By Bethany Hayes
Never heard of jiaogulan? Sometimes referred to as the immortality herb, it’s often used to create tea, and you can learn how to grow jiaogulan at home if you love drinking the tea.
Jiaogulan has a long history as an herbal plant used to promote a disease-free, long, healthy life. It originates in Asia, known as sweet tea vine. The nice thing about this herb is that it looks like a beautiful ornamental plant in your garden, but it’s useful. We appreciate versatility!
If you’re interested in adding this herb to your garden beds or grow pots on your patio, you need to learn about growing jiaogulan, so let’s get started.
The Basics of Jiaogulan
Believe it or not, this plant is part of the cucumber family, although it looks and tastes nothing like a cucumber. On the other hand, the leaves have similar properties as ginseng, but it can grow inside, whereas ginseng cannot.
Traditionally, this herb was mixed with black tea leaves to give them a better taste, but now, it’s known as a tonic or adaptogenic herb. People drink straight jiaogulan tea instead of mixing it, but you still can mix if you want!
Jiaogulan grows well in USDA hardiness zones 8-10; it’s not a fan of cold temperatures. In these climates, you can grow it as a perennial. If you live in a colder climate, you can grow it as a fast-growing herb as an annual plant rather than a perennial in the ground.
You can make it a perennial in cooler climates by bringing the plants indoors during the winter or as a houseplant all-year-round. This plant has lobed leaves and greenish-yellow flowers that are close to the stem. These flowers appear in the mid-to-late summer, eventually developing into green seed pods.
Immortality herb plants are either male or female. You’ll want to plant one of each close to encourage the plants to bear seeds, which will allow you to plant more later.
How to Grow Jiaogulan in Your Garden
Jiaogulan isn’t as complicated as it might seem to grow as an herb. If you’ve grown other plants or houseplants, you’ll find it’s simple.
Find The Right Spot
Jiaogulan tolerates being in full sunlight, but since it is a perennial in hot climates, it’s best if you find a small spot with partial shade. Afternoon shade can give your plant a break from the burning sunlight.
This is one of the reasons why keeping it in a container is a good idea. You can move it around if the sunlight becomes too strong for the plant to handle. If you don’t want to use containers and only have full sunlight options, you’ll need to create something to put over the top of the plant to prevent sun damage.
The Right Soil for Jiaogulan
This herb isn’t too picky about soil. It needs to be well-draining to avoid any soggy feet. A commercial potting mix provides all that you need for this herb, but it is best to add compost or well-aged manure in the mixture. It requires additional nutrients for optimal growth.
There are two ways to plant jiaogulan: planting seeds or transplanting a cutting.
They’re both easy to do, just slightly different methods. You can plant jiaogulan seeds directly in the garden after the final frost in your area. Another option is to plant the seeds indoors in pots that are filled with a seed-starting mixture.
Before you plant the seeds, it’s best to soak them for 24 hours in a covered container of warm water before sowing them in the damp seed-starting mix or soil. Plant 2-3 seeds in each pot or each hole in the garden bed. The seeds should be an inch apart but not further than that; germination is often inconsistent.
If you opt to grow the seeds in containers inside, you need to place them under a grow light for at least 12 hours per day. It can take up to six weeks for germination to take place, depending on the temperature. Don’t lose hope; it will feel like the seeds will never sprout, and then, suddenly, they do.
For the best germination rate, keep the soil mix moist and the temperature around 70℉ to encourage fast sprouting.
Once germinated, you can either plant the seedling outside or keep them in a container. Plant the seedlings outside in the early summer in a spot that is humus-rich.
How to Care for Jiaogulan Plants
The great thing about growing jiaogulan is that the plants are relatively easy to grow and propagate for years. They don’t require too much care, such as a different fertilization schedule. You have to make sure your plants have the right structure and enough water to grow properly.
Provide a Supportive Structure
Jiaogulan plants require a trellis or some sort of supportive structure. It will attach itself to the support with its curly tendrils. These plants can grow up to 25 feet tall if they have proper support. The herb has deep roots – up to 1 foot deep – so it is sturdy and climbs as tall as possible.
Watering Jiaogulan Plants
This herb needs to be watered regularly, so keep the soil evenly moist. If the plant is left in dry soil, it might wilt, but it should rebound quickly if you add a little water. Since the roots are so deep, it probes the ground well for water. If you’ve watered enough, the plants will be able to reach it, but if it reaches dehydrated dirt, it will stop.
Wait until the soil dries out partway to the surface before watering, but never all the way to the top. Put your finger into the soil, and if it’s dry 2 inches down, it’s time to water.
Fertilize Your Plants
Immortality herb requires little to no fertilizer. All you need to do is add compost or manure to the soil or container each year. The plant doesn’t need too much fertilizer to grow well.
Mulching Around The Plants
To help with water evaporation and suppressing weeds, you should add mulch around the plants’ base. Mulching with compost or shredded leaves adds extra nutrients to the soil as they decompose while keeping the soil damp.
Propagating The Herb When Needed
When your plant is mature enough, you can propagate cuttings to create new plants. Since these plants can reach such tall heights, propagating and adding more plants (or giving them to friends and family) help keep the size manageable.
These cuttings that you make should be placed in a glass of water until the root. You could also use rooting hormones, and then potted in a container or planted outside.
Common Pests & Diseases That Bother Jiaogulan Plants
Luckily, these herbs are rarely bothered by pests or diseases, which makes caring for them more manageable. There are a few pests that like to cause problems for you, such as:
These little pests can be so frustrating. They’re small pests that have a metallic bronze-greenish color to them. Japanese beetles can destroy a crop in no time, chewing through all of the leaves on your plan. If your leaves look like swiss cheese or like lace, you might have an infestation.
Scrutinize your plant, removing any that you find by hand and putting them into soapy water. Then, spray your plant with neem oil, which is a safe choice for edible crops.
Slugs like to chew at the base of your plant, destroying the stem and roots. They can be hard to control because most are active at night, so you might not see them. Managing slugs can be hard as well!
One way to control them is to put a small shallow cup of beer in the garden bed or container near your plants. The beer attracts slugs, as weird as that sounds, and they’ll crawl into the cup and drown.
It would be best if you waited until the plants are 1-1.5 feet tall. They’ll be strongest with the best flavor if you collect when it bud just before the flowers open. Cut the vines into 3-5 inch pieces to give the stems a chance to dry at the same rate as the leaves.
Once all of the plant pieces are dried, you can put them inside a food dehydrator until they’re crisp. You also can spread them out on screens supported by sawhorses, but make sure they’re protected from sunlight and rain.
Once dried, you need to store the herb properly. It’s best to store the dried herbs in glass jars with screw-on lids. Keep that jar in a cool, dim, or dark place, such as a shelf in your pantry or cabinets.
Try Growing Jiaogulan
If you want to add something different and unique to your garden, learn how to grow jiaogulan. These plants can be grown as either an annual or perennial, depending on your climate, and grow well in garden beds or containers. Once planted, make sure the plants are supported and have adequate water. Soon, you’ll have homegrown tea to enjoy!