid-spring.

Dwarf Nandina "Firepower" (nandina domestica) "Heavenly Bamboo" - Is not a bamboo....
Neat, low-growing evergreen mounds with delicate leaves and stems are beautiful as borders, massing in groups, and in containers. Requires little care and no pruning. Beautiful foliage in dramatic shades of red, yellow and orange. It bears red/orange berries in the fall. The leaves resemble those of bamboo. Perfect for all-season beauty. The birds will love you. I have a few in pots as accent plants. Well-behaved and grows to only about 2 1/2 ft. tall and wide.

Summersweet shrubs (clethra) - extremely fragrant, brush-like blooms mid-late summer into fall.

Hydrangeas - choose dwarf shrubs with big, fat blooms. Choose white or bold color or variegated leaves. Blooms summer til frost.

Dwarf Weeping Redbud - "Ruby Falls" is stunning with large, purple-black, heart-shaped leaves on branches that weep. Beautiful flowers all along the branches very early in spring. Mine grow in pots. Slender tree fits in anywhere, and look great on either side of a doorway or arch.

Dwarf Golden Rain Tree - in a pot. Golden yellow pendulous blooms.

Ornamental Dwarf Japanese Plum - Pretty dark purple fruit and foliage

At least one variety of potted dwarf Japanese red maple

Dwarf white or yellow re-blooming Lilac

Honeysuckle - All varieties are beautiful and create a butterfly and hummingbird feast. My favorite dwarf variety is "Sweet Scentsations" - I let these climb up posts and railings. Very pretty yellow and white blooms spring til fall, and bright red berries fall til killing frost.

Yellow, orange and white Agastache - a medicinal herb as well as pollinator magnet. Leaves of most smell like mint. Hummingbirds love them.

Yellow, red, white, orange and lime green Coneflowers (echinacea) - medicinal plants and very pretty. Blooms all summer. Seed heads feed the birds.

Any type of dwarf butterfly bush - Pot them, so that you can have several. Monarch, Swallowtails and other butterflies visit these all day.

Butterfly Weed - this comes in shades of red, orange and yellow. These will bring Monarch Butterflies in droves. Crucial for the survival of Monarchs. I grow them in elevated garden beds for visibility, and to keep them from spreading too far. Deadhead after flowering and remove seeds that will blow around in the wind, (looks like dandelion fluff) unless you're growing a habitat or  large wildflower area. 

Dwarf conifers - in garden beds and as ground covers. And larger weeping evergreen shrubs with yellow and green, or golden foliage. This lends a very Asian and zen appeal to your healing garden.

Small, yellow/green variegated varieties of Hosta.

Yellow and green or white and green variegated hardy dwarf ivy. 
Use at the bases of potted plants, along trellises, in windowboxes, in their own planters, or climbing up or over ugly stuff in your dead trees, stumps chain link, tumbling over walls and hiding immoveable objects you can't get rid of. Grow in pots, or control their in-ground growth by tying and pruning into shapes you desire.

Dwarf Bamboo in pots - The Clumping, not running, varieties. Keep contained or grow in-ground and thin, when needed. Fargesia and Rubra varieties work well. Beautiful focal or accent point in Asian and Zen gardens. Check for varieties that are evergreen.

Use your potted indoor plants, like Jade and Aloe for the summer months. Place on small plant stands and among bamboo and other foliage plants. Very Zen.

Ornamental grasses - Dwarf Japanese red bloodgrass,fescue, carex, dwarf fountain grasses, dwarf papyrus. Especially pretty near your water features. Some have plumes or blooms. Some grow well as small mounds. Nandinas, Hosta and Bamboo are considered ornamental grasses.

Dwarf Black Lace Elderberry Shrub - the feathery dark purple/almost black finely cut foliage looks stunning as an accent or focal point. I grow mine in pots. Elderberry is a popular herbal medicine.

Dwarf White Mulberry Shrubs in pots.

Goji Berry Shrub

"Sweetie Pie" dwarf blackberries in pots or raised beds. Thornless, compact, and adds color and fruit.

Dwarf Citrus Trees (not hardy, and will need to winter indoors in colder zones, but they're awesome house plants that produce flowers and fruit for most of the year)

Dwarf Asian Pear, plum and pomegranate trees

Mints - You must grow all mints in pots because this plant is very invasive.

Campanula (Bellflower, "Poor Man's Ginseng")

Hyacinths - an amazing early spring show and wonderful fragrance - white, peach, red, orange, yellow.

White, and all shades of red, yellow and orange azaleas and rhododendrons (beautiful flowering evergreens). Not only do they have big, beautiful flowers that last a long time in vases, but the trunks grow in fascinating shapes. They look beautiful when grown together in an area. They bloom at the same time of year.

Dwarf, Weeping Snowcherry Tree, Dwarf Weeping Japanese Cherry Tree, Dwarf "Snow Fountain" weeping Cherry Tree

Chamomile - daisy-like flowers, pretty, and awesome dried for a comforting herbal tea. Most chamomiles spread, so plant these in containers.

Growing Chinese medicinal plants
-The Plant Studies of Important Chinese Herbs

In Chinese herbology, there are 50 "fundamental" herbs
. Following is a listing of the 
most important herbs used in Chinese Medicine that can be grown in the home garden.


Information on the following plants is summarized from experimental trials at High Falls Gardens, supplemental information related to plant names, plant processing, and plant chemistry were verified using Foster and Chongxi (1992), Duke and Ayensu (1985a, b), and Zhu (1998).

Your garden can be a much more simple design, containing garden plants that are more popular and easier to find in the U.S. These were tested and reported suggestions of important Chinese medicines used in holistic healing. Your garden design can be ornamental with additions of a Chinese Herbal Medicine and vegetable garden, or you can incorporate a Chinese Herbal Garden within a decorative Holistic Theme Garden. You'll probably recognize many of the plant names if you take herbal supplements.

**In terms of use of these natural medicines for healing and remedies, you should consult a Chinese Traditional Medicine Practitioner, 
or be knowledgeable in herbalism and plant biology. None of these herbs are a suggestion for use or determined to be a cure for any 
illness - this information is for gardening and educational purposes. Do not diagnose or treat yourself. This is my required disclaimer.

Measurements are listed below in centimeters.

Anemarrhenae asphodeloides Bunge, Liliaceae
Common Chinese name Zhi mu "Know mother"
Common English name none
Annual/Perennial Herbaceous perennial
Parts used Sliced rhizome
Drug name Rhizoma Anemarrhenae
Traditional uses in Chinese medicine Classified as bitter and cold, Anemarrhena root is used to clear heat, promote production of fluids, and relieve dryness, and is recognized to have affinities with the lung, stomach and kidney channels.
Active constituents Contains steroid saponins & norlignans
Propagation Propagated by division or seed
Cultivation The plant reaches harvest stage in three years and seems pest-free after six years of observation at High Falls Gardens.
Plant spacing 61 cm within rows
Harvest information Rhizome/root harvested after 3 years & dried in sun.
Processing The rootlets are removed from the rhizomes and rhizomes are then dried in the sun.
Mentha haplocalyx Briq. / M. arvensis L., Lamiaceae
Common Chinese name Bo he
Common English name Field mint
Annual/Perennial Annual or perennial
Parts used Aerial parts
Drug name Herba Menthae
Traditional uses in Chinese medicine Mints, whether in herbal formulas, drinks, soups, or other food items, functions to release to the exterior, that is, to direct the body energy upward and outward. Bo he is used to dispel wind-heat, clear the head and eyesight, treat headaches, pharyngolaryngitis, and measles.
Active constituents Contains menthol & glucosides
Propagation Propagated by cuttings
Cultivation Similar to that of other mints, such as peppermint.
Plant spacing 91-122 cm within rows
Harvest information Aerial parts harvested multiple time per season
Processing After harvest, the plant material is dried in the sun or shade.
Other comments Has a sharper and more metholated flavor than culinary mint.
Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi, Lamiaceae
Common Chinese name Huang qin
Common English name Baikal skullcap
Annual/Perennial Perennial
Parts used Rhizomes
Drug name Radix Scutellariae
Traditional uses in Chinese medicine Huang qin is one of the three "yellows, the most important cooling herbs in the Chinese Materia Medica (the other two are huang lian, Chinese coptis root, Coptis spp., and huang bai, the inner bark of a tree, Phellodendron amurense). Considered to cool the blood with affinities for the gall bladder, large intestine, lung, and stomach channels, huang qin is used to clear heat and dampness, treat fevers, stop bleeding, and prevent miscarriages.
Active constituents Contains flavone derivatives
Propagation Propagated by seed
Cultivation This low-growing, sprawling plant seems to prefer a rock garden habitat with plenty of sun; tolerates poor, alkaline soil.
Plant spacing 91 cm within rows
Harvest information Root harvested after 3 to 4 years
Processing Stir-fried with or without alcohol until dark brown.
Trichosanthes kirilowii Max., Curcurbitaceae
Common Chinese name Gua lou zi
Common English name Chinese cucumber
Annual/Perennial Herbaceous perennial
Parts used Fruit pulp, fruit skins, seeds and root
Drug name Fructus Trichosanthis, Radix Trichosanthis
Traditional uses in Chinese medicine The root removes heat from the body, moistens dryness, and facilitates drainage of sores and abscesses. The fruit is used to remove heat, eliminate phlegm, alleviate chest pain, and treat constipation.
Active constituents Fruit contains triterpene saponins, root contains the protein trichosanthin
Propagation Propagated by seed or root division
Cultivation A rich, well-drained, sandy-loam soil is preferred. Plants may be trained on a trellis once vines reach 3 feet in length.
Plant spacing 91 cm within rows
Harvest information Fruit harvested in early autumn, roots harvested in late autumn
Processing Roots dried whole, peel and seeds dried separately
Astragalus membranaceus (Fisch.) Bge. var. mongholicus (Bge.) Hsiao, Fabaceae
Common Chinese name Huang qi
Common English name Astragalus or milk vetch
Annual/Perennial Perennial
Parts used Root (root of A. membranaceous and A. membranaceous var. mongholicus of are used, in other Astragulus spp. the seeds are used)
Drug name Radix Astragali
Traditional uses in Chinese medicine Both the root and seed are classified as sweet and warm. The root is considered to elevate the Qi and affects the lung and spleen channels, whereas the seed increases Yang and acts primarily on kidney and liver channels. Huang qi is present in a wide variety of formulas and is used in cooking to fortify soup stock.
Active constituents Saponins, flavones, and polysaccharides
Propagation Propagated by seed or cutting. Seeds must be scarified or soaked in water, germination may be challenging
Cultivation Astragalus is adaptable to a variety of growing conditions, a sandy, well-drained soil is preferred.
Plant spacing 46-61 within rows
Harvest information Roots harvested after 3 to 5 years
Processing Dried roots are stir-fried with honey (1 part by weight to four parts root)
Other comments Work is being done with other species of Astragalus that are used for their seed, such as sha yuan ji li, identified as Astragalus complanatus (A. sinicus or A. chinensis).
Codonopsis pilosula (Franch.) Nannf., Campanulaceae
Common Chinese name Dang shen
Common English name Bellflower / poor man's ginseng
Annual/Perennial Perennial
Parts used Root
Drug name Radix Codonopsis Pilosulae
Traditional uses in Chinese medicine Dang shen is known as "poor man's ginseng" because medicinal properties of the plant resemble those of the Asian species, Panax ginseng (ren shen). Both dang shen and ren shen boost the Qi and have an affinity with the lung and spleen channels. American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, is considered to have different properties: xi yang shen "western seas root, nourishes the Yin and works through the heart, kidney and lung channels. This is a good example of traditional medicine making clear distinctions between two closely related species, but recognizes close similarities across genus and family lines.
Active constituents Contains phytosterols & triterpenes
Propagation Propagated by seed
Cultivation Codonopsis is a climbing vine that grows well in part shade, plants must be provided with a trellis
Plant spacing 30 cm within rows
Harvest information Roots are harvested after 3 years
Processing Roasted with millet (5:1, root:millet)
Lycium chinense Mill., Solanaceae
Common Chinese name Go qi zi
Common English name Wolfberry or matrimony vine
Annual/Perennial Perennial
Parts used Fruits, root bark
Drug name Fructus Lych, Cortex Lych radicis
Traditional uses in Chinese medicine Lycium yields two distinct medicinal portions. The fruits, go qi zi, are considered sweet and neutral and to nourish the blood. The root bark, di gu pi, "earth bone bark, is sweet and cold and cools the blood. Both portions of the plant have affinity for the liver, lung, and kidney channels. The fruit, which are dried like raisins and sold in packages in Chinese supermarkets, have become part of trendy trail mixes in the US.
Active constituents Contains betaine & sesquiterpenes
Propagation Propagated by cutting or seed
Cultivation The plant, which resembles raspberry bushes in form and behavior, yields fruit two to three years after planting. Yields are enhanced by rigorous pruning.
Plant spacing 91-122 cm within rows
Harvest information Berries are harvested several times per season, root bark may be harvested in late fall or early spring
Processing Calyxes are removed from the fruit; root bark is washed and then dried in the sun and cut into sections.
Schisandra chinensis (Turcz.) Baill., Magnoliaceae
Common Chinese name Wu wei zi / five flavor fruit
Common English name none
Annual/Perennial Perennial
Parts used Berries
Drug name Fructus Schisandrae
Traditional uses in Chinese medicine The fruit, characterized as sour and warm with heart, kidney, and lung affinities, is used to stabilize and bind. Schisandra berries are used in a wide range of formulas, particularly for patients over 35, and are popular for commercial products in the US.
Active constituents Fruit and seed contain lignans and essential oil
Propagation Propagated by seed or cutting
Cultivation Schisandra is a hardy, woody,  vine. The fruit are borne on old wood in gradually increasing numbers of wild grape-sized clusters three years after planting. Cultivation requirements bear similarities to those of wine grapes.
Plant spacing 61 cm within rows
Harvest information Berries are harvested multiple times per season
Processing The berries are collected in autumn and dried in the sun; berries may also be steamed before being sun-dried.

Easy To Grow Traditional Chinese Medicinal Plants

Click here   to download a free .pdf format file for a comprehensive list of medicinal perennials (hardy to Zone 6) that are easy to grow. 
Compiled from Bensky's Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica. The list was created by Mountain Meadows Farms. 
You can grow these plants successfully in many zones. - Check the plants you wish to grow against the USDA Cold Hardiness Map for your zone to be sure that plants you choose will grow and thrive.

Buddhist Medicine Buddha - there are many Buddhas, and although not Chinese, the Tibetan Medicine Buddha 
deserves a place in a garden all about Zen, healing and medicine. Other Buddhas are shown on this page--->

The Tibetan Medicine Buddha is dark blue in color, with with the right hand held in the gesture of supreme generosity, holding a plant (terminalia chebula). 

The left hand is placed in the lap in the gesture of meditation, supporting a black begging bowl of monks, that is filled with nectar. 

This Buddha is adorned with the patchwork robes of an ordained monk, the left arm covered, and he is seated above a lotus and lion-supported tiered throne.

The Medicine Buddha is known for his healing meditative absorption, which removes the sufferings of disease that arise from the various kinds of ignoble thoughts in the minds of all beings.

He elucidated the means to cure illnesses, and embodies the force of motivation that can ease the pain of anyone who merely hears his name.

Article, graphics, and garden  designs ©2021  
All rights reserved.

Research and Reference Sources:
Beth Israel Lahey Health, Winchester Hospital
Craker, L.E. and J. Giblette. 2002, Chinese Medicinal Herbs: Opportunities for Domestic Production
 Purdue University Horticultural Dept.
Zhu, Y. 1998. Chinese materia medica: Chemistry, pharmacology, and applications. 
 Harwood Academic Publications, Amsterdam.
Bensky's Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, 3rd Edition
Tibetan Thangka art found in the public domain

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