From the far-distant corners of the Guizhou Providence in China hails a plant that locals claim is so health-promoting, that they’ve named it “the herb of immortality.” Growing abundantly in this southwestern, mountainous region, the unassuming little plant called “jiaogulan” means “twisting-vine orchid.”
Jiaogulan—from the “Cucurbitaceae” family of foods that include cucumbers, melons and squash—is a hardy, climbing vine that grows “in the wild” and requires no cultivation. The leaves of the plant can be eaten directly, put in a salad, or dried and stored for tea. The plant provides a sweet, bright taste and the leaves are frequently used as an alternative sweetener.
This health-giving herb (a plant is labeled “an herb” when it becomes food, medicine, flavoring or perfume) was first described in traditional Chinese medicine during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) as a folk treatment for a plethora of health conditions such as peptic ulcers and stomach concerns.
Current research points to many more health conditions that are benefited by drinking jiaogulan tea. They include relief from conditions like coughing, colds, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory issues. Keep in mind that the health benefits of using jiaogulan tea are many and extend far beyond the respiratory system.
Serious studies on jiaogulan only began about 20 years ago when researchers noticed the high number of healthy elderly people living in the area. While historically, it wasn’t used widely in the traditional Chinese medicine system, the Guizhou Province has been known to capitalize on its healthy benefits. This region believed drinking the tea would contribute to longevity.
Today, locals drink jiaogulan tea regularly, claiming it provides remarkable benefits that include lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, improving digestion, balancing hormones and strengthening the immune system.
Add to this its ability to modulate cancer and you’ve got a pretty impressive list of benefits! Now, if this sounds interesting, read on and you will learn about actual scientific studies that confirm the Chinese health claims about jiaogulan.
Jiaogulan is a Potent Adaptogen
The reason jiaogulan is such an effective health promoter is because is falls under the category of an “adaptogen.” Adaptogens are substances in plants that can help your body “adapt” in a variety of ways, so that internal health can be restored. Actually, an adaptogen—by definition—must cause no harm; help the body adapt to physical and psychological stress; and should support all major body systems. Jiaogulan meets all the qualifications!
And because of its adaptogenic nature, it is both a weight-loss and a weight-gain aid. Its weight-altering abilities work by interacting with your digestive system and correcting imbalances. Essentially, if you’re overweight, it helps your body process food more efficiently. And if you’re underweight, your body is able to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from everything you consume. And that’s a good word for anyone struggling with weight issues.
Head to Toe Health Benefits
Starting with the brain, jiaogulan has a “two fold” effect on function, meaning it has the ability to “energize” or “calm” the brain, depending upon need. It helps regulate hormones—in both men and women—which allows the brain to cope better with stress, according to a research study reported in the Journal of Guiyang Medical College.
As for blood benefits, researcher C. Yu and his group of scientists conducted a study on 32 patients, trying to determine if jiaogulan had the ability to lower cholesterol, triglycerides and bad cholesterol (LDL). The Chinese study concluded—after lengthy research—that in fact, the herb helps reduce cholesterol and triglycerides. Further, it showed promising effects in maintaining good blood pressure levels.
Now to the heart! M. Tanner and a group of laboratory researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee were specifically looking at nitric oxide (NO) and how it improves heart health. Their interest was in how encouraged the release of nitric oxide. The nitric oxide (NO) factor is significant because it is critical to heart health.
Three American pharmacologists were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1998 for discovering how the body’s production of nitric oxide can widen blood vessels, help regulate blood pressure and prevent the formation of blood clots, all critical to heart health! Nitric oxide was named “Molecule of the Year” in 1992 by the journal Science, but it took another six years for the pharmacists responsible for the major discoveries to receive the prize! Jiaogulan has been shown to aid in the release of NO!
Stomach, Endurance, Immunity and More!
Moving to the stomach, jiaogulan improves and strengthens digestion. This means that any food consumed is processed more efficiently and digestive disturbances like heart burn are lessened. As you are probably noticing, the “adaptogenic” effects are seen throughout the body— a hallmark of an adaptogen (S. Zhou and researchers, China).
And what about strength and endurance? The results are promising! Again out of Guiyang Medical College, it was found that jiaogulan improves the heart contractions and pumping function, probably from soap-like compounds called “saponins.” The study suggests that, “Jiaogulan becomes the perfect herb for anyone who wants to improve his competitive edge in any field of athletic performance,” (Zhou and associates).
If you’re concerned about your immunity, jiaogulan can improve the health of the immune system when it’s under siege from foreign agents. Clinical research studies say it’s a potent “immuno-modulator,” which means it has direct impact on the functions of the immune system. Essentially, lymphocytes, phagocytes, and serum IGG— all components of the immune system—showed improvement, particularly in the aging and the elderly (reported by Jialiu Liu and his group).
And let’s not overlook the liver! Research in 2006 reported in the journal, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, found that taking jiaogulan helped people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. An extract of the herb lowered their body mass index and their triglycerides levels, improved insulin resistance, and reduced liver fat. Research is ongoing, but in one particular study of 56 people, after two month of a diet including jiaogulan, it was reported that jiaogulan is an “effective adjunct treatment to diet therapy for patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.”
A Potent Antioxidant
Many of the health benefits of jiaogulan come from antioxidants called “gypenosides.” Gypenosides are compounds that are similar to ingredients in ginseng—another health promoter— yet jiaogulan is reported to have three to four times as many antioxidants as found in ginseng. “This greater number of gypenosides may account for a more powerful regulatory effect on a number of body systems, like blood pressure, the reproductive system, the digestive system, the immune system, mental functions, and more,” report Chinese medical researchers Song, Wei and Hou.
Jiaogulan can be consumed as a tea or in pill and capsule form. It’s readily available in natural foods stores and online. And because jiaogulan is non-toxic, there is no risk of overdose.
Armed with all this knowledge, doesn’t it just make good sense to add jiaogulan to your daily diet regime? As a powerful adaptogen, a strong antioxidant and a total body “supporter,” it’s an inexpensive and effective way to boost your health!