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a cultivator’s guide to Small-Scale Organic herb Production
Foreword by Steven Foster
PART TWO — HERB PROFILES
Plantago asiatica (L.)
Common Name: Plantain Pinyin: Chē qián zĭ Family: Plantaginaceae Part Used: Seed
Looking very much like the ubiquitous Western weed commonly called broad-leaved plantain (Plantago major), this Asian species has bright green, parallel, seven-veined, broadly ovate leaves. Leaf margins have small teeth that can be felt more than seen. A perennial with exclusively basal leaves and petioles eight to ten inches long, the whole leaf reaches 1¼
feet tall. Rigid flowering stalks rise above the foliage to a total height of 2½ feet. These stalks are densely packed with small white flowers ascending the flowering stem to 1½ feet. Flowering takes place over a long summer season, maturing on the stem from the bottom up. Each fruiting capsule contains many brown seeds, which reseed readily in moist to wet areas in gardens and nurseries; in fact this plant may
These three-foot-tall row cropped plants of Plantago asiatica are moving from flower into seed.
PART TWO — HERB PROFILES
Medicinal Uses of Chē qián zĭ
Chē qián zĭ is the seed of Plantago asiatica. Sweet and cold, it clears damp heat, drains dampness, stops diarrhea, clears liver heat, benefits the eyes, clears the lung, and transforms phlegm. It is used to address issues such as painful urination, burning urination, urgency with inability to urinate, diarrhea, eye redness and swelling, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, and cough. Chē qián zĭ is used by itself and in combination with other herbs. Common methods of administration include powders, decoctions, concentrated granules, tablets, and pills. It is in important formulas including Ba Zheng San (Eight Rectifications Powder), Qing Xin Lian Zi Yin (Heart Clearing Lotus Seed Decoction), and Long Dan Xie Gan Tang (Gentiana Decoction to Drain the Liver).
Chē qián zĭ is the dry seed of Plantago asiatica.
be weedy in regions with summer rainfall. Plantago asiatica is hardy in all USDA zones.
The small seeds are light-dependent germinators; sow on the surface of the soil in situ or in nursery medium. Germination is at twenty-eight days and ongoing in cool soils. Plants hold very well in pots and make a surprisingly handsome, if informal, potted winter specimen in mild winter regions.
Garden and Polyculture Planting
Plaintain prefers full sun to part shade in average soils that are not well drained; moist to wet soils are favored. Transplant or directly surface sow toward the front of the garden or border. Due to plantain’s invasive inclinations, do not plant in naturally occurring wetlands or riparian areas.
Pinellia ternata, bàn xià Prunella vulgaris, Heal All, xià kū cǎo Scrophularia buergeriana, Figwort, běi xuán shēn
Alisma plantago-aquatica subsp. orientale, zé xiè Bacopa monnieri, Brahmi Coix lacryma-jobi, Job’s Tears, yì yĭ rén Eclipta prostrata, Eclipta, mò hàn lián Gynostemma pentaphyllum, Sweet Tea Vine, jiǎo gŭ lán Houttuynia cordata, yú xīng cǎo Mentha haplocalyx, Field Mint, bò hé
Transplant on one-foot spacing in beds that are well irrigated. For best growth and yields, keep well watered. These plants are durable and can manage some drought stress.
Pests and Diseases
Slugs, snails, and earwigs riddle the leaves with holes. If damage becomes too great use baits, traps, or exclusionary techniques such as iron phosphate baits for snails or wet, rolled-up newspapers. A few holes are acceptable; shredded leaves indicate action is needed.
PART TWO — HERB PROFILES
Harvest and Yield
Plantain will bloom in the first season if sown in early spring; chē qián zĭ is the ripe seed. The summer and fall seed ripens to a loose rattle in the fruiting capsule; collect several times per season by stripping just the mature seed capsules off the standing fruiting stem. Or if you’ve grown a sufficient quantity to collect enough seed in just one harvest, cut the stems off completely (for a harvest of roughly a third of the plant’s potential seed production capacity). Invert the seed capsules over a clean vessel and the ripe seed will tumble out easily. Blow off the chaff or any extraneous matter, and use or sell the seed fresh or dry. Good quality is said to be “full, hard, brownish black
seeds.”152 Seed yield for first season plants is 0.08 pounds per plant. Seed when harvested is almost dry, so the difference between the fresh to dry weight is negligible.
• In addition to the market for Plantago asiatica seed, there is an active Western market for the leaf; conduct a trial for economic feasibility. • Plantago depressa is also a standard species in the Chinese materia medica; however, it is a much smaller plant and seed production is minimal.
Platycodon grandiflorus ([Jacq.] A. DC.)
Common Name: Balloon Flower Pinyin: Jié gěng Family: Campanulaceae Part Used: Root
Platycodon grandiflorus has bright blue-purple, two-inch, terminal blooming flowers exhibiting the characteristic bell shape of the Campanulaceae family. The buds swell before opening, giving the plant its
common name of balloon flower. The species form of this popular garden flower grows up to two feet tall and is a prolific summer bloomer. Perennial and herbaceous, erect plants form clumps of foliage with simple, two-inch, ovate, serrate, alternately arranged leaves. When bruised, the stems exude a white sticky latex. The range of Platycodon grandiflorus is “Siberia (southern and western regions, the Far East), northeastern China, Korea and Japan. Dry meadows, rocky places among shrubs or in forest clearings.”153 Balloon flower is cold hardy to at least minus thirty degrees. USDA hardiness zones 3–10.
The very gardenworthy Platycodon grandiflorus.
Sow seeds in the nursery or indoors very early in the spring, or in the fall for planting out the following summer. Germination is two to three weeks in the heated greenhouse. Seed is small but reliably easy to propagate; there are no special requirements for