Chrysanthemum Flowers

My mother loved to garden. She would spend many summer hours out in the back yard happily trimming and weeding and planting and watering. She grew plenty of annuals, like marigolds and snapdragons in garden beds along the back edge of our lawn, but along the walls of our house, she grew tall perennials, like climbing roses, morning glories, and hollyhocks.

Just outside our back door, she also grew several different colours of chrysanthemum flowers. There were the burgundy ones right outside the door, and then yellow and white chrysanthemums beside them. “Oh, look! My mums are blooming!” I remember her exclaiming one year. She would do the same for the tulips in spring, and the roses in summer, but for some reason I remember her exclaiming about the chrysanthemums in particular that one year. The name just stuck in my head, as it is so similar to the word “Mom”.

I think the connection was also reinforced by the importance chrysanthemum flowers have always had in our business. Chrysanthemum flowers are probably the very first Chinese herb I ever learned, as Julia would always foist bags of freshly dried flowers on us all winter long. One of their main uses is for the prevention and treatment of colds and flu, so Julia was adamant that we have some in our cupboard at all times. If we didn’t have the actual flowers, then she would provide us with packets of chrysanthemum granules to dissolve into cups of hot water.

The anti-bacterial and anti-viral effect of chrysanthemum flowers is so widely known in China that a tea prepared with them is typically served in most Chinese restaurants all winter long in place of black tea. In fact, you can probably use this little fact as an indicator as to how authentic your Chinese restaurant is. The anti-bacterial effect of chrysanthemum flowers has even been backed up by scientific studies, which show they have a particular action against staphylococus aureus, B-hemolytic streptococcus, and shigella sonnei bacteria. They also have an inhibitory effect against leptospira when taken at a high enough dose [1].

Chrysanthemum flowers aren’t just used for cold and flu prevention, though. They are also used for the treatment of headaches, particularly when they occur alongside a viral illness. This is possibly due to their vasodilative effect [2], and may be why they have also been shown to be helpful for coronary artery disease. In one study, 164 patients with coronary artery disease were treated with the equivalent of 50 grams of dried chrysanthemum flowers daily for 2 to 4 months. 86.5% of patients reported an improvement in their symptoms, while 45.3% showed improvement on a subsequent EKG. [3]

Chrysanthemum flowers are also well-known in Chinese medicine for their ability to treat red and inflamed eyes. In fact, they are the most commonly used herb for the treatment of eye disorders in China.

Finally, chrysanthemum flowers are used to lower high blood pressure. In one Chinese study, 24-30 grams each of chrysanthemum flowers and honeysuckle flowers (the combination of herbs used in our Chrysanthemum tincture) was able to reduce high blood pressure after a treatment of just 3 to 7 days. In this case, 35 out of 46 patients showed a reduction in high blood pressure, as well as a decrease in symptoms of dizziness and insomnia that are commonly associated with it. [4]

As the cold and damp weather of late fall starts to descend, there is no better herb to have in your pantry than chrysanthemum flowers. They are so pretty to look at, and their taste is mild and pleasant.

Be aware that their action is quite gentle though, so you will have to use them in great quantity to have an effect. Julia used to recommend drinking at least 2 full pots of chrysanthemum tea daily (about 8 cups). However, when you combine chrysanthemum flowers with honeysuckle flowers, their anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects will be enhanced, so fewer cups of tea should be necessary to achieve the same effect.

  1. Yi Xue Ji Shu Zi Liao (Resource of Medical Techniques), 1974; (1:2):113.
  2. Zhong Yao Xue (Chinese Herbology), 1998; 97:99.
  3. Zhe Jiang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao (Journal of Zhejiang Province School of Medicine), 1978; 4:9.
  4. Xin Yi Yao Xue Za Zhi (New Journal of Medicine and Herbology) 1972; 2:32.


“Your brothers are weird!”

“You are the only normal person in your entire family!”

Those were the sort of things that people said to me as I was growing up. There were other insults too, but those were the ones that chilled me to my bones. They hurt because they made me doubt the value of my entire family. They made me feel like I had no safe space to go. After all these years, there is still an empty hole in my heart where a sense of belonging should be.

Ostracism hurts. It particularly hurts when you’re young and trying to find your place in the world. Life would be so much easier if we could all be born into families and communities that welcomed us unreservedly, and with open arms. Sadly, for many of us, that is just not the case.

At the time, I responded to those comments with a bashful smile, just grateful to be acknowledged as “the normal one”. But really, I felt anything but normal. I was terrified. If the rest of my family was considered weird, then how could I possibly know what normal was? I figured I was most likely “weird” too. The only reason why it wasn’t as evident was because I was so quiet. As a result, I became afraid to speak, to act, to live. If I actually showed up, then people would realize that I was weird too, and I would be just as excluded as my brothers were.

Staying quiet may have been the safer route, but it wasn’t any less painful. Because if you don’t speak up, you are never heard. You are also never seen. No one ever knows who you really are. I might as well have been a ghost during all those years and I certainly felt like one a lot of the time. My brother once told me that he admired my courage in leaving home so young. But it wasn’t courage that led me to leave. I was dying in my hometown. I had to find a way to escape. That’s not courage; that’s fear.

It’s taken me a lot of years to break down the walls of isolation and fear that I built up during my childhood and adolescence – and even into my adulthood. Because when I escaped from my hometown, I didn’t really escape the problem. I just brought it along with me. Marrying into Mike’s family seemed like a good solution – a brand new family, just like that! – but eventually brought to light all the destructive coping strategies I’d been too distraught to notice before. The people-pleasing, the fawning, the co-dependency. What a mess! The only good news is that I now feel like I finally understand the problem. That’s a big milestone, in and of itself. Along the way, I’ve also learned a lot of things, and picked up tools to help me on my continued journey.

Traditional Chinese medicine has been one of them. I never knew how closely linked my emotions were to the state of my body until now. Somatic yoga is another. I needed to learn to feel into my body, and listen to what it needs, and somatic yoga has a particular ability to bring you back inside your skin. Meditation is another good tool. I’ve sat and rocked myself through the force of a lot of old emotions, with tears streaming down my face until they finally cleared. Finally, and most importantly, there’s compassion, both from others, and from myself. Healing really only works if we feel cared for, seen and understood. Crucially, I had to learn to love myself, and it wouldn’t have gone nearly as smoothly if my husband hadn’t been there to light the way.

Which is why I am working on opening up a yoga studio here. I want to create a place of support for others who may be struggling like I did, but who may not have the same level of support. A place of caring and community where a stressed and dys-regulated nervous system can finally begin to regulate itself. A place of calm and healing. If you’re interested, stay tuned for updates. We’ll be getting started in the months ahead.